On the Defence of Conceptualism

Viktor Vasnetsov. The Unsmiling Tsarevna (Nesmeyana). 1916-1926. Oil on Canvas http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vasnetsov_Nesmeyana.jpg

(Like many of the posts on my blog, this is a ramble sparked by current events. I apologize if it lacks solidity and editing [I might go back and edit it, I might not] And like most of these posts, it comes from a need to get it out and it will get expounded upon eventually through the rest of my writing in the future. I’ve got nothing to lose.)

It is hard to defend conceptualism nowadays. I have been thinking, speaking, and digesting it for months that I woke up today in a state of agitation. There have been a few controversies with it way before I started using it in my work, but in 2015 things got a little haywire. Regardless of poetry or art’s motivations the enfant terrible of the poetry -isms has pushed beyond its confines and some of us are left to pick up the detritus left in its wake.

Some of us are appropriating it. Some of us are dismissing it and moving on. Some of us are doing both, which includes me. I’m purposely being vague because if I’m going to be talking about appropriation and interpretation in poetry, I have to step surely from a place I know and with consideration of the craft that is under fire.

A few years ago, I yearned to get back into writing. I started this blog in 2010 with the intention of starting up again, even if it was just to express myself in order to communicate better with my children. That same year while at the book store I picked up Update by Bill Kennedy and Darren Wershler and Eunoia by Christian Bök. A Griffin poetry prize winner and a book that utilized social media, an expressive form that revolutionized the way I communicate every day with relish. Reading these texts bent my brain in a good way, blew my mind actually, thus after doing a bit of research I came across Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing.

(Now before I continue, some will posit this: influenced by works of white men. Well, I counter that with the fact that William Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe were the first lyrical poets to impact me heavily because they were taught to me school. As the child of immigrant parents from Colombia, I was taught and read to in Spanish at home. It was only until later, in my explorations that I broke out of the white bubble of today’s education system to find poets I identified with not just from expression, but from relatable “minority” backgrounds. You can say the same for conceptualism.)

I gobbled up Uncreative Writing just like the first time I came across a Magritte in person. With Rene Magritte’s L’anniversaire I realized I could paint from dreams. With uncreative writing, the writer’s blocks I often suffered were suddenly alleviated. It was remarkable. Let’s go beyond the Warholian analogies/comparisons and stick to what I feel makes conceptualism work.

Every day we are bombarded with information and a lot of this information takes the form of text. Even when we are presented with images, those images are comprised of an ordered binary text built to present an image before you. When Shakespeare observed the world around him, he saw oral stories and built textual narratives out of these already well-known legends. He appropriated history and his every day to bring you Hamlet and King Lear (Lear being my favourite btw). It is the task of the poet to take the world around her and build her own language to communicate it. When the printing press was invented, the writer saw potential in it. When the typewriter was invented, writers saw potential in it. When the personal computer was invented…wait hold up.

“Uh. How do we use it?” the poet asked.

The personal computer isn’t just a word processor, it’s a text generator and a text manipulator. The poet can copy and paste, rearrange, and create out of the infinite sedimentary material coming from its input and output. It’s mad, I tell you, madness! A poet and writer doesn’t just have to write about the sky, the dying rose, or the way her lover’s face melts in her memory. A poet can now write about the ingredients in her jello pudding and the impact that the words “jello pudding” have post-Bill Cosby. I could take the ingredients of jello pudding and put them through a word processor, copy and paste them and remix them with the word “rape.” The poem generated can read like nonsense for some, but for others, well, it’s a statement. Words have strong meaning regardless of how they’re arranged, they nevertheless mean something.

In Against Expression, an anthology of conceptual writing by Dworkin and Goldsmith, visual artist Claude Closky describes his refrigerator:

My refrigerator

The usable volume of my refrigerator is far superior to conventional capacities, and allows me to store my fresh and frozen produce. The meat compartment with adjustable temperature and the crisper with humidity control assure me a perfect preservation of my food. Furthermore, the fan-cooling unit makes and dispenses my ice to me as well as fresh water. Moreover, my refrigerator is equipped with an anti-bacterial coating that helps me to keep it clean.”

I don’t care if you don’t like it, but this dude just wrote a love letter to his fridge. Who does that? Who even dares to write poetry about the brilliant network of fire and power under the hood of a car? Surely that’s just as complex as the curves of a lover’s body. Why are we still writing about the moon in someone’s eyes? WHAT ABOUT THE DUST *ON* THE MOON? Conceptual writing takes the mundane and places it on the same pedestal as the glory of a rising sun. I know that after a blackout there’s no sound as mellifluous as the buzz of the fridge motor kicking in. When Marjorie Perloff titles her analysis of conceptual poetry as Unoriginal Genius, I think she forgot that there is originality here and it lies in the hands of the artist that appropriates.

Right now, arguments have been getting hung up on the word “appropriation,” and within good reason. Issues of copyright will always be a writer or artist’s concern. For some, the craft of writing is where we can both expressive ourselves and make a living while doing it. We can’t live like Jack Kerouac anymore and we don’t have the financial cushioning of Isabel Allende (an indirect nod to Roberto Bolaño). Writing these days is treated like a hobby and sometimes as a joke career. Therefore, number one rule in appropriation is posting credit where credit is due. While the work, let’s say, remixing a national financial newspaper with a gossip mag, is free, the poet must credit the places they took their material from. It’s not only ethical, but it gives the work context and a means for the reader to relate to the work. Painters paint what they see, writers write what they know, readers and art consumers eventually own your piece of work in the long run. Give them something to chew on.

