In celebration of National Poetry Month, the Museum of Modern Art presented “Transform the World! Poetry Must Be Made by All!” For a full hour, the galleries came alive with the sounds of spoken word, as poets read their own works and those of others. Ranging from emerging to established, from conventional to experimental, the poets demonstrated the varieties of U.S. poetry today as they performed under and in front of works of postwar modern art in MoMA’s collection. This event was organized by Kenneth Goldsmith as part of the “Artists Experiment” initiative. Lawrence Schwartzwald witnessed the event and took the photographs reproduced below, which are used with his permission; republication by permission of the photographer only.
My final post takes a very local turn. Like Prigov’s Little Coffins, New Zealand artist Campbell Walker’s 2012 work The Crime LINKS in the Smoke is an undead work that plays on the print book as both fetishized object and repeatable copy. The Crime comprises cut-up pages from detective novels that were burnt in the fire that destroyed Raven Books, a secondhand bookshop on Princes St in Dunedin, New Zealand. Walker’s book is a memorial both to a particular shop and to the town where it was located. Dunedin, the small city near the southern end of New Zealand where I live, is known for its penguins and sea lions but also for its crumbling Victorian grandeur. Now mainly a university town, Dunedin was once New Zealand’s largest and most prosperous city, and the energetic local cultural scene today springs partly from the spaces opened up by the slow urban decay of a city that never grew. Walker’s work links the fate of Raven Books and Dunedin to the fate of the print codex at a time when bookstores everywhere are closing their doors and e-book sales are increasing exponentially.
When Dmitri Prigov explores the relationship between the book as material object and endlessly repeating copy, he anticipates a similar interest in the relationship between copy and singular material instantiation in Anglophone conceptual writing. One of the leading figures in conceptual writing, Kenneth Goldsmith, began his artistic career, like Prigov, as a sculptor. Among his early work, Goldsmith’s iterations of Steal This Book illustrate his interest in the book as both copy and unique material object. His two versions or copies of the book are both monumental copies of Abbie Hoffman’s 1971 counter-culture classic. One was made of lead and weighed 150 kg, the other was seven feet tall — both were too big to be stolen.
Goldsmith has since then produced a number of works that explore the iterations of the book through conceptual writing. For example, in retyping the New York Times and publishing the result in book form, Goldsmith transforms the disposable newspaper into a monumental brick-sized book on a par with the largest of the modernist long-poem masterworks, such as Pound’s Cantos or Olson’s Maximus Poems.
On December 9, 2004, Al Filreis brought together two very different Cageans — Jena Osman and Kenneth Goldsmith — for a conversation with the students of his Modern and Contemporary American Poetry course. This was the first time that Osman and Goldsmith were recorded together, for beyond their shared interests in John Cage’s aesthetic and documentary poetics, they are very different poets. Osman is known for her disruptive, experimental poetics — collaging and intervening in existing texts — while Goldsmith’s works are defined by their uncreativity, where the texts are presented whole.
Stefan Sagmeister (1962-) is among today's most important graphic designers. Born in Austria, he now lives and works in New York. His long-standing collaborators include the AIGA and the musicians David Byrne and Lou Reed.
I am writing a review of Kent Johnson’s Day although I haven’t read a word of it. That’s not a problem, since Johnson’s Day is identical to Kenneth Goldsmith’s Day, which is itself a transcription of an entire issue of The New York Times from left to right, ignoring the divisions between columns, articles and advertisements. In fact, Johnson’s Day is an actual copy of Goldsmith’s Day, with stickers of Johnson’s name covering Goldsmith’s name, as well as some jacket blurbs from Juliana Spahr, Christian Bök, and “Kenny” Goldsmith himself. Not surprisingly, the blurbs from Spahr and Bök were originally for Goldmith’s Day; the blurb attributed to Goldsmith is Johnson’s riff on various comments Goldsmith has made on Flarf and conceptual poetry.
However, I haven’t read Goldsmith’s Day either. Although I consider myself a big fan of his work, I’ve read almost none of it. (I made it through about 50 pages of Soliloquy, his transcription of everything he said over the course of a week, and thought it was brilliant.)
A few years ago Darren Wershler-Henry visited us from Toronto. His book of 2000, The Tapeworm Foundry, was being celebrated by an exhibit in the KWH gallery ("KWH Arts," we called that ongoing project then — now The Brodsky Gallery). Kaegan Sparks commissioned a number of Writers House-affiliated people each to make art from an instruction of the sort that fills Darren's book. I wrote about this at the time of the exhibit.
One artist dipped her long hair into calligraphy ink and dragged it across long rolls of paper (this is actually a classic Fluxus piece). Another person created an inky footprint and then ran it through an OCR (text-recognition) program and printed the “language” that resulted and put the two up on the wall, side by side. Another pair of artists counted all the periods (at ends of sentences) in all the books on a Writers House bookshelf, then printed out the periods on 8.5 x 11" paper and wrapped the bookshelf in the paper.
While Darren was in the house, I gathered him, Kaegan and Kenny Goldsmith in my office, and the four of us talked about Darren's book and the exhibit, and about conceptual poetics/concrete poetry generally. This is the newest in the series of "PennSound podcasts", and please have a listen.
1. Links to works produced for the exhibit. 2. Video recording of the opening program. 3. Photos of the event. 4. Text of Tapeworm available at UbuWeb.