Kenneth Goldsmith

Goldsmith is seen by most as a conceptual poet but his practice extends into curation, sound, and art criticism. he is by most accounts a provocateur, he appreciates pranks, in an interview, he expresses his love for artist Marcel Duchamp and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, who are famous for taking ideas to extremes in art and comedy respectfully (Louisiana, 2014). Perhaps when Goldsmith published his most famous book “Day”, a direct transcription of a copy of the New York Times, he is, by calling it poetry mirroring what Marcel Duchamp did with “Fountain”; he is questioning what poetry could be and like Cohen did with his character Borat he is taking this idea to an extreme. Goldsmith calls this practice of appropriation and transcription “uncreative writing” and I have struggled to understand the value of such a bizarre practice and so I use this essay to explore why Goldsmith dedicates so much time to something which seems to me so binal.

Watching interviews I was quickly seduced by Goldsmiths charm, he wears small round eyeglasses nestled in a large and bushy beard, he talks with a meticulous and unambiguous clarity taking time to pause between sentences. It helps that he is aware of the impression his work can have on people, he is quoted a New Yorker article saying “I’m the most boring writer who has ever lived” (Wilkinson, 2017), in fact, he worries that if too many people did buy his books he might be sued for copyright infringement (Louisiana, 2014). Like with conceptual art, his work is less about the material he produces than it is about the thought behind his work, he says “I don’t have a readership”, “I have a thinkership” (Wilkinson, 2017). Goldsmith is well renowned within the world of avant-garde poetry, he was the first New York Museum of Modern Art’s poet laureate and even read his poetry to President Obama at the white house (Wilkinson, 2017), but even so there are those that criticise him, Cathy Park King, for instance, described his work as irrelevant considering all of the societal and political unrest and accused him of jumping on the racial bandwagon by reading browns autopsy at brown university (Hong, 2015).

Despite understanding that “Day” was a conceptual piece and so about provoking thought I found myself quite unthoughtful instead in more of a state of vexed confusion and it took hearing him talk for me to start to think about what this practice of uncreative writing might mean in a broader context. It was the idea that curation and appropriation can be an artistic practice that I found particularly captivating. There are according to software engineer Leonid Taycher 129,864,880 books in the entire world, this is such a large number that no one person could come close to reading even a fraction of them and this doesn’t include films and music (Taycher, 2010). It seems to me that as an artist you are just as valuable to society if you bring to public attention pertinent old ideas as you would be attempting to create something new and original. Goldsmith to me points out that like how the Détournement movement gave new meaning to slogans by changing their context, the same can be done with writing.


Taycher, L. (2010). Books of the world, stand up and be counted! All 129,864,880 of you.. [online] Available at: http://booksearch.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/books-of-world-stand-up-and-be-counted.html[Accessed 7 Nov. 2017].

Frieze (2014). No Such Thing as Writer’s Block. [video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Box0FF9H0Q [Accessed 15 Oct. 2017].

Hong, C. (2015). There’s a New Movement in American Poetry and It’s Not Kenneth Goldsmith. [online] New Republic. Available at: https://newrepublic.com/article/122985/new-movement-american-poetry-not-kenneth-goldsmith[Accessed 7 Nov. 2017].

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (2014). Assume No Readership. [video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAJRQJGc7DU [Accessed 15 Oct. 2017].

Wilkinson, A. (2017). Something Borrowed. New Yorker. [online] Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/10/05/something-borrowed-wilkinson [Accessed 15 Oct. 2017].

Writing.upenn.edu. (2017). [online] Available at: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88v/goldsmith-bio.html[Accessed 6 Nov. 2017].