Now I’ve written a few pieces on the latest controversies appropriating racial bodies, ethics in conceptualism, and such, and for some of these I’m awaiting them going into print. I can’t elaborate on that subject matter without stepping over the publication of that material. For the purposes here, I will stick to “a current defence of conceptualism.” I mean, current because what sparked this post was this:

This screen cap taken from my the stream on my twitter feed.

The Poetry Foundation piece is this one: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/06/kenneth-goldsmith-says-he-is-an-outlaw/

I agree, it was scathing commentary. It’s been a pile on since April 2015. On all sides. It’s cringe worthy for those of us that practice conceptualism to have to defend what we do because a couple of people made some mistakes and stepped over a huge line. Now let me try to elucidate why people are angry with the current tactic and defence of conceptualism.

As someone who has her privileges and in many ways I don’t, I have to say that watching three white men mansplain the world of conceptualism right now is a huge way to get me to dismiss your argument. How is that a defence of the work? In an ideal world, our skin colour, financial status, scholarly background, sexual orientation, and gender shouldn’t matter. We should be free to talk about what we want to talk about. Free speech builds the world up and can revolutionize it when it needs to be.  What do I want to see? I want to see a discussion by people who disagree with each other, who come from different backgrounds who profess their ideologies without blinders on. It’s really hard to defend conceptualism and lyricism right now if you don’t have a phD, are not white, are not currently pitching a novel, or thinks of themselves as the greatest new thing since Picasso. Fuck Picasso. Picasso’s dead, man.

Arguments like Perloff’s above insinuate that those of us that speak against what Goldsmith’s work in April are “not privileged enough to know better.” How do you expect anyone to listen to your argument if you’re telling us, that we must *appreciate* a work that is racist (Note: I do not believe Goldsmith is racist. Not at all. The resulting work at Brown University was racist. The poet, not so much.). There is a fundamental flaw in telling a reader that they have to appreciate something in order to understand it. Excuse me and my place, but you don’t tell me how to appreciate something. If we’re going to sit back and let the work speak for itself, I’m the reader and digester of work much like we all are, thus I have full power here.

What I’m finding in all the arguments against and for conceptualism is vitriol. Blind vitriol and animosity from all sides. It’s a detriment to your arguments. Conceptual writing comes from conceptualism going back to French medieval thinkers and the Jesuits. Talk about colonization. Talk about lyricism and how it helped educate the slave world and eradicate the languages of the New World. All modern literature is racist in a way. However, not all written work is racist. Some of it is rebellious. You can take a white man’s text and make it your own. You can manipulate text to expose its racist meat or you can take a whole education system down by taking the archaic means by which it operates and turn it against itself. You can decolonize using conceptualism and lyricism. You can take the works of William Shakespeare and expose the racism and misogyny within its production. You can take the works of a fascist ruler or corporation and use them to bring them down.

I defend conceptualism from the romantic view that lyricism ingrained in me. There’s an unlimited amount of rebellious potential inside of it. Anyone is free to use conceptualism and to use it well. You don’t need a degree or financial backing to create poetry nowadays. Words belong to the people and the people must use them. It’s a huge responsibility, but that’s the key. Words and their production are a huge responsibility and you must think before you use them and about why you’re using them. How does the poet’s work affect the consumer of it? Sure, we can create work just because we can, but in this day and age, you can not call yourself a poet without progressing the work (even if it is just for yourself). If anything this year has taught me is that words, no matter where they come from, have great power. You can not use that power callously.

Fuck colonization. Fuck all of it. THINK for once about your audience. You’re not convincing anyone in a circle jerk of hate or elitism.

Let’s come at this whole poetry anger from a place where we can revolutionize again. Poetry is freedom. WE NEED TO REVOLUTIONIZE in order to move forward.

In this post http://jacquelinevalencia.com/2013/06/28/uncreative-writing-the-derive-and-your-life/ I said that every book should have a white cover. My white covered books have grey fingerprints and as such, is unique to my shelf.

I want to fuck/conceptualize your white texts up because in the end, I am free to do so. I’m covering all your texts with grey and colour.


I HAVE SO MUCH MORE TO SAY. The poetry world hasn’t experienced this much upheaval since the 1930s. There’s no possible way I could parse the state I’m in and condense it well and coherently.

I’m just venting here, but hopefully I make sense to someone out there. I gotta go do groceries before a Skype meeting. My kid took my last croissant. I have to put away the books that I took out to write this thing. I only cited one.

I’m not sure if all things poetry agitate me or are exciting to me today. Do I put the books away or do I throw them up in the air?

Be agitated or agitate. Sink or swim.


Thanks to https://twitter.com/fearlessdawn for this photo. ❤

Edited to add: I really enjoyed this long form piece by Kim Calder up at the LA Review of Books.  http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/the-denunciation-of-vanessa-place 

Do read it if you get the chance.


Response to Jennifer Chin’s A Morphology of Luxury at Undefined 2, 2015

Not Jennifer Chin’s photo, but taken from here: http://www.cashsherpa.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Faux-Hostess-Cupcakes-016.jpg

The following poems were read at Undefined 2:  http://jacquelinevalencia.com/2015/02/16/undefined-2/ as a response to Jennifer Chin’s artwork in exhibit.

Her work is a visceral take on consumption and consumerism.

