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A Debate Concerning Goldsmith’s White House Appearance

By Harriet Staff

Whether fitting or not, Kenny Goldsmith’s representation of poetry’s marginal comrades as a performer at the White House Evening of Poetry next Wednesday are quickly leading to speculation as to what he’ll actually chance to do at the event. Will he read traffic reports? Or does he consider the event a political opportunity?

Poet Linh Dinh took up the matter on his blog, Detainees, in the form of a quick response to Jacket2 publisher and Penn Sound co-director Al Filreis’s forwarding of the official White House release:

“To be a minstrel for a mass murderer is nothing to be proud of, Al. This just heightens my contempt for the state of American poetry. Did Bertolt Brecht dance for Hitler? Future generations will look back at us and retch. Very sad.”

Today, Dinh posted Filreis’s response to the note, with his permission:

“Goldsmith is no Brecht (in mode or intention) and so I don’t expect him to refuse in a manner that presumably Brecht would have…and while Obama has been to me and many others I admire (including you, by the way) a disappointment (and, in war policies, worse than that), I don’t consider him a Hitler (I’ve thought about totalitarianism a good deal). A better analogy might be Robert Lowell and LBJ…

“You and I have talked on and off about your contempt for the state of American poetry, and I really do understand your point of view. I’d just note that most of Kenny’s efforts in the last few years, and those of other writers I like, have been to write for and speak to a nonacademic audience. Kenny’s in fact done that more than most. Traffic is a pretty good example of that—and that’s the book, in fact, that apparently caught the attention of Michelle Obama’s staff. So far as I know, Kenny will read some of that work along with Walt Whitman and Hart Crane….

“[Michelle Obama’s] efforts are worth affirming (and possibly improving through affirmation) and it’s she who invited Kenny and the others, notwithstanding the symbolism involving the president, which you rightly point out is problematic.”

The entirety of the letter can be read here.

Posted in Poetry News on Friday, May 6th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.