Greenpoint, October, 2015

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Kenny G. Brings the BQE to the White House

Kenneth Goldsmith

An extraordinary event took place at the White House today. President Obama and the First Lady hosted a Celebration of American Poetry. Not so surprising, although they missed National Poetry Month by a couple weeks--was it roasting Donald Trump or killing Bin Laden? No, the really remarkable thing is that they invited the poet Kenneth Goldsmith, along with more predictable names: Rita Dove and Billy Collins (both former Poet Laureates) and Elizabeth Alexander, who delivered the inaugural poem at the President's inauguration.
There are (at least) two reasons Kenny Goldsmith's presence was so surprising. First, he describes himself as a "transcriptionist" rather than a poet. His books consist of transcribed speech from a range of sources: the complete radio commentary of a Yankees game to 24 hours worth of traffic reports from 1010 WINS radio.  At the White House event, he read excerpts from Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" and Hart Crane's "The Bridge," followed by two of those traffic reports from his own book Traffic. Not what you'd expect for a White House event. Way to go, Obamas!

Elizabeth Alexander
The second reason is a bit more obscure. Kenneth Goldsmith is also sometime WFMU DJ Kenny G. Last summer, on his "Kenny G's Hour of Pain" show, he did four one-hour shows entirely made up of transcribed traffic reports read by him. (It was a surreal experience to be driving on the BQE listening to traffic reports that talked about where you were but not when you were.) Better still, after the truly awful inauguration poem read by Elizabeth Alexander, Kenny G. invited listeners to take the sound file and contribute their own mash-ups.  They did, and it's some of the best radio you'll ever hear. I'm guessing Elizabeth Andrews and Michelle Obama hadn't heard it when they invited Kenny G; although Elizabeth did look a little nervous sitting next to Kenny, I think it was the suit he was wearing. Check it out:

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