Seven American Deaths and Disasters

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What are the words we use to describe something that we never thought we'd have to describe? In Seven American Deaths and Disasters, Kenneth Goldsmith transcribes historic radio and television reports of national tragedies as they unfurl, revealing an extraordinarily rich linguistic panorama of passionate description. Taking its title from the series of Andy Warhol paintings by the same name, Goldsmith recasts the mundane as the iconic, creating a series of prose poems that encapsulate seven pivotal moments in ...
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Seven American Deaths and Disasters

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What are the words we use to describe something that we never thought we'd have to describe? In Seven American Deaths and Disasters, Kenneth Goldsmith transcribes historic radio and television reports of national tragedies as they unfurl, revealing an extraordinarily rich linguistic panorama of passionate description. Taking its title from the series of Andy Warhol paintings by the same name, Goldsmith recasts the mundane as the iconic, creating a series of prose poems that encapsulate seven pivotal moments in recent American history: the John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and John Lennon assassinations, the space shuttle Challenger disaster, the Columbine shootings, 9/11, and the death of Michael Jackson. While we've become accustomed to watching endless reruns of these tragic spectacles—often to the point of cliché—once rendered in text, they become unfamiliar, and revealing new dimensions emerge. Impartial reportage is revealed to be laced with subjectivity, bias, mystery, second-guessing, and, in many cases, white-knuckled fear. Part nostalgia, part myth, these words render pivotal moments in American history through the communal lens of media.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Dwight Garner
[Goldsmith's] potent new book…[is] made up entirely of other people's words, and in many senses it's like everything he's done. Yet it's like nothing he's done. It knocks the air from your lungs…Mr. Goldsmith has…delivered a kind of found treasure of the American vernacular. His book is about the sounds our culture makes when the reassuring smooth jazz of much of our broadcast media breaks down, when disc jockeys and news anchors are forced to find words for events that are nearly impossible to describe. This book is about language under duress.
Publishers Weekly
By transcribing and collaging radio and television coverage of seven watershed events in recent American history, Goldsmith (Uncreative Writing) repackages the media's language as it grapples with tragedy. Out of its original context, the reporting on the attacks on the World Trade Center of September 11th, 2001, for example, turns chilling as the horror of the event overwhelms the descriptive power of the journalists covering it. Radio coverage shortly before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy unfolds as a jarring collage of turkey meat commercials and pop songs before reports of the assassination cut in. Similarly, what seems to be a radio scan, on the day of former Beatles singer John Lennon's murder, juxtaposes some of his greatest lyrics with discussion of how his music and activism affected individuals as well as society at large. Goldsmith is a poet who has previously expressed his fascination "with rendering the mundane" in writing by transcribing newspapers, his own quotidian words as well as old weather reports. Here, his attention focused on these tragic events, he creates a fascinating, poly-vocal document that not only investigates the nature of language but challenges both individual and collective memories of these moments played out in real time. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"’s like nothing he’s done. It knocks the air from your lungs."
-The New York Times

"This book feels both like an important historical document and a beautiful example of what the Great American Novel might look like today."
-The Paris Review

"It mingles the language of radio and TV commercials with sometimes bumbling, sometimes heroic reports from journalists filing their first draft of history.  'Seven American Deaths and Disasters' is of a piece with Mr. Goldsmith's provocative literary aesthetic."
-The Wall Street Journal

"The high priest of what he calls Non-Creative Writing, Goldsmith continues producing books from found texts—in the case of Seven American Deaths and
Disasters, he transcribes radio transmissions announcing famous deaths and other bad news. His new book is a textual equivalent of Warhol’s Death and Disaster paintings, ripped from the front pages of the Daily News."
-Publishers Weekly

"Goldsmith's material, unmistakably real, refuses to remain in a literary frame."

