A controversy has recently arisen over a poetic work that a well-known poet named Kenneth Goldsmith wrote based on the autopsy of Michael Brown. As the injustices surrounding Michael Brown’s death are being addressed, the latest in the Michael Brown and Ferguson issue has been a long list of resignations. Most Americans take the incidents surrounding Michael Brown’s death very seriously, and some are saying that Kenneth Goldsmith crossed the line with his poem based on Michael Brown’s autopsy.
Who is Kenneth Goldsmith and what is his relationship with Michael Brown or Ferguson? Kenneth Goldsmith’s general biography is that he recently authored a book called “Seven American Deaths and Disasters.” Kenneth Goldsmith also teaches poetry and poetics at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2011, he read poetry at the White House and in 2014, Kenneth Goldsmith was a guest on the Colbert Report. On March 10, Kenneth Goldsmith wrote an article for The New Yorker titled, “Post-Internet Poetry Comes of Age.”
While he seems like a normal poetry professor with a thriving career, his reputation was put under the microscope over the weekend of March 14. On March 14, Kenneth Goldsmith posted to his Facebook page, “Nothing like receiving a death threat on a Saturday morning” and included a photo of a tweet sent by @CassandraGillig that said, “i want 2 organize large benefit reading…100000 poets strong 4 the death of kenneth goldsmith we wld take donations of weapons not $.”
i want 2 organize large benefit reading…100000 poets strong 4 the death of kenneth goldsmith we wld take donations of weapons not $
— sextus gillig (@cassandragillig) March 14, 2015
Why were people getting so upset at Kenneth Goldsmith? One poet, Jacqueline Valencia, took on the controversy on their blog and tried to summarize the reasons that people got so upset with Kenneth Goldsmith. Evidently, on March 13, Kenneth Goldsmith read a poem that was a remix of Michael Browns autopsy report called The Body of Michael Brown at Brown University.
Valencia states the following, “As an experimenter with uncreative writing and conceptual work, my first reaction was how did he [Kenneth Goldsmith] use the [Michael Brown autopsy] report? I felt this resonated with my thinking at the moment.”
Valencia also says, “Now think of Goldsmith again as the vessel of that report. He is not black. He is not from Ferguson. He is not related to Michael Brown. Did he speak to the Brown’s relatives? If he didn’t are we to think that Brown’s death, because that of that freely available autopsy report, are we to believe that Brown’s body is now freely available to the public. This is a black body that Goldsmith is rendering in his reading. That alone is the reason that concerned me. As a mixed woman with a black father who has had his rights (and life) questioned because of the color of his skin, we both grew up subtly being told that our bodies belonged for appropriation.”
— Kenneth Goldsmith (@kg_ubu) March 15, 2015
Valencia’s advice to Kenneth Goldsmith? Valencia continues her thoughts about Kenneth Goldsmith using Michael Brown’s autopsy report and says, “Black suffering isn’t free and readily available to the public. Until the struggle is fought by those who suffer, we as people on the outside of it, must be allies and not silence black voices or speak over them.”
What is Kenneth Goldsmith’s response so far? Does he think he was guilty of “speaking over them”? He tweeted on March 15 a screenshot from poet and professor Tracie Morris that said, “My thing is, if Kenny can talk about the tragedy of JFK being murdered, yes, he should talk about the murder of Michael Brown too. Why do we [Black people] have to be the only ones to talk about it? Michael Brown is American, an unarmed American child. A dead American child. And this is a story about the body of that poor child.”
Tracie Morris goes on to provide more insight in an additional posted comment on Kenneth Goldsmith’s Facebook page. Currently, there is no evidence that Kenneth Goldsmith fears for his life or is pressing charges against the person who issued the death threat.
[Feature image via Getty Images.]