Monday, September 28, 2015

On Alec Wilkenson's New Yorker Piece on Kenneth Goldsmith

Alec Wilkinson's forgiving and sympathetic piece on Kenneth Goldsmith has recently made the poetry rounds and came across my various feeds this morning. I read it. The piece raises many of the concerns about the whiteness of the Conceptualism movement, and about the avant garde poetics of North America's past fifteen years or so. The piece also gives Goldsmith ample space to explain his motivations behind the performance of "The Murdered Body of Mike Brown's Medical Report" last March, 2015. 

Goldsmith makes his living as a writer of, as he coins it, "uncreative writing," wherein most text produced is found and resituated. Fair enough. Remarkable insights can be gained when familiar texts get defamiliarized; in fact, any poem that fails to perform that shift fails also to really be a poem. Goldsmith's work has been remarkable in that he strives to defamilarize not only the text, but its media, as seen in his work Day, in which he retypes an issue of the New York Times into a standard (but lengthy) codex book. 

It's this attention to recontextualizing media that not only serves to fuel Goldsmith's work, but also to undermine the work. According to Wilkinson, Goldsmith sought to apply his techniques to a "hot" text. That term explicitly flags Goldsmith's interest in treating such a text as a McLuhanesque media; hot as interactive and as a site of sensory overload. Goldsmith's performance quickly got hot in another sense, as he became a focal point for racialized America's fury over the continued mistreatment of its young, black men by powerful, white men and their institutions. 

Conceptualism sought to replace Modernism as an antiquated mode devolved to analysis of granular units of meaning. By replacing content with context, the Conceptualists draw attention to the inherent fact of 21st Century North American life; that everything known is online, thus granular, thus recontextualized as motes of static and irreducible except as modes, or media. This is the age of both meta- and mega-data, and Goldsmith's work has habitually drawn attention to the way text works in our time, and done so effectively, which has (as Wilkinson points out) valorized Goldsmith in Academia. 

The experiment fails, however, when Goldsmith signals that such out-dated modernisms as hot or cold media provide the motive force behind his work. McLuhan is old, and his work has long since been understood as useful only within a remedial context of understanding media as representative of human communication; the sort of thing one learns in a first-year Communications class. Media no more replace human experience than Baudrillard's simulacra do. 

Race theorists understand this. Feminists understand this. Gender and power theorists understand this. Apparently, however, Goldsmith did not understand this, and in not understanding it, he proceeds to shift his artistic attention from his own cold, white manhood and reading practices, to the "hot," racialized and contentious body of a dead, young man who had been brutalized by white guys with power. 

By viewing Brown's body as a text the same way that he had previously viewed his own body in such works as Soliloquay and Fidget, Goldsmith dehumanizes Brown. By doing so and ignoring his own position of race and institutionalized privilege, Goldsmith dehumanizes Brown. By inserting unflattering comments about Brown's genitalia that appear differently than their context in the coroner's report, Goldsmith dehumanizes Brown and reveals his own insecurities. By doing all of this when Brown's body remains a focal point of trauma, Goldsmith dehumanizes Brown and disregards those for whom Brown's most important contribution to American culture is the very body that Goldsmith dehumanizes, even as that body gets appropriated as a simulacrum by people who self-identify with it because of their own bodies. 

Goldsmith admits making a mistake to Wilkinson, but does not clarify what that mistake is, at least not in Wilkinson's article. One of the great failings of Modernism remains its investment in things, in the concrete, in the quotidian details of lived experience, at the expense of what modernists viewed as the overly sentimental investment in emotion evidenced by their Romantic forbears. Conceptualism sought to reclaim context without investing either in granular things, or subjective emotions, but by disregarding his own context, and by disregarding the lived context of his actual, human subject, Kenneth Goldsmith fails both that context and his own movement. He becomes just another white relic from a context whose time has passed. 

