About That Kenny Goldsmith Piece in the New Yorker

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We ran a blog post earlier today about Alec Wilkinson’s pretty crap piece about Kenny Goldsmith in the New Yorker which we characterized as “refreshingly even-handed.” That description is only accurate if you define even-handed as a several-thousand word tongue-bath in the pages of a huge magazine which both ignored and dismissed many of Goldsmith’s critics. We apologize. We should have done better. Below are some of the responses, all of which are a better read than Wilkinson’s. 

Cathy Park Hong, who was interviewed for the piece and then reduced to “resentful,” writes about “a new movement in American poetry, and it’s not Kenny Goldsmith” in The New Republic. She writes:

I, however, won’t be reduced to a soundbite. Mainstream media rarely pays attention to writers of color unless there’s a white villain like Goldsmith, Michael Derrick Hudson, or Vanessa Place attached. But there is a richer story—and though it’s chaotic, fractious, and at times internecine and irritating—it is the story relevant to now about the growth of a movement that is shifting the paradigm. The hierarchy of the poetry world is being challenged. To understand this changing literary landscape, read Amy King’s searching forum in which a range of poets discuss literary activism or Jenny Zhang’s impassioned essay on institutional racism in poetry and fiction or Thomas Sayers Ellis’s “The New Perform a Form” manifesto. For an actually intelligent perspective on Conceptual Poetry and race, read John Keene’s “On Vanessa Place, Gone With the Wind, and the Limit Point of Certain Conceptual Aesthetics” or Ken Chen’s “Authenticity Obsession, or Conceptualism as Minstrel Show” published in Margins.

Brian Kim Stefans penned an open letter to the New Yorker which includes this searing paragraph:

No Seymour Hirsch, Wilkinson seems willing to publish whatever garbage Kenny fed him, including inventing a new origin myth, necessary for any proper hagiography, revolving around some clandestine meeting in a bar in Buffalo, which is pure horseshit (I was there, and know all the actors well). I’m also sure that it was Wilkinson who, clever man, threaded his article with such subtle, but clearly potent, racism to frame Kenny’s catastrophe in the best light. Wilkinson’s list of barbarians eventually grows to include CA Conrad (who if anyone could expose Kenny’s claims to be an “outlaw” as pure narcissism), Ken Chen (Asian American!) and the self-styled Mongrel Coalition (no fans of mine, by the way), quoting from one of their scattershot tracts. These poets are depicted as unfortunate victims of their own misunderstanding of the purity of Kenny’s desire to “provoke” in the name of the “avant-garde,” of the obsolescence of the discourse on ethnic identity, and of a narrow conception of poetic form, human creativity and the ubiquity of algorithmic culture (lyricists “allergic” to procedural poetics).

We had a part in this conversation a couple of years ago when Amy King wrote a two-parter called Beauty and the Beastly Po-Biz (Part 1 and Part 2) which looks at the question of the place of intentional groups in the poetry world:

Intentional groups create anxiety – they’re antagonistic to one’s sense of belonging, one’s positioning. Where do I fit in? Do I? Being the communal creatures we are, this divisiveness is a major point of vulnerability. When facing such groups, we tend to refrain from voicing concern or dissent out of fear of being excluded and considered “uncool” or marked for future fallout due to the positions of power they hold. What is at stake for me is the necessity of evolving a conversation that begins to examine our complicity in accepting, without critique, the establishment and perpetuation of closed groups as a base of social organization, including within the poetry world – where pluralities that might find ways of coexisting, cooperatively, are reduced to value markers and the capitalist order is reified.

We’d like to bring attention to as many of these responses as we can. Please put links in the comments or email them to me at [email protected].


Brian Spears's first collection of poetry, A Witness in Exile, is now available through Louisiana Literature Press, and at his personal website. He is the Poetry Editor for The Rumpus, and teaches poetry at Drake University. More from this author →