"Kenneth Goldsmith is always ahead of the curve!  Just when readers were becoming used to his “boring” transcriptions of weather or traffic reports, he here reverses the game by turning his attention to the extraordinary: seven cases of assassination, murder, sudden death, or terrorism and how such unforeseen events have been handled by the feckless and unaware media.  Seven Deaths is a real page-turner: you will feel you’re there, living through the horrific events as they unfold."
-Marjorie Perloff, author of Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781576876367
  • Publisher: powerHouse Books
  • Publication date: 3/12/2013
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 1,400,485
  • Product dimensions: 4.40 (w) x 7.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Kenneth Goldsmith's writing has been called "some of the most exhaustive and beautiful collage work yet produced in poetry" by Publishers Weekly. Goldsmith is the author of ten books of poetry, founding editor of the online archive UbuWeb (, and the editor of I'll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews, which was the basis for an opera, Trans-Warhol, that premiered in Geneva in March of 2007. An hour-long documentary on his work, Sucking on Words was first shown at the British Library in 2007. He teaches writing at The University of Pennsylvania, where he is a senior editor of PennSound, an online poetry archive. He held The Anschutz Distinguished Fellow Professorship in American Studies at Princeton University for 2009-10 and received the Qwartz Electronic Music Award in Paris in 2009. In May 2011, he was invited to read at President Obama's A Celebration of American Poetry at the White House, where he also held a poetry workshop with First Lady Michelle Obama. In 2011, he co-edited, Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing and published a book of essays, Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age. Goldsmith was invited to participate in dOCUMENTA(13) in Kassel, Germany, 2012. In 2012, dOCUMENTA(13) published his Letter to Bettina Funcke as part of their "100 Notes—100 Thoughts" book series.
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Read an Excerpt