I cannot fault anyone who refuses to forgive Goldsmith this trespass against the body of Michael Brown. Conversely, I agree with Goldsmith's assertion that the role of the artist is to provoke; certainly, as an agent provocateur, he has performed this role with aplomb. Many artists and poets have declared their intention to do whatever is necessary to disrupt Goldsmith's career, of whom the anonymous Mongrel Coalition stands as one singular voice among those many. Is such action justified? It strikes me that, whether they like it or not, whether Goldsmith likes it or not, such continued attention to his work will only serve to enable his provocations further. That, after all, is the nature of media.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

CFP for ACCUTE 2015: Making Contact: Circulating Small and Micro Press Poetry in Canada

Cameron Anstee (University of Ottawa) and I have put together a proposal for a panel at ACCUTE 2015 at the University of Ottawa. We are currently seeking abstracts (see the PDF below for full details) for a panel on the distribution of small and micro press poetry in Canada.

The deadline for abstracts is November 1, 2014 and submissions may be sent to and

We look forward to seeing what people have to say on the topic! I have also included a link to the PDF at the bottom, in case the embedded document cannot be read.



Friday, August 15, 2014

Indegogo Campaign for Vancouver DTES Writers

A note from Elee Kraljii Gardiner 

"Hi everyone,

I run a writing program, Thursdays Writing Collective, in Vancouver, and I’m wondering if any of you could help disperse some info. 

Every year we publish a book of our writing. The results are amazing - aside from reflecting in depth collaborations with writers and thinkers from all over, our books give participants a publishing history, a legit title to represent and sell at readings, and professional experience in the literary community. Most of you know the thrill of seeing your name in print and how transformative it is. When you’re dealing with systematic marginalization - which many DTES residents confront every day -  the chance to self-determine is critical.

We’re supported by Canada Council and SFU but grant changes mean we can’t get funding for a publication without ceding editorial control. We’re in the last 2 weeks of an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for our 7th book.  We are 69% funded.  If we don’t meet our goal we don’t get any money.

Would you consider sharing the info about our campaign with anybody you think might be able to contribute or further share it? It would be a tremendous help. 

Here is a link to the campaign page where you can see perks donated by Amber Dawn, Meredith Quartermain, Cathleen With, Alex Leslie, Betsy Warland, John Asfour, Arsenal Pulp Press, Clint Burnham and Heather Jessup. The writers have been incredibly generous in supporting us! 

Thursdays Writing Collective participants will be writing poems to - and using word prompts suggested by- donors. It will be really fun to see what that sort of connection produces.

On the Indiegogo page you can see the one minute videos that Fred Wah and Madeline Thien each made to endorse what we do. 

Here is a link to Thursdays Writing Collective’s site:

Finally, here is a link to our Facebook page:

Thank you for reading this far - I know it is a hassle to click through and parse the pages but every click you make is literally changing someone’s life. 


Elee Kraljii Gardiner"

Sunday, August 03, 2014

30 day challenge and Tumblr

I have decided to start blogging again, but not here, for the moment. That may change when I get my website up and running.

In the meantime, those who want to follow my 30 day yoga/reading/writing challenge (which starts tomorrow) can do so here.

Those who want to challenge themselves alongside me for the next month are welcome to do so and I will gladly follow you, that we may all be better kept honest.

Much love!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Canadian micro-press study approved for takeoff!

Micro-press Survey Recruitment Statement

As some may know, I am a doctoral candidate in the Department of English, at the University of Calgary. My doctoral research focuses on the impact had in Canadian poetry by chapbook and micro-presses and, in pursuit of measurable data regarding the publication of ephemeral poetic works, I am currently seeking the publishers of such works to take some time to fill out a survey on their publications.

In the project, I define micro-press as any press that typically prints runs of 100 copies of a work or fewer, that uses human, rather than predominantly automated or digital labour in production and printing of works (thus, not digital presses and so forth), and that does not assign ISBN numbers to publications. While there is no direct compensation for filling out the survey, this research may go a long way towards furthering awareness of the publications involved, while also contributing to a deeper body of knowledge regarding ephemeral publishing in Canada.

