Michael Brown: immortalized by Kenny Goldsmith?

Edgar Poe’s “effect”-as-the-basis-of-fiction is the seed of Conceptualism and the avant-garde as we know it.

That poetry should be beautiful was a necessary caveat in Poe’s mind: effect-science needs genres and reasons and exactitude as it moves literature towards self-consciousness and away from “This happened in my town yesterday. Let me tell you about it.”

The poetry world is currently befuddled and outraged because the Conceptual poet Kenny Goldsmith—who read (in a paisley suit) plain traffic reports as “poetry” at the White House (yea, where Barry lives) a couple of years ago—recently gave a “poetry reading” in academia in which the actual, detailed autopsy report of Ferguson’s Michael Brown was the sole text.

Poe would say, first: Goldsmith’s effort is the very opposite of the poem; the poet does not surrender to the news of the day (Ferguson, etc) but finds, first, a precise effect, and then works on bringing about that precise effect in the reader. Poe’s notion has nothing to do with suppressing discussion of “the news;” it merely says: give the news of the day to the news of the day and reserve poetry for poetry—both in practice and in theory.

To know what poetry is, we think, is very useful to the poet, who is doing something a bit more complex than going to the store and picking up an item:

“What did you want me to buy, again?” “I dunno.”

If we don’t know what to get at the store—and this destroys every reason for the visit, we imagine it might be slightly important to know what the poem is—as one sets about writing one.

Just an idea.

So we find an effect.

The artist thinks: First, what effect shall I pick? Second, how shall I bring about this effect in the audience?

Immediately we are aware of conflation, the type which occurs when avant-garde Conceptualism brings together as one, painting and poetry—the two disappear in the outrageous effect produced by the Duchamp jest. The art, all of it, dies into idea. Michael Brown’s autopsy becomes a pure thing subordinated to pure effect.

The conflation in Poe’s effect-method is artist/audience: to test the effect, the artist stands in for his audience: simple, even simpler than going to the store for an item; the item (effect) is had immediately, because the artist immediately becomes his own audience as the effect is tested.

Kenny Goldsmith does not have to visit the store to purchase a particular effect—any item at the Outrage Store will do.

We know of no one who has really thought through to the end what Poe meant when, in “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe spoke of choosing some “effect” to use—Poe has been accused, in every quarter, of starting with the “The Raven” already written, and working backwards in a synthetic fashion; in other words, he cheated. And no one really writes that way, ever, say the sneering Poe-critics. Life and art are open and random; talk of “grand design” in this day is highly suspect (“what are you, a religious nut?”) even when talking of poetry.

But we know what Poe means, and we can easily demonstrate what he means.

Let’s say the effect chosen is: happiness—you choose to make the audience happy.

A good effect, but too general, so we narrow the definition to make it more effective. “Making the audience happy by removing the fear of death.” This is sufficiently unique, and this is precisely what John Donne did when he penned his famous “Death Be Not Proud.”

It matters not if death be not proud came into Donne’s thoughts “randomly,” (many poets will tell you a poem begins with a single phrase that just pops into their head) and it matters not that Donne wrote the sonnet without any fussing over “which effect shall I choose?” The fact remains that “I am Soothed by Learning Death is not as Fearful as Supposed” is the design “Death Be Not Proud” has on us: it has this effect on any lay person who reads it; it has an argument, one that can be paraphrased (yes, the New Critics were wrong) and all of Donne’s sonnet’s parts line up behind its effect.

Donne went to the store (even if subconsciously) looking for a specific, singular, item (effect and execution) and, to our pleasure, found it.

Goldsmith’s success (notoriety, attention) arose from the same process:

What shall I do to my audience?

Outrage them.

How shall I do so?

I shall pick a contemporary news item which already bespeaks outrage, and I shall choose some manifestation of this outrage and present it as my “poem.”

Now do we see who “cheats?”

It is not the author of “The Philosophy of Composition.”

It is the avant-garde “poet,” Kenny Goldsmith.


In other news:

John Crowe Ransom advanced past Elizabeth Bishop 61-60 in the Wild Card Round. Ransom’s “it is so frail” was finally too much for Bishop’s “the art of losing is hard to master” in the final minutes of the extremely close contest: both teams were brilliant, but the edge went to Ransom’s tender and emotional plea, which seemed finally less conscious, if that nuance can be at all understood.  It is very hard to say goodbye to the Bishop, as Ransom moves on.

Bishop’s loss put the VIDA count for Scarriet’s 2015 March Madness at 25%—which we think is pretty high, considering the tournament reflects the canon throughout history.



  1. Diane Roberts Powell said,

    March 19, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    Mr. Goldsmith appears to be a bit of a joke. Since he teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, I guess the joke’s on us and the tax payers in that state. Perhaps his very presence in the university is meant to outrage? Why do they pay him? Why?

  2. Andrew said,

    March 19, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    poetry was, perhaps, useful to the Michael Brown himself, who was doing something a bit more complex than going to the store and picking up an item when he got himself ventilated:

    Finish the crackers – grab a smoke…
    of Ferguson my muse will sing.
    A call to arms – God’s fires to stoke;
    let Truth and Freedom ring !

    Take to the streets; avenge this wrong
    and hasten the end of racist rule.
    Justice, though it may tarry long
    will find its target in the duel.

    Young Michael Brown, like all true saints
    found himself craving Swisher Sweets.
    He robbed a store, whose camera paints
    impartial portrait. In the streets

    the thief refused to be detained
    and so threw off police restraint.
    Though sin escaped, the Law remained
    and made a martyr of this saint.

