Saturday, October 3, 2015

Kenneth Goldsmith in The New Yorker

I'd read so many online responses to Yi Fen Chou (the "pooped" poet), Vanessa Place, and Kenneth Goldsmith that I did something I rarely do these days.  Which was to sit in the library and read the entire Alec Wilkinson piece on KG, a poet I'd never heard of until the last few weeks, despite spending the majority of my life in University City in West Philly. It's almost a surprise I wasn't born in Clark Park, right where John Ebersole has sworn off white poets writing about race and dreamed up Public Pool. Based on Ebersole's online poetry personality, I'd assume he is a migrant to University City, not someone like me who grew up there, but I don't know. Anyway, the un-New Yorker-ish "resentfully" (an "ly" from those guys?) is noted, a jab that doesn't add anything to the profile, but in a life of grading, parenting, commuting, surviving, it was reading to enjoy. It was a break, a chance to read an extended profile of a writer, and I've enjoyed many of these over the years, often when I was previously unfamiliar with the writer's creative work, and mostly from Harper's Magazine or The New Yorker. Wilkinson's profile captured KG's quirks. I saw multiple points of view about his poetry's value, or not, thoughts about his copying, and I appreciated he's read Ulysses several times and much admires Benjamin, Joyce, etc. (these guys aren't my guys, but it's disturbing that they could be dismissed as dead white guys). Goldsmith comes across as a nerd-dandy-intellectual of sorts, somewhat aware that he is playing the poet-fool, out there hustling in funny clothes. So he's a human being--a goof?, a jerk?--but not a murderer. He's a wealthy man, perhaps, but no doubt, this is only relative to the pervasive poverty in the world of poetry (news alert: in fact, he is rich by any definition although the pervasive poverty of poetry remains). His projects sound creative, if not poetic, and he'd tell you, I think, he's a plagiarizer by more than one definition. It would make sense to me if his appropriation did not stand the test of time although with art, and the commerce surrounding it, one never knows. Past poets who mastered PR and marketing in their own lifetime have managed to stay in print long after it. I'm thinking mainly of Allen Ginsberg, whose strategy (sorry, I meant spontaneous impulse to do this or that) included meeting late in life with writers associated with WWII fascism, Celine and Pound, protesting nukes and the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, and standing in the background of Bob Dylan music videos (for more detail, read American Scream). Even when he rambles on race, I doubt The Donald will reference KG as "one of those New York Jew poets who cracks out of tune," but KG, VP, and PP's detractors have gotten me reading more poems. It reminded me to hunt down some poetry and prose from a writer I associate with Philly, Linh Dinh, as well as some new ones, Franny Choi, Nomi Stone, Jenny Zhang. And by coincidence I heard Candace Wiley and Skip Eisiminger read poetry at an event I organized down here. My version of Philly poetry has nothing to do with KG. It starts with Lamont Steptoe and Don Riggs, and it extends to so many talented others who've mainly lived in South Philly, Center City, particularly back when it was affordable, or even in the suburbs. These poets have studied and taught variously at Penn, Drexel, Temple, CCP, and other schools; some are from the region and others moved to Philly because an artist could afford its cost of living. After Alec on Kenny, I was on a roll, reading about and by all manner of older affluent why-pee-po'. I read most of the Jane Smiley interview in the new print copy of The Paris Review, highly recommended, and then a chunk of the Bernie Sanders profile from Mother Jones. From the New York Review of Books, I read a paragraph or two of George Soros on Ukraine, but that was all I could stand although I often recommend his father Tivadar's book on surviving the Holocaust in Hungary. I thought I'd read in the print version that Goldsmith had relatives on both sides who died in the Shoah, but when I returned more recently to the online version of the article, even after some skimming, I could not find this detail although that's not to say that these facts had been disappeared.