Poetry News

Vanessa Place Reviews Goldsmith's Seven Disasters, Adds to Conv. on Affect

By Harriet Staff


Now we have a clear-eyed review from Vanessa Place on Kenny Goldsmith's Seven American Deaths and Disasters for the Constant Critic; in it, she responds to both Marjorie Perloff's recent thinking on Conceptualism and the Cal Bedient piece on affect: "Contrary to Bedient’s charge that conceptualism is feeling-less work, conceptual poetry, or poetry that involves formal constraint, is not a priori devoid of affect (leaving aside the easy Cagean riposte that boredom is also an affective affect), but is poetry that is resolutely devoid of arbitrariness. I.e., conceptualism is against the arbitrary as a formal matter. (N.b., chance is a formal property that is manifestly not arbitrary, as you doubtless agree.) For the fact of the matter is, all poetic 'content' is arbitrary."

Her next points are on responses to Conceptualism leaning primarily toward their makers and their makers' "relentlessly attractive attire" (unlike other vectors of culture?): "A fetishization that is as inevitable as it is vaguely tedious because what it does is leapfrog over the work at hand." [. . .] "Though, as I like to say, less affect, more product." Her aside has been realized: "As an aside, I may be suggesting that the fetishized personae of the Poet is also a poem, or at least a poetic product."

On Goldsmith's book:

The transcriptions are Reznikoffian topiaries: as such, commercials are included in the John F. Kennedy assassination, and omitted in the September 11th coverage, which is broken Empire-like, into Roman-numerated subsections. Columbine is represented by a declassified 911 call, and is the only piece that has no media inter-mediation. It is simply a cri de coeur, at sharp odds with any argument that media’s own violence acclimated those particular killers. The Poet’s Technical Notes state that the Space Shuttle Challenger reportage switches over from television to radio, suggesting a dematerialization of the medium mirroring the dematerialization of the spaceship. Song lyrics are included in the Lennon and JFK assassinations, serving as contrapuntal punctum in the latter, paratextual pathos in the former. There are no Michael Jackson songs interlarded in his Totengesang, which is presented as a tragedy, or, more accurately, a comedy, for only in comedy is the personae able to become a person. Nostalgia, it seems, is concomitant with shock. Too, it could be noted that all channels are in American English. History, as we all know, is still mainly temporal tourism.

Each death and disaster is set in a different font, and these fonts are a marked part of the materiality of the matter at hand. From the Establishment Times Roman serif of the JFK chapter to the Optima of the Challenger chapter to the Ariel of the WTC chapter, we receive our language, as we now receive language, visually and contextually—Optima is ironic or poignant only after we know that the spaceship, that romantic futur-ideal, went kablooey!—just as Times Roman does not have the same authority post-Camelot, post-Nixon (not newsworthy to the Poet), and Ariel is Plath-perfect for any aestheticized suicide. . . .

We wish there existed a font called Ida. An aside.

Notably, Place also reviews here a complementary text object, originally written in 1973, Manchester: August 16th & 17th 1819 by British poet John Seed (Intercapillary Editions, 2013), "a comparatively overlooked volume, [which] makes History Poetry."

For again, the emphasis here is on the act of witnessing—this time, direct—evidencing its original orators’ belief in the thing itself that is already always absent from media’s waffling accounts. Which may be the difference between the readership contemplated by overtly affective poetry (modernist and postmodernist) and the other kind (conceptualist).

Read it all here. More info on John Seed is at Archive of the Now (great great resource btw). Image above: John Seed (in the middle) reading with John Riley (on the right) at the Coalpitts Hotel in Durham in December 1977. Ric Caddel is sitting on the left. Photograph by David James.