Before you read below, check out her work here: http://jenniferchin.ca/section/372581_A_Morphology_of_Luxury_2012_ongoing.html 


Response to Jennifer Chin’s A Morphology of Luxury by Jacqueline Valencia at Undefined 2 2015

Fruit Loops

through the best minds of color, blue 2, turmerical





dragging hysterical naked,

dragging hysteric color,

blue 2,


color, blue

2, turmerical naked,

dragging hysteric cold-water

flavor, blue 2, turmerical naked,

dragging hysterical


dragging hysteric

color, blue 2, turmerical naked,

dragging hysteric cold-water flavor,

blue 2,

turmeric color,

blue 2,

turmeric color, blue 2, turmeric color, blue 2, turmerical naked,

dragging hysterical naked,

dragging hysterical naked,

dragging in the best


of night,


poverty and/or




Hostess, your cup cakes.

A cushion has

this best-selling


a very

likely roundness

and a


a very likely squiggle

costume is like roundness and

a difference

a very likely

roundness and more like

a chair and a cushion


a difference a very likely

roundness and a place

to change

in appearance,

supposing you

know the signature squiggles



Enjoy in multipack


in feather is

not much more joy in that you do


know there is like to season that


may not a very clean



may not

a very little

difference a very clean them.

Gratitude. You know. Squiggles.


Little powdered donuts


little powdered donuts

making you feel good or

completing your fill

they can maximize


the agar stabilizing

chemical imbalances

with an icing agent

language is a virus

Sugar is a respite

fried up nine to fifteen percent shortening

the pastry

an O

an exclamation

a surprise

or eyes, or tits

if you have two

the little kid

with the phone for an eye

sees your no name package

of little powdered donuts

and you panic because

he knows you


he will ask for just one

then his sticky fingers grab at another


Melodically he pleads

big o’s

You must resist


from his or yours

an exclamation


hide them

stuff as many as you can

in your consuming mouth

fevered in love wanting in need

palm oil skim milk powder

skin skinned pleased

more high


fast food gratitude

Donut. You contain stablizers

Maximize me

Hold me solid in this moment

Contain high levels of agar

enriched wheat flour


complete me with

potassium chloride.

On the state of poetry.

Frida Kahlo’s prosthetic leg http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11605809/Frida-Kahlo-fashion-The-artists-clothing-that-will-make-you-love-her.html

I keep wondering how I’m going to start this. Do I rehash everything that has happened in the last few months in poetry or do I just dive in? What can I impart that will illuminate a new thought to someone for a change for the better? I can’t really add much more than what I feel. I am person full emotions. They cloud me sometimes.

For now here are a few pieces I’ve already enjoyed and empathize with:

* Vanessa Place, The Mongrel Coalition and Sector 17: Notes on Poetry, Violence and Community http://jackkerouacispunjabi.blogspot.ca/2015/05/vanessa-place-mongrel-coalition-and.html

* On Being-Hated: Conceptualism, the Mongrel Coalition, the House That Built Me by Trisha Low: 

* On Vanessa Place, Gone With the Wind, and the Limit Point of Certain Conceptual Aesthetics by John K: http://jstheater.blogspot.ca/2015/05/on-vanessa-place-gone-with-wind-and.html


The first time I wrote about the poetry world was when I had finished reading Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing. It prompted me to start my James Joyce projects. A new world had opened up to me in writing. Soon afterward I met Goldsmith and he introduced me to some of my local poetry heroes. I was so taken aback. He introduced me like I was “a very interesting and important poet.” I was overwhelmed with his kindness. Around the same time frame, I met Vanessa Place at an art show here in Toronto that featured conceptual poets and artists. We were both in line for the washroom and she asked me if I was a poet too. She suggested I should visit Los Angeles and take in the poetry scene there. I started reading on her work and it inspired me greatly.

I took on my lyrical and conceptual projects with fervour I hadn’t had since I was a teenager. A combination of writer’s block, a desk job, and then becoming a mother put all my writing on the back burner. It’s still very exciting to me to be in a world where I can produce work for myself and have others critique it, let alone be interested in it. I really haven’t done much, but film and literary criticism help me practice and expand my avenues. I would never have thought of turning my nerdy pursuits into a career. It’s a career I feel very passionate for and drives me. Words mean so much to me and I am very protective of them. Letting them go is cathartic and I’ve since learned it’s important for me to keep writing.


Then in April this happened: http://jacquelinevalencia.com/2015/03/15/thoughts-on-kenneth-goldsmith-and-michael-brown/

Not only had that happened (I can’t even bring myself to appropriate that child’s name on this post. He’s suffered enough.), but conceptual poetry was to blame for all the problems of the poetry world which included racism, sexism, elitism, and add all the -isms you want here. Conceptual poetry had to be abolished because it was the platform of the rich, white, and privileged. Not only that, but somehow my words ended up in different news media platforms. Some of them had misconstrued and cut up my writing to suit their opinion and agenda, misidentified me as a Goldsmith student (I looked up to him as if he was mentor), or black (I’m mixed Hispanic and I don’t appreciate that a paper took it upon themselves to identify as they saw fit without consulting me first), while entirely dismissing my reasoned defence for conceptualism. I got a lot of support for it, but it didn’t feel right.

The one person that could have answered my confusion ran away because their work was being continually questioned and he was being continually burned. I still wait for an answer. Not that I’m owed one. I may have a lost a friend/mentor in the process.

I have no regrets.