Participation in the research is voluntary and, if desired, can be kept anonymous. If you would like to know more about the research or would like to receive a copy of the survey to complete, please contact me at If you are not involved in such a press but know someone who is, please circulate this call for responders to that person (or those persons, if that be the case) and invite them to contact me regarding the survey.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

10 Things You (Actually) Need to Know Today

Leafing through my various news sources this morning, I keep seeing the standard story title "10 Things You Need to Know Today". The stories are full of such trite events and pseudo-news as Mitt Romney's spending a crucial second day campaigning in Florida, Obama is out-fundraising him, Truthers doubt the (independently verified) positive job numbers, there was a blown call in a baseball game.

Really? We need to know this stuff? What a load. It's thanksgiving this weekend and that seems to me like a reason to take a pause and consider what we actually need to know - some of it nice and some not so nice.

1) Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday. It's a historical one, wherein millions of people celebrate the moment colonial expansion hit the shores of North America. The fact that Canada doesn't even celebrate it on the same day as the USA should, of itself, be ample proof that this holiday isn't about the one great god but, rather, that it's politically motivated and expedient. Millions of Natives have good reason not to celebrate.

2) The people who really need a paid day off this Thanksgiving aren't getting one. They work at the grocery stores, the breakfast restaurants, the hotels, the janitorial services...they work harder, for less, than most of the people who're chewing on those dead turkeys this afternoon. What does that mean? It's not much of a holiday for many (perhaps most) of the people working and those of us being thankful for a day off should know this and, if we go to those restaurants etc. and make more work for people, we should thus tip accordingly.

3) Living in Canada is not necessarily a reason to be thankful - unless you're one of the people for whom the system works, who form the segment of society that can follow Stephen Harper's advice to invest when the economy tanks and hundreds of thousands of people lose their jobs and can't replace them, unless you're not one of the victims of Canada's (still enduring though, thankfully, less so) colonization and abuse of subaltern populations, unless you're one of the few women in Canada who earns above the mean for your industry...thankfulness is a kind of indolence. For too many, it's a self-satisfied solipsism that disregards what it means to pay homage to a debt owed. We need to know that, and examine ourselves accordingly to ask if there's more we should be doing to help people become truly thankful.

4) We should be thankful. Thankful to our parents, our families, our friends; to all the people who have made an effort at some time in our lives to make those lives better. We should be thankful, who can wake up in the morning, knowing that there are folks out there who love us unequivocally - not despite our flaws, but because of them; because of the things that make us the unique, whole people that we are. Being thankful means giving thanks: call your loved ones or visit them and let them know how thankful you are that they shape your lives.

5) We all see dead people. We can't, actually, give thanks to those who've died, no matter how we miss them and still feel that they somehow remain as part of our lives. Guess what? they do. We can't thank them in person, those parents and grandparents and mentors who've passed, but we sure can share them with the people we love; we can haul out those photo albums and stories of holidays past, and we can re-iterate the love they felt for us and, by so doing, share that love with the people we have chose as our own loves and lovers.

6) Wherever we are is just one small corner in a very big world. How do we contribute to that corner? For most of us, effecting real change on a global scale is unlikely and that's fine. Even the people who effect such change (and let us not forget how frequently it's for the worse) start in their small corner. How do we define our corners and our communities? How do we contribute to them? What are the things we do that might, whether credited or not, cause people touched by us to give some kind of thanks? We need to contemplate these things and learn to know them - only then, can we appraise their worth and continue to work upon them.

