Poetry Put Its Hands Up, But Kenny Goldsmith Shot It Anyway


  1. Jim Murdoch
    Jim Murdoch March 21, 2015 at 8:49 am .

    I have mixed feelings about incorporating other people’s work within my own. I think the big issue here is intent. Is the intent to deceive? In the case in point everyone was aware that the source material was an autopsy report which the author re-jigged slightly but not enough to obscure its origins. How is this different to Rene Duchamp writing ‘R Mutt’ on an unmodified urinal and giving it the name ‘Fountain’? Which raises the question: What is art? Answer (well, one answer): Something in a frame. What that frame consists of will vary but by framing something we recontextualise it. Photos are the best example and I’m talking here about the good old-fashioned snap, a moment from the real world framed and presented as something in itself. If an artist copied the text Goldsmith read onto a wall and called it art would people object as vociferously? I’m playing devil’s advocate here but I think not. We have double standards.

    I think the real issue here is one of timing. Satire works best close to the events it’s satirising. The same with humour. No one was making any jokes about 9/11 on September 12th but now I see them creeping in. In Crimes and Misdemeanours Woody Allen wrote: “Comedy is tragedy plus time!” Not that dissimilar from what Chaplin said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” Maybe it’s just too soon to do anything “artsy” with the murder of Michael Brown. But I’d say it’s up for grabs. Adorno said, “No poetry after Auschwitz.” He was wrong but I can see why he said it. If the murder of millions can form the basis of a work of art—“art” in the broadest sense—what’s so wrong about highlighting the death of one black man? Is Richard Drew’s photo of the falling man art or journalism or voyeurism or what?

    My own view of what you call “idiocy” is that this is lazy art. I won’t do so far as to say it’s not art—art, like beauty, is subjective—but I don’t have much time for it. That said my last poem, entitled ‘There is Nothing New Under the Sun’, consists of the text to ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ with a footnote for every word showing where Shakespeare used that particular word in one of his plays. In other words ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’—and, by extension, virtually every poem ever written—is made up of used words. I got the idea oddly enough from the famous Morecombe and Wise sketch where Morecombe plays the opening to Greig’s Piano Concerto badly. “You’re playing the wrong notes”’ says an exasperated Andre Previn at one point. “Listen, sunshine,” Eric replies. “I’m playing all the right notes. Just not necessarily in the right order.”

    People joke that Shakespeare’s plays are comprised of nothing but quotes and the fact is his best lines are probably known by people who’ve never seen any of his plays. In the book I’m editing just now there are dozens upon dozens of nods to Beckett’s writings but it’s obvious that’s what I’m doing. That’s the fun bit, noticing what I’m either quoting from or hinting to. An example as it stands at the moment:

    “Come on Lucky for Christ’s sake!” the man bellowed and yanked the creature’s lead. The dog [a Kerry Blue] staggered, dropped its load, glanced back at him with forsaken eyes, got to grips with the branch again and did as he’d been bidden. He knew the drill: he’d keep trying to divine the way home until he got it right and, most likely, when they did get home the man would beat him with his own stick for no good reason that the dog could fathom.

    I’m not plagiarising Beckett but I am taking advantage of him. By making the Waiting for Godot connection so much work is done for me and I can worry about other stuff. It’s not wrong to stand on the shoulders of giants.

  2. Lisa Zimmerman
    Lisa Zimmerman March 17, 2015 at 11:52 am .

    Thanks for posting this. I thought of Natasha Saje’s fine essay “Poetry and Ethics: Writing About Others” (The Writer’s Chronicle, V. 42, #3) even though Goldsmith did not do any “writing” per se. Poetry continues to be marginalized in our culture but then this crass and unethical reading makes the news. Ugh.

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