I’d known about the @VanessaPlace twitter account and added it on because I was interested in reactions to it. I was surprised no one had already. I wasn’t offended by it because Gone With The Wind is already so offensive. I also didn’t see it as my place to say anything because as a woman of mixed heritage, I’m still navigating that part of my identity with an awareness of my own privilege. I live in mixed girl limbo and that has it’s own problems that most don’t concern themselves with. No one speaks for me and I don’t speak for everyone. The outrage against Vanessa Place’s piece is right and I understand it. Everyone has the right to react the way they want to against racism or if they feel an injustice. No one wants to hear the art behind it (you can read the art behind in those links above). No one wants to hear what VP or KG were thinking and why they did what they did. They just want to condone and abolish.

That’s well within their rights to condone and call for action. Abolish? I’m not sure of that yet.

I am very grateful for the discourse this has provoked. My eyes were partially closed and now they’re wide open. Decolonize language. Decolonize your soul. But only against conceptualism? Really? So which poets of colour are being taught in school? Are we positive that no lyrical poets have ever been racist, sexist, or elitist? It’s all the same boiling pot of vanilla and we have a giant problem all around with this right now. Poetry has always had their cliques, it still doesn’t make it right. Decolonize all of it. Restructure all of it. No holds barred and no excuses. I demand you decolonize your own worlds for you.

No one prepared me for the onslaught of hate against a creative/uncreative process. For years I’ve been hearing the death of poetry, the death of lyricism, or the death of conceptualism. Pick a side and kill the other. Denounce and silence the brand of poetry that you hate. The “I” of lyricism will fall at the hands of conceptualists and the robots of conceptualism will be beheaded at the hands of the lyricists. Poetry right now is filled with feuding families pointing smug fingers at one another. At first I was amused, now everyone is hurting. Guess what? Poetry is personal again now.

The thing I’ve always loved about poetry is that I get to play with words. I get to experiment despite the colour of my skin or the constraints or traditions I utilize. I want to use both English and Spanish to explore the languages I grew up with and add a new one: Chibcha (the extinct native language of Colombia). Whether that be creatively or un-creatively, I have every right to do what I want.

Is conceptualism stained by racism? Yeah, it is, but so is lyricism. All of it is stained. I grew up speaking Spanish at home and learning English at school. These are two languages brought by conquerors that eradicated my ancestral people and their native tongue along with it. We use English every day on social media. At least most of us do.


I’m still very confused and hurt by all the things said against all the camps. Seriously, poetry camps and coteries! Not that I matter in all of this any way. But Poetry (with a capital P) matters to me. It’s where all my forms of expression originate. It comes from a mind that aspires to be a poet; one that still has problems saying, “I am a poet,” because to say that means you earned a mastery of words. It’s an audacious claim. I don’t not hold a mastery of words. I’m a writer and deciphering the world with writing poetry and reading poetry is part of my learning process. It fulfills me and delights me. It will continue to do so. But now I’ve got this anger. This angering energy empowers me to make a deep change in how I use lyricism and conceptualism. I mean, look at this awesome work!:


I love the idea of decolonizing language with conceptualism. You can do it lyrically, but the possibilities become limitless in a cut up and paste world. KG and VP have offended and I hope that more poets offend and provoke. I don’t believe in art that’s sole purpose is to offend. I believe in art that opens eyes, changes perspectives, or makes people see things they were once blind to. As it is, these controversies have made me think about the world of criticism, how it must change and how it must start proving its worth. But that’s another world altogether.

You will not repress me because I have a voice. You may judge my methods of expression, but I have a strong voice, and I will use it as I see fit. You may critique me or condone me, but no one will silence me.

I come from people that matter, my parents, my family, my chosen family, my teachers, my mentors, but I follow no one. And I continue to learn. Full heart, clear eyes, and pen at the ready.

Learn to know thyself.

Poetry is freedom. There is freedom in speech. The poet is the world’s unpaid politician.

Thoughts on Kenneth Goldsmith and Michael Brown


On March 13, 2015, Kenneth Goldsmith read his newest work The Body of Michael Brown at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts at Brown University (for Interrupt 3). Goldsmith remixed Michael Brown‘s autopsy report and presented it thusly. For what looks to have been an interesting conference, I have found very little documentation of the event (or maybe I haven’t looked hard enough, except for hashtags on twitter –  https://twitter.com/search?q=%23interrupt3&src=tyah), but it was certainly noticed all over twitter and social media threads.

As an experimenter with uncreative writing and conceptual work, my first reaction was how did he use the report? I felt this resonated with my thinking at the moment.

However as the stream of reactive media rolled by, the more concerned I got.: https://twitter.com/search?f=realtime&q=%40kg_ubu&src=typd


You can read the rest of Beaulieu’s thoughts here: https://twitter.com/BraydonBeaulieu/status/576817754520571904 which are what resonated with me right after.

It is no secret that reading Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing has been a continual influence in my own work in that it’s provoked experimentation. It’s opened up a new way of thinking and produced work that I’m pretty proud of. Goldsmith is also someone I consider a mentor and a friend. He pushes buttons and I support all of his work. He, in turn, has supported mine as well. I’m not a conceptual artist, nor do I consider myself a conceptual poet. I’m a poet that experiments with words, which is what a poet inherently does. Conceptualism is a subject I render, review, and talk about extensively in Canadian literature and it is, ironically, the birth of my lyrical work as well.

I find that the act of reading Michael Brown’s autopsy report extremely problematic. I believe that as a mixed person, even for me parsing the event is extremely problematic. I wrote a small blurb on twitter about it because I felt I should say something. Goldsmith is right. I wasn’t there. I don’t know the context. I don’t know the reaction of the crowd. I don’t know the discussions that came out of the reading. I want to know these things! I want to know the context and why this reading was a step forward for conceptualism or a step forward to something good for Michael Brown.