7) Raised in a Mennonite community, I've had humility hammered into me since birth. Well, I'm not really a Mennonite and I'm not really a humble person. I need to know this because knowing it means that I can learn what my true gifts are and make the best use of them possible. Today, we need to know who we are - not in relation to George Clooney or to any other celebrity whose omnipresence in our faces has more to do with contractual obligations to multinational "content" providers than to any actual personhood - but in relation to ourselves and those we hold dear, whoever they are. Understanding comes from solitude and contemplation and the increasingly rare ability to put our fucking phones away and turn off the ringers. We need to know silence, to know who we are.

8) Knowing this, we need to know that we don't need to know "why". Why? is both the most and least important question in our lives. Answering it often and of habit creates the critical minds needed to resist external programming, (assuming we answer it with honest intention), it helps us actually ratify our passions, our beliefs, and our actions with vision and with clarity. However, we don't need to know why. Knowing ourselves IS knowing why - and, with that in mind, we can plan our actions, we can sing our songs, and we can love our loves without a shred of doubt and with all of the selves that we have to muster. That's why.

9) We need to know fiction. Too many people today confuse it with fact and vice versa. With Point 1 still in mind, I cannot help but remember that Saint Augustine, the founder of biblical exegesis, frankly stated that Christ spoke in parables and that the bible was analogic. That means, it stated greater truths about the being of mankind by not stating literal truths - in much the same way that poets do. For every single man and woman on earth who thinks that they need to read religious text literally I can only say this: stop it. Read those beautiful poems for what they are and understand that our language always and must be metaphoric. We all need to know a good story and to understand that it's just a story.

10) We need to know each other. We won't have much to be thankful otherwise. So, stop reading and jump on your bicycles or pick up your phones or say hello to the neighbor in your condo building or do whatever you need to do to create the outreach that is this lived experience. Happy Thanksgiving, people.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Buggered Seasons

Fall's an interesting time when yer working in academia. It brings new students, new committees, new perspectives on old work - even new peers and office mates and, of course, a huge pile of new work. In Calgary, the weather is typically lovely in the fall; with hot sunny days and crisp nights that beg for bike rides and glasses of wine with friends.

Fall, in other words, is my spring. It's a time of rebirth and a renewed focus on my work. Typically, I suffer in the spring months. My allergies flare up, my deadlines loom, the schizophrenic weather patterns wreak havoc on my commute (typically by bike) with alternating rain and freeze patterns that turn the roads into shuffleboards of death. Melting snow reveals gravel and garbage, I suddenly realize that I packed on 20 lbs over the winter, and I freak out about whether or not I'll have work and income over the summer.

Spring usually feels like the grim knell of death, accompanied by relentless prairie wind and ominous skies.

So far this fall, I've attended five readings of one kind or another (participated in one as a performer), have completed new poetry for the first time this year, actually started work on the significant components of my dissertation that should have been well under way in the spring, and have begun to consider some dim glimmerings of hope for a future that extends past my PhD studies.

What, then, is the deal with literary spring? While I understand that it's not actually predicated upon my own experience, the chorus of evocations towards spring that echoes through the millennia overwhelmingly drowns those few (I'm thinking of Thomas King's marvellous treatment of spring as an ominous harbinger of wind-born depression in Medicine River) voices that seem in accord. Perhaps, my feeling is just that - mine. Perhaps it's an Alberta thing, borne by the beautiful and sunny Indian Summers we experience here. Perhaps it's even a Canadian thing - many of our cities are toilets in the spring (I'm looking at you, Montreal) and downright magical in the fall (I'm looking at you, Montreal).

At any rate, I think it's high time to recognize that, north of the 49 anyway, we've been getting our seasons wrong. It's time to stop thinking like American farmers and imagine rebirth in new ways, that don't have to do with raising high-fructose corn syrup and potato chips. We can see rebirth as a human, a social thing that need not be disassociated from the environment but may also have inspiration there.
Bugger spring, it's fall - a friend is singing tonight at Cafe Koi, it's Nuit Blanche tonight across the country, and I think it's time to celebrate some new beginnings.