Robert F. Kennedy
My thanks to all of you and it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there.
We want Bobby! We want Bobby! We want Bobby! Wewant Bobby!
Senator. How are you going to counter Mr. Humphrey in his, uh, backgrounding you as far as the delegate votes go?
Senator Kennedy has been...Senator Kennedy has been shot! Is that possible? Is that possible? It could… Is it possible, ladies and gentlemen? It is possible he has… not only Senator Kennedy... Oh my God! Senator Kennedy has been shot. And another man, a Kennedy campaign manager. And possibly shot in the head. I am right here. Rafer Johnson has a hold of a man who apparently has fired the shot. He has fired the shot. He still has the gun. The gun is pointed at me right at this moment. I hope they can get the gun out of his hand. Be very careful. Get that gun! Get the gun!
Get the gun!
Stay away from the gun! Get the gun! Stay away from the gun! His hand is frozen. Get his thumb! Get his thumb! Get his thumb! Take a hold of his thumb and break it if you have to! Get his thumb! Get away from the barrel! Get away from the barrel, man!
Watch it with the gun. Watch it with the gun!
Look out for the gun! Okay. Alright. That’s it, Rafer!
Get it! Get the gun, Rafer!
Get the gun! Get the gun!
Okay now hold onto the guy!
Get the gun! Get the gun!
Hold on to him! Hold on to him! Ladies and gentlemen, they have the gun away from the man. They’ve got the gun. I can’t see…I can’t see the man. I can’t see who it is. Senator Kennedy, right now, is on the ground. He has been shot. This is a…this is… What is he? Wait a minute. Hold him! Hold him! Hold him! We don’t want another Oswald! Hold him Rafer, we don’t want another Oswald Hold him, Rafer! Keep people away from him! Keep people away from him! Alright ladies and gentlemen, this is…now… Make room! Make room! Make room! Make room! Make room! The senator is on the ground. He’s bleeding profusely…from apparently… Clear back!… Apparently the senator has been shot from the, ah, in the… frontal area. We can’t see exactly where the…where the senator has been shot, but… C’mon. Push back. C’mon. Grab a hold of me. Grab a hold of me and let’s let’s pull back. That’s it. C’mon. Get a hold of my arms. Let’s pull back. Let’s pull back. Alright. The senator is now… The ambulance has been called and the ambulance is… Bring the ambulance in this entrance! And…this is a terrible thing. It’s reminiscent of the Valley the other day when the senator was out there and somebody hit him in the head with rock and people couldn’t believe it at that time, but it is a fact. Keep room! Ethel Kennedy is standing by. She is calm. She is raising her hand high to motion people back. She’s attempting to get calm. A woman…with a tremendous amount of presence. A tremendous amount of presence. It’s impossible to believe. It’s impossible to believe this. There’s a…certain amount of fanaticism here now as this has occurred. No one… They’re trying to run everybody back. Clear the area! Clear the area! Right at this moment…the senator apparently…we can’t see if he is still conscious or not. Can you see if he is conscious?
Can you see if he is conscious?
I don’t know. He is half-conscious.
He is half-conscious. And ladies…we can’t see, ladies and gentlemen. One of the men, a Kennedy, apparently a Kennedy supporter is going first… C’mon. Out! Out! Out! Is there some way to close these doors? Is there any doors here?
Get out! Get out!
Out through the...out through the exit. Let’s go. Out we go.
Unbelievable situation. They’re clearing the halls. One man has blood on himself. We’re walking down the corridors here. Repetition in my speech. I have no alternative. The shock is is so great. My mouth is dry. I can only say that here in the kitchen of the Ambassador
Hotel, the back entrance, from the podium, in the press room, the senator walked out the back. I was directly behind him. You heard a balloon go off and a shot. You didn’t really realize that the shot was a shot. And yet a scream went up. Two men were on the ground, both bleeding profusely. One of them was Senator Robert Kennedy. At this moment, we are stunned, we are shaking, as is everyone else in this kitchen corridor at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. They’re blocking off the entrance now, supposedly to make room for the ambulance. That’s all we can report at this moment. I do not know if the senator is dead or if he is alive. We do not know the name of the other gentleman concerned. This is Andrew West, Mutual News, Los Angeles.
…about three hundred fifty. David Hayward with two hundred sixty and Walter Tucker with two hundred thirty-five. For the Republicans in the Seventeenth, Richard Howard has about three hundred votes. In the Twenty-second, uh, congressional district, James Corman, incumbent, is having no trouble at this point with his reelection bid in the primary in any event. He has about eighty-four percent of the vote. The leader for the Republicans is Joe Holt with about fifty-five percent of the vote. In the Twenty-ninth congressional district, in…
Jerry I’m sorry we’re going to have to interrupt you. We have to go to Ray Williams right now to Kennedy headquarters in the Ambassador Hotel.
Right, Bob, and here we have a situation. Senator Robert Kennedy has been shot. The man is now calling for a doctor.
Is there a doctor in the house?
We don’t know exactly who did the shooting or how it happened. The rumor we have is that, in the midst of some hysterical teenagers, a shot rang out. There was a noise. No one knew at the time whether it was a balloon or just what, but the senator has been shot. Exactly what his condition is, we don’t really know. However, our producer has gone over to check and see if he can find out anything, but there is complete pandemonium here at the Embassy Room at the Ambassador Hotel. Women are hysterical, they have been screaming.
The best thing that anyone can do here…
No one really knows who did it, whether they have apprehended the person who shot him or what.
…is to leave the room in an orderly way.
They’re now asking for everyone to leave the room in an orderly fashion. Perhaps once they clear this room, then we can begin to probe into this drastic incident that is taking place here, find out exactly what it is.
We don’t know what has happened.
Right now the gentlemen in charge of the Kennedy party are trying very hard to retain their composure, hoping that this will affect the crowd and help them to move out in an orderly fashion.
Would you please clear the room? Would you please clear the room in an orderly fashion?
Bob, it’s unbelievable, what has happened here at the Embassy Room. We now have our producer coming this way with a youngster who evidently was very close to what was going on. We should be able to find something from him. Bring him over here.
Please leave the room.
What happened?
I saw this man go in the back. He started running back. And I saw and I heard he’s been shot. That’s all I heard.
What, uh, what man was it?
It was was a young person. That’s all I saw. Run back… I saw…I just saw somebody run back and then I heard somebody say he’s been shot. And that’s all I heard.
There were two people that ran back.
That’s all. I saw this man run back there.
There has…has been a chase after that man?
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