If he is just collating the data that is freely available to all of us, rendering it to make us think, well, he’s provoked a meaty discussion from the reactions. We can’t let Michael Brown’s death nor the events at Ferguson be forgotten because they are still happening every day. Is this what we are supposed to gather from a reading of Brown’s autopsy?

Scaling back, I have to think about the poet as a vessel of messages. In this case, Goldsmith is the vessel of the data of the autopsy report. We’re talking in a very clinical, conceptual state, where nothing that was read by Goldsmith was authored by Goldsmith. He is a computer capturing a state in time that we wouldn’t even think of placing ourselves in. From the reactions I gathered after the reading, it is clear that people were made uncomfortable by this idea. Maybe this is the reaction Goldsmith was looking for, if any, I can’t be sure.

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 Brown’s relatives? If he didn’t are we to think that Brown’s death, because 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 colour of his skin, we both grew up subtly being told that our bodies belonged for appropriation. My Colombian dad is called negro in his homeland. I am still called negrita there as well. Negro there isn’t just the name of a colour, but it lives on as a derogatory term in Spanish. Slave labour is still alive and well for the blacks in South America. Black men still face great hardships in Colombia. 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.

Now I’m not saying 100 percent that this is what Goldsmith did, because, again, I wasn’t there. There has yet to be released a video or a transcript of the reading. If I am to defend a work, I would like to know all the details. But until then, I’d like to stand in solidarity with those concerned that Michael Brown might not have wanted this reading. Yes we are taking data of information and going with it, but that’s exactly what a reading like this incurs. As poets we present our work and some of us drop that mic. Some of us are so concerned with dropping it, we end up throwing it. Then we’re surprised when it gets thrown back.

I still think Kenneth Goldsmith is brilliant and one of the biggest champions of experimentation these days. Death threats against him because of this are ridiculous. We need discussions and get togethers where we duke these things and flesh them out. I like to think of Goldsmith’s reading like Madonna and Andy Warhol thought of Basquiat (http://jacquelinevalencia.com/2015/02/06/basquiat/). Basquiat wasn’t just a person or friend to them, he was a figure that came with the complexities and provocation they desired in their own work. They used him, but Basquiat used them as well.

I want to know what was said in Goldsmith’s reading. I want to know the aftermath in that room. I’m concerned that new divisions will be formed because we don’t know. Isn’t the work made more important by the discussion of it?

These are all questions I still have after posting these up:



Goldsmith messaged me and was shocked at my reaction. I was asked if I passed judgment. I would like to ask some questions because in the end I found the event to be viscerally upsetting. If people that were there weren’t as upset as the people that weren’t, why is that? We want to know more. I’ve been looking for information, essays, or reactive tweets besides, “I hate Goldsmith!” or “I love Goldsmith!” What did listeners get out of the reading? I want to know what his reaction is to the outrage considering that I know he would try his best to handle the subject matter with some form of compassion. At least, I still hope he did.

Until now, all we have is his twitter feed: https://twitter.com/kg_ubu

Edit: Or this facebook statement: https://www.facebook.com/kenneth.goldsmith.739/posts/354492771403205

These are just my two cents to personally parse what upset me, to question the artist, not to attack the person. The irony in all of it, is that both the reactions and the idea of the work, made me think.

I don’t believe that there is a “white supremacy, right wing” conspiracy in conceptual work. I practice it, as do many. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t question what I do with conceptualism or how I practice it. I must consider. I must provoke. I must consider. I must provoke. It means that as a woman, as a person of colour, as a person of privilege and disadvantage, that I must help to turn the tide, make the mark, and own my work fully, but most of all, take responsibility for it.


Edited to add: Goldsmith posted a new statement on his Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kenneth.goldsmith.739/posts/354952974690518?pnref=story


LINKS I’ve been reading (thanks to the many who are making a conversation. Racism & sexism exists in all poetic coteries. That’s the discussion we should still be having.)

* Response to Race and the Poetic Avant-Garde: http://bostonreview.net/poetry/erica-hunt-forum-response-race-avant-garde

* Race and the Poetric Avant-Garde: http://bostonreview.net/blog/poetry-forum-race-avant-garde

* The Mongrel Coalition Killed Conceptualism: http://gringpo.com/

* Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde: http://www.lanaturnerjournal.com/print-issue-7-contents/delusions-of-whiteness-in-the-avant-garde

* Goldsmith y el imperio retro-conceptual / Heriberto Yépez: http://venepoetics.blogspot.ca/2013/09/goldsmith-y-el-imperio-retro-conceptual.html

* The Brown Daily Herald: Racial controversy over poem ends conference early: http://www.browndailyherald.com/2015/03/18/racial-controversy-over-poem-ends-conference-early/


Post-event analysis and reports:


* http://news.nationalpost.com/2015/03/17/power-and-poetry-in-context-on-kenneth-goldsmith/


* http://queenmobs.com/2015/03/the-body-of-kenneth-goldsmith/







Jean-Michel Basquiat Obnoxious Liberals 1982 acrylic and oil paintstick on canvas 68 x 102 in. The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection

“I don’t think about art when I’m working. I try to think about life.”
– Jean-Michel Basquiat

(This little ramble is a knee-jerk inspiration from walking through the Basquiat exhibit and many other things that are percolating in my brain at the moment. I have no thesis. I have no conclusion. I don’t even think there’s an argument here, but I feel like I needed this out of me, right now. Not edited because I have a busy day ahead.)


