Poet’s Artistic Read of Michael Brown’s Autopsy Report Causes Uproar
Image by Paul Soulellis via The Guardian
After U.S. poet Kenneth Goldsmith performed “The Body of Michael Brown”—a recitation of Michael Brown’s autopsy report in poetic form—to an audience at Brown University on March 13th, his actions were met with much criticism on social media, reports The Guardian.
In case anyone hasn’t been following the story in the news, Michael Brown was an unarmed black man shot by a white policeman this past summer in Ferguson, Missouri. The event has sparked protests and discussions across the nation.
Goldsmith is mostly recognized for “uncreative writing,” as he terms it. This type of poetry includes transcriptions of quotes from radio and television segments covering national tragedies, as found in his book Seven American Deaths and Disasters. Artist Faith Holland said Goldsmith announced “The Body of Michael Brown” related to quantified self, but gave little else for listeners to use as feedback for interpretation.
Later Holland tweeted: “Just saw Kenneth Goldsmith read Michael Brown’s autopsy report for 30 minutes and no one knew wtf to do with that.”
Unfortunately, the criticism didn’t stop there. Author and Bad Feminist essayist Roxane Gay announced Goldsmith’s reading was “tacky,” and challenged his artistic basis by emphasizing “the audacity of reading an autopsy report and calling it poetry.” Writer and professor Cathy Park Hong tweeted that “Kenneth Goldsmith has reached new racist lows yet elite institutions continue to pay him guest speaker fees.”
Goldsmith responded to the uproar by retweeting his audience’s upsetting remarks, such as, “Kenneth Goldsmith: art is not white appropriation of Black suffering. I condemn your cruel reading of Michael Brown’s autopsy report.” The poet has since announced that he received a death threat. After the fact, he gave an official explanation of his actions on Facebook.
The Guardian also reports that Goldsmith has decided to donate his speaker’s fee from the event to the family of Michael Brown, saying, “There’s been too much pain for many people around this and I do not with to cause any more.”
What do you think about Goldsmith’s version of poetry? Is it fair expression, or a disastrous misstep?
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