    The agitators did their thing:
    inflaming thugs to smash and loot,
    while racists baited hooks, to string
    the press. Officials followed suit.

    Angels, although not always kind,
    do not display this attitude –
    aware of how the police mind
    responds to such ingratitude.

    We ought to thank the police force
    for showing mercy under stress.
    The culprit chose a foolish course –
    and made a God-awful mess.

    Prince Michael met ignoble fate
    (that ghetto-Christ, that righteous youth)
    His sacrifice in vain – though great,
    could not impede the march of Truth.

    Ferguson, our eyes turn towards you…
    are you now able to admit
    while reality rewards you
    that looting and lying ain’t shit?

    • Ashu अशु said,

      March 20, 2015 at 7:14 am

      Ah, I perceive that you have been studying Welsh poetry! Counting syllables rather than stresses. Erudite.

      • Andrew said,

        March 20, 2015 at 11:56 am

        I had to drink 2 pints of Dylan Thomas to get through writing this immortal screed.

    • Diane Roberts Powell said,

      March 20, 2015 at 11:31 pm

      Andrew, were you a perfect teenager? I hate to admit it, but I did shoplift a couple of times when I was a teen. I’m glad the police didn’t shoot me dead. Did he deserve to be arrested? Yes, but he was shot dead.

      You wrote, “looting and lying ain’t shit?” Does lying and “looting” earn a wild west death shoot down without trial or jury? Also, looting is an interesting choice of words. That’s usually used when describing rioters or people who steal things after a natural disaster like Huricane Katrina. And it is almost always attributed to black people. White people shoplift while black people loot.

      Also, they left Michael’s to corpse lay out and bake on the hot pavement, for many hours, while his family and neighbors stood around and watched.

      Andrew, your attitude is not exactly what I would call Christian. What would Jesus do?

      • Andrew said,

        March 21, 2015 at 1:41 am

        Regarding your question as to what Jesus would do: we cannot be sure – He would probably cleanse the lepers, cast out the demons, and then raise the dead; but not necessarily in that order…

        • Diane Roberts Powell said,

          March 21, 2015 at 5:06 am

          Maybe he would say, “Let those without sin cast the first stone.” Or perhaps, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

          • Andrew said,

            March 21, 2015 at 5:37 pm

            Yes Diane – He did say that. However He also said:
            “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” [John 7:24]


            • Diane Roberts Powell said,

              March 22, 2015 at 1:35 am

              Jesus said, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
              But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I WILL HAVE MERCY, AND NOT SACRIFICE: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

              • Andrew said,

                March 22, 2015 at 1:37 am

                Amen. Time for sinners to repent and be saved. In the meantime, criminal thugs get ventilated…

                • Diane Roberts Powell said,

                  March 22, 2015 at 3:53 am

                  Jesus said, “Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.”

                  “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the begining, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
                  And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.
                  Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?
                  He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.”

                  • noochinator said,

                    March 22, 2015 at 11:00 am

                    I suppose that in religion, as in politics, you gotta have a left wing and a right wing or the airplane won’t fly. But I must disagree with Howard Zinn: I can be neutral on a moving plane….

                  • Andrew said,

                    March 22, 2015 at 12:19 pm

                    Right ON – preach it.
                    I didn’t know you were one to quote the Beatitudes, Diane…

                    Now – who is “not of God” here; the Pharisees of Jerusalem circa 30 AD (to whom, I believe, Christ was speaking) ?
                    Darren Wilson? Michael Brown? Me ? You?

                    It makes sense – those who do not hear God’s words are not of Him (yet). But today’s sinner and rebel may turn out to be tomorrow’s elect saint.

                    • Diane Roberts Powell said,

                      March 22, 2015 at 10:15 pm

                      “Judge not, that ye be not judged.
                      For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
                      And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
                      Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
                      Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

                    • Andrew said,

                      March 23, 2015 at 12:21 am

                      Hey Diane –
                      keep those scriptures coming. I love it. Hallelujah.
                      Here’s one Michael B. should have meditated on
                      (before resisting unto damnation and getting himself ventilated):

                      “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

                      Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

                      For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

                      For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

                      Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.”

                      Romans 13:1-5

                    • Diane Roberts Powell said,

                      March 23, 2015 at 2:39 am

                      Also from Romans 10: 1-13 you will find:

                      “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
                      For I have a record that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
                      For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
                      For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
                      For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, THAT THE MAN WHICH DOETH THOSE THINGS SHALL LIVE BY THEM.
                      But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, SAY NOT IN THINE HEART, WHO SHALL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)
                      Or, WHO SHALL DESCEND INTO THE DEEP? (that is, to bring Christ again from the dead.)
                      But what saith it? THE WORD IS NIGH THEE, EVEN IN THY MOUTH, AND IN THY HEART: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;
                      That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved…

  3. thomasbrady said,

    March 20, 2015 at 10:54 am

    “Could not impede the March of Truth” sounds like iambic to me. Stress based. Only the French count syllables. I hadn’t heard about this Welsh thing. Unless you mean Welsh rabbit. Hop. Hop hop hop. Hop.

  4. Andrew said,

    March 20, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    This happened in Ferguson, MO six months ago.
    Let me tell you about it:
    M. Brown went to the store (even if subconsciously) looking for a specific, singular, item (execution) and, to our dismay, found it.

  5. Diane Roberts Powell said,

    May 19, 2015 at 12:16 am

    I think the following links prove the point about hateful online racist anonymous posts and the older cowardly resentful white men who make them.

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