My motto when I create anything is to create from experience or what fascinates me. I get obsessed with things easily and although that can be a strength for a nascency of truth, it can be detrimental to it. In scribing Ulysses, I’ve taken a couple of weeks hiatus. James Joyce is pissing me off right now due to a variety of reasons, one of them being his own obsessions with the world around him. I’ve focused so much on his work for the past few years, it’s taken me a lot of patience not to tear his books apart. They’re beautiful. They’re motivating. But as I’ve mentioned before, I can only take so much murmuring. Tonight, I will start new, just to finish the damn project. I saw the Basquiat exhibit at the AGO last night, so it got me thinking about the finished product.

This is where it gets me: the product. It’s one thing to see a work of art in a picture, or your schoolbooks, or on the internet; it’s quite another to be in the presence of it. I was a never huge fan of Jean-Michel Basquiat, but I knew of him because of the cultural impression he made in the world of popular art. I followed anything to do with Andy Warhol growing up, so my interest mainly lied around that component of it. It was only until later that I came to know more about his music and collaborative efforts. He was everywhere, but not really. Basquiat was like an infusion. Something we need so desperately right now.

Being immersed in his work, it brought tears to my eyes (ok, I’m extremely sensitive, but it takes a lot to move me that way). The work that provoked me so much was mounted on a little away from most of people’s periphery, but it stood out in its simplicity. It was a piece of foam, the kind you find inside of a discarded seat cushion, dirty and jagged in all the edges. Basquiat had painted a small stick figure car on it in his trademark style. The artist had a taken a piece of city, of the street, the places people forget, the objects people discard, the thrown away bones of the everyday, and made it his canvas. He appropriated this heavily manufactured, conveyor cookie-cutter item, and here it was accepted as world class art in a gallery. Most of his work with indelible shoe prints made many years ago.

Now, this isn’t new to me. I’ve seen collage before and continually expose myself to the vast spectrum in the art world. I have to. It’s where my head lies. But man, where’d the artist go? Where’d poet go? Where’d the creation of language go? It’s everywhere, but there’s no spontaneous infusion anymore. At least, that I can find and I’ve been searching, obsessed with the search, actually.

When I went to New York City for the first time, the thing that struck me was clean everything was. The dirty gritty realness I’d come to expect from films wasn’t a current reality, but I didn’t mind. It was just different. Since I go every year now, I still find the grittiness in other parts. I find the extemporaneous muck in explorations. I am stable when I’m comfortable, but I’m inspired and energized when I can see the forgotten filigree around me. I need to put my hands in it, my ears to it, smell it, just like my daughter does wherever she goes. She can’t sit still and observe. She must be a part of the setting around her. In essence, what I am saying, is that as artists we are way too comfortable today or rather, we are too happy with that comfort that we forget to deal with the reality. The reality is we have to afford to be artists….and why is that?

How much art school is in your art? How much emotion is in your art? How much logic is in your art? Most of all, how much of you and the world around you is in your creation? Does it even matter? Basquiat built his expressions through many conceits. He was politically, aesthetically, and emotionally charged individual. His brain took in so much and he internalized a big portion of that to be utilized entirely on his art or his obsessions. He appropriated, collaged, lyricized, painted over, destroyed, built up, and carved his expressions out of a true place inside of himself. I need to find that true place in myself.

It was hard having crowds voicing their opinions or perspectives out loud. Galleries can be pretty quiet normally, but last night was a little too much. I was happy, moving through the works, and I was misty eyed. It was embarrassing, but after a while it didn’t matter. The painting above said a lot of it for me. Basquiat sold his paintings to a very high art crowd, one he understood, but also one he had contempt for. He didn’t want to be a commodity. Yet at the end of the exhibit, among all the prints, there are Basquiat hats with his crown logo and pens. I bought a print of that painting above.

I don’t know. I just came out of there feeling like everything feels so manufactured. The music industry is set up like an assembly line.  Revolutions are now t-shirts. Wars are streamed. And although I love the anarchy of the internet avatar, I don’t want to imprison myself in it. I am Marshal McLuhan prophecy, but I am not his product either. Basquiat new the power of semiotics, and I guess, a writer, an artist, intrinsically learns, or knows how to convey to her peers and the people of her time. I think we need to tear down the modern day lexicon, there’s so much of it. We need to stop being afraid of being uncomfortable. We need to start pissing ourselves off.

I wrote this status the other day:

I do enjoy this. I’d like to see how it’s changing anything though. I don’t entirely agree with it, but I want to know more and where it’s coming from and why.
The revolution isn’t in manifestos though. And although my brain still parses a lot of the ‪#‎conceptualism‬ aesthetic, because I’m still working through it, I’d like to see ‪#‎poetry‬ / ‪#‎art‬ rebuttals as opposed to just blah blah blah. Give me something to look at, to percolate, to create in my brain. You know, use your art that provokes to move and start something. I’m so bored and tired of the manifesto/let’s label ourselves a revolution culture. You are not my revolution. I am my own manifesto. /end kind of a rant
Had a bit of a rendering on twitter last night, so I woke up thinking about it.
(I also love Poetry Foundation’s openness to discussing this stuff.)

It was about this: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2015/01/response-to-jacket2-conceptual-writing-post-refers-to-colonial-aesthetics/

It came to mind when two quotes by very talented white artists were mostly about how jealous they were of Basquiat. They didn’t explain why, but there you go.

