The Waste-Management Poetics of Kenneth Goldsmith


For those who follow closely the contemporary American poetry scene, perhaps no recent figure has made a greater intervention in received ideas of poetic excellence than Kenneth Goldsmith. This self-described “conceptual poet” has managed to become “the most critically well-inspected writer now under the age of 50 in the United States” by ceding all claims to authorial originality and practicing instead a procedural, quasi-robotic poetics.Warhol famously declared, “I want to be a machine,” and Goldsmith has colonized this desire, importing it into the literary realm. Goldsmith explains: “I used to be an artist, then I became a poet; then a writer. Now when asked, I simply refer to myself as a word processor” (Perloff). Like Warhol, Goldsmith chooses ephemeral, well-circulated, often banal texts as source material; periodicals, radio reports, and his own mundane chatter are some chosen objects of détournement. But Goldsmith’s practice—which he calls “uncreative writing”—is even less transformative than Warhol’s.

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