I’m very politicized at the moment. These past few years have seen a reemergence of the feminist in me, acknowledging my privilege as a mixed second generation Latina in Canada. I work with re-appropriating a lot of white men’s work (ie. James Joyce and I believe you can call The Wall Street Journal, a rich white man’s work too). I read women’s work every day as a film reviewer and book critic. I do my best to try to expose the unknown female artists out there. We all need to help each other to make this world equal. I have discussions with my son about feminism and activism. I try to make my work, my life, part of the artistic infusion.

You don’t sit back and wait for the world. You make the world. You experience it. You carve into it, paint on it, collage it, appropriate it, and make it part of the lexicon you use to impart your truths.

And I said I was tired of manifesto culture.

NO, I am against definitions because language is organic being, ever evolving, and breathing. If I want something new, if I want new infusions in my life, in my art, I have to be fearless from the get go. Guts are truth. Guts are not self-conscious. Guts are not self aware. Guts are heavily inside themselves and digest to yield and nourish.

Why do we care so much, but actually care for so little?

I will be going back a few times to the exhibit and probably pick up a biography or a movie in conjunction. I need more. I need to learn. I need to provoke myself.

Ok, gotta go.


Basquiat, part of the SAMO© project, photo by Henry Flynt, 1979


“1982 by James Van Der Zee. Estate of James Van Der Zee”




UNDEFINED 2: the unclassifiable event is back!

L'Avant-Garde_Front copy


May 21, 2015


(187 Augusta Avenue, Toronto)


UNDEFINED is a night with unfixed limits in art: language, music, and visual. Bringing the conceptual and experimental in poetry, film, performance, art, and music that fits nowhere and everywhere.


There will be creative and uncreative writing workshops tied into this event. More info soon.

**This was last year’s: https://www.facebook.com/events/669043146488107/?ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
Photos: https://www.facebook.com/lttlredcorvette/media_set?set=a.10154081541220343&type=1 ***

UNDEFINED: a night with unfixed limits in art April 23rd @ Wilson 96

Gardening with John 2005, © Susan Levenstein

April 23rd, 2014, @Wilson 96 (now renamed Bar Radio)
615 College Street, Toronto, Ontario  (click for map)


Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/669043146488107/

UNDEFINED is a night with unfixed limits in art: language, music, and visual. Bringing four conceptual poets, an experimental filmmaker, music that fits nowhere and everywhere. Featuring:

* LIZ WORTH: Worth’s first novel, PostApoc, was published by Now or Never Publishing in 2013. Her 2009 non-fiction debut, Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, was the first to give an in-depth account of Toronto’s early punk scene. Liz has also written a poetry collection, Amphetamine Heart, and three chapbooks. She currently resides in Toronto. http://www.lizworth

* ERIC SCHMALTZ : is an intermedia language artist and researcher. His work has appeared in various places online and in print including Jacket2, Open Letter, Rampike, Poetry is Dead, dead (g)end(er), and ditch,. He is also a regular contributor to Lemon Hound’s reviews section. His first chapbook MITSUMI ELEC. CO. LTD: keyboard poems was published by above/ground press in 2014 and his chapbook EVERYDAY IS BLACK FRIDAY is forthcoming from Gauss PDF. Eric lives in Toronto where he co-curates AvantGarden.

*LINDSAY CAHILL: is a Toronto-based editor, visual poet, and remixer. her work has been widely published across Canada, and internationally in the U.S. and Australia, most recently in The Rusty Toque, Stroboscope: a magazine of versioned poetics, and TheVolta.org’s feature on The Women of Visual Poetry. pieces from her Simpsons remix project will be featured in Jonathan Ball’s forthcoming anthology WHY POETRY SUCKS. she currently co-edits the Toronto and NYC based mag outlandish with Kelly Wydryk.

* POEM is a new conceptual sound-noise poet duet comprised of LIZ WORTH and JACQUELINE VALENCIA

*ANDREW JAMES PATERSON: is an internedia artist active with video, film, writing, performance, curation, and musical performance. Paterson has a history of activity with artist-run culture and self-initiated projects. His videos and films have been exhibited in Seoul, Bangalore, New York, London, Montreal, and other international venues in addition to Toronto. His work has always entertained a performative element, and he has presented performances in tandem with projected film and video in many venues.
Paterson has also functioned as a writer and editor, most notably for YYZ Books with the book Money, Value, Art (2001 co-edited with Sally McKay).

Many of Paterson’s work are concerned with the tensions between bodies, technologies, and institutions. His body of work is characterized by a symbiotic relationship between bodies, landscapes, technological initiatives, and abstraction. Paterson has served as a curator or programmer for many organizations: Cinematheque Ontario, the Images Festival, YYZ Artists’ Outlet, Trinity Square Video, Mercer Union, and others. He continues to oscillate between bodies and technologies in his own works, and he now works as a coordinator for the 8 fest festival of small-gauge films. http://www.andrewjamespaterson.com

*PHIL MILETIC : is a writer and visual artist-inprogress. his recent work can be found in an upcoming leaflet from NO PRESS, a chapbook “And the Birds Sing” from Ribbon Pig, otoliths, outlandish zine, Poetry is Dead, and a few others. he lives in kitchener, pursuing his doctoral studies in english at the university of waterloo.

*JULI BISSON WHITTOM: is an emerging Toronto artist. Working predominantly in acrylic on wood, she is currently exploring the theme of mythos and legend. Also a singer, she has performed in this year’s production of Carmen with the Toronto City Opera and pursuing further roles in the upcoming season.

*JENNIFER VALENCIA: studied cinema studies and fine arts at UofT. She works with mixed media focusing on photography, film, music, and performance art. She has been volunteering and working for several film festival around the city for over 9 years. While currently working at Hot Docs she developing her writing as a film critique and developing art projects. Jennifer will be assisted by Laura Brown for her performance.


A basket will be handed out throughout the night: suggested donation $10 or PWYC.

Come witness (and drink!) the unbounded night offerings at UNDEFINED.

****This will be UNDEFINED first night. Tentatively planning other nights, if possible, so please message me (Jacqueline) with inquiries at ravensee at gmail dot com

On my last day of retyping Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man


Dear James Joyce,

This morning I had my cup of coffee, with two creams and six of those little packets of sugar, and typed out the last few sentences of your book, Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man. 

I’ve been kind of down thinking of today because I started this on March 11, 2013 (depression has its own agenda). On paper March doesn’t seem like such a long time ago. In reality, if you count down the amount of times I’ve sat at this desk to do this, that’s two hundred and seventy one days I’ve dedicated to retyping your book. I can’t say it was all wine and roses, because it wasn’t.

There were days were I was fascinated by what you were doing at the beginning. You tried to recreate an infantile brain and how it processes language (the infection of language is insidious, but it has to happen). However, my writing suffered indirectly at the time. I handed in stories to my writing groups and they all but spat them back at me wondering where the punctuation was and my odd ways of forming a story. I was experimenting without realizing it. I think I entirely missed the point then, but I look back at those works and have come the conclusion that they will stay without revision. Not everything I do has to be a possible published piece.

That brings me to why I did this. Well, to rehash what I’ve had to repeat to others:

I read Kenneth Goldsmith‘s Uncreative Writing. Everything he mentions there rings true. I think as a creative medium, as writers, we’re stuck when we write. We’re writing the same way, and while the art world has had its breakthrough with the avant-garde, poets stayed behind swimming in a lyrical oasis. At least, that’s my interpretation of it anyway. I’ve suffered fifteen years writer’s block. It comes and goes, but it’s a terrifying thing. Even worse than the block, was the feeling that I was trying way too hard at my poetry. Poetry is hard, but I wasn’t bringing anything new to the table. I wrote pantoums, villanelles, sonnets, and free verse. I am very proud of those works, but I felt like I was running around in a circle, discerning the world in 2D glasses.

Anyway, Goldsmith mentioned a project by Simon Morris who had retyped Jack Kerouac’s On The Road (http://gettinginsidejackkerouacshead.blogspot.ca/). I thought it was an interesting thing that I could do with one of your books. You see, Ulysses is my favourite novel of all time. Sir, you broke my brain when I read it, however, I didn’t want to retype something I had already read more than a dozen times. It’s my literary bible. So, I picked up A Portrait, made a blogger for it, and started.

Retyping A Portrait spun off other projects including:

The uncreative projects keep coming to me. I’m still sorting out a visual poetry project I had going on the side, but there’s only so many hours during the day. I am a mom of two children who are almost teenagers (they say “GAH!” to me!), and balancing a career and home has its own schedule. As for my creative projects since I’ve started retyping A Portrait:

And I’ve met so many like minded folk and inspiring writers/artists that it’s been overwhelming. I’m conversing, exchanging ideas, arguing, defending, reconciling, but never compromising. I mean, if you didn’t, why should I?

So here I am after having typed your words and I feel like I can’t let go of them. I don’t think I got inside your head, per se. Sometimes, and it’s weird for me to say it, but I’ll say it anyway: I’d be typing your words, and your head would appear in front of me obscuring my screen. You’d ask, “What the hell are you doing, woman?”

“I’m typing.”


“I like loosing myself in it. It’s like meditating. Like my morning coffee. May be it’s even better, for I am often unhappy too.”


And then you’d kind of go away. Each of our exchanges were different, but the gist of them is there.

I’ve decided that I haven’t had enough of you thus I’m taking on a new project. On Monday December 9th, I’m going to write every word of Ulysses, a page a day in a journal. I’ll take photos of the pages I write every day and post them on http://gettinginsidejamesjoyceshead.blogspot.ca/

Many thanks to the writers, the innovators, the cyborgs, the thinkers, and to all those who continue to challenge me and have given me a chance to do something with my words. I started all this way before I retyped A Portrait, but something about the retype stirred me on and asked something more of me. A great writer I admire quite a big deal, said once, “You can’t start from everywhere.”

I can’t start from everywhere, but I had to start somewhere. Does it matter than I reach out with tentacles at the possibilities? I focus. It’s how I function. I work. I create. I uncreate. I multi-do and I multi-undo. I am being. I am not a convention. I am a mathematical theorem. Dispute my method, but I still stand.

Retyping words that weren’t my own. It’s not a creative thing, but if I retyped the words and did the work; if I retyped the words (finding myself in a drunken stupor late at night remembering and then doing my daily retype regardless of my lack of sobriety) at all hours of the night; if I retyped the words and found myself pondering What Would James Joyce Do?, were these not my words? This work came out of me and went out into the ether. I thought upon them and breathed them back into my consciousness. I didn’t mind meld with you, Mr. Joyce, but as I finish this little ramble off, I have to wonder, where do the thoughts that inspired the words that went into the work, where did the thoughts go?

We have a quarrelsome comradeship, Mr. Joyce. I can not exile myself from the stagnant world. It will always spin in circles, because it’s what we do. But I can shake my wings still and look for the escape.

Photo on 12-6-2013 at 9.49 AM #2