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Some of the very worst poetry I've ever read on the Mainstream Poetry blog. It is terrible. Mainstream Poetry is awful. That is the point. When someone comes along and points out Mainstream Poetry is full of terrible poems, I want to say "Well, yes, you are a perceptive reader!" When someone then generalizes to say that all work defined as "Flarf" or coming from the Flarf collective is exactly the same project as Mainstream Poetry with the same contraints, I think they don't know what they are talking about.

It should be fairly obvious that Mainstream Poetry is not the same thing as Deer Head Nation. Deer Head Nation is not the same thing as Petroleum Hat. Petroleum Hat is not the same thing as the Anger Scale.

This talk all comes at a time when I've been knocked over, punched in the gut & left utterly amazed by Petroleum Hat. I don't know if I've read a more effective book of political poetry. I actually find Joyelle McSweeney's once apparently hyperbolic review is _understated_ and _restrained_: chicks dig war might just out-howl howl. I can't recall another book I've read recently that had me weeping by the end of the first poem -- oh to "bomb them into happiness".

It is possible, of course, that you have read Deer Head Nation or Pet Hat or any one of the many books by members of the Flarf collective. If so, it seems a little cheap to only refer to mainstream poetry, when you know that site serves as a scrap-heap of very very bad poems. Or it is possible your experience with Flarf is really only limited to what you have read on blogs. If so, I urge you to read a book.



I know next to nothing about Flarf. Am not a part of the collective. I was not defending it bc I love it, I was defending it bc I think it is an interesting strategy in approaching the writing of poetry (I want to see more * Deer Head and Pet Hat are in the mail). We all fall in love with our writing (least I do), I get stuck at times because I am so sure I know what it is that I want to say that I won’t let the poem speak for itself. I’ve used techniques similar to flarf to find my way out, just like that flarf is so upfront about it. Agree with Anne, most poems stink. Most flarf poems are not my cup of tea. But there are some that work as poems, not necessarily "flarf" poems. Flarf, I believe (and I am only talking bc I was linked to above), is the approach, the result is something different.

Now I will go quiet and listen.


Anne -

I know Drew's work, but have not read Pet Hat (and if I'm correct, many of the poems in it are not available on line). Based on Drew's earlier work, I have no incentive to put money in Drew's pocket, I'm afraid.

How close are the poems in Pet Hat to Drew's earlier work? If they're different, how are they still Flarf?

I've found excerpts, but I can't say that they seem all that affecting to me. Do any of these lines in McSweeney's review really change anything I've said? (http://www.constantcritic.com/Joyelle_McSweeney.html)

Thomas Basbøll

I think Anne's got the right angle on this. Seth posted "Mm-hmm" as an example of Flarf, R.J. is referring to Mainstream Poetry. The first is not especially useful since its main association with Flarf is an example of bad poem. Mainstream Poetry is also full of poems that no one would defend as "good". With the collection of Flarf in issue 30, I think Jacket has made up for much of its blunder in printing Dan Hoy's paper (which I'm still not able to criticize constructively) in issue 29. Those poems are worth a good look. Doing so does not risk putting any money in anyone's pockets, at least no directly. (Though I think that's the sort of argument I find difficult to engage with since it goes to what poets deserve rather than what readers deserve. Critics should be helping readers find good poems, not poets get paid.)

There are a lot of things to keep talking about here. And I'm going to post something on the weekend. I'm still a bit put off (or feel myself walking into a tough room in a stiff wind going up hill) by what is obviously an attempt to show that a whole way of writing is illconceived and to call that way of writing "Flarf". I use the word "Flarf" to mark a quality of poems that really like these days.

That is, the "how are they still Flarf?" question troubles me, because will always allow a good poem to be the exception to precisely the argument you are making here. But I will try to show how, say, Gardner's "Norman Mailer" is obviously Flarf (and therefore a "good" poem in a particular way) in the same sense that Mohammad's "Spooky" is Flarf. More on the weekend.



I think I'd feel more comfortable if I knew how many people who were party to this (and other similar) conversation(s) know *personally* the parties being spoken of: Gardner, Mohammad, Gordon, Sullivan, and so on.

I should be clear that I'm not using the same criteria for entrance into the discussion that, say, Jonathan Mayhew used--if you can't spell "flaccid," you're out of the dialogue altogether (meaning, this isn't an ad hominem attack in disguise, or what I understand is more properly called "genetic fallacy")--I mention it because some of the people in this discussion may have heard these poems read out loud by their friends, may have dialogued personally with these people about their intentions or have some special insight into their aesthetic visions, such that--unlike, say, you and me--they are "seeing" on the page more than what you or I see.

I think, for instance, of a conversation on K. Silem Mohammad's blog about Jennifer L. Knox's "Chicken Bucket," which, *on the page*--and because I *do* know many working class white teenagers with criminal histories and do *not* know Jennifer L. Knox from a hole in the wall--struck me as a) fairly mean-spirited (though I hasten to add that I don't believe it was *intended* this way, merely that it *reads* this way) and b) incredibly inauthentic in both its demotic language, its voice, its tone, and its substance. It's the sort of poem which, to me, can *only* be a joke--and because it's not funny (again, on the page) it's not a very good one.

In that dialogue (re: Knox), I noticed that those who know Jennifer had a different perspective on the poem than those who don't, because they had heard the poem out loud and knew Jennifer's character--and quickly, this knowledge became a prerequisite for reading the poem "properly" (my word) on the page. Frankly, I think a poem has to speak for itself, on and off the page, and therefore I wonder if the interlocutors for flarf are bringing more to the table as far as "background knowledge" goes--about *the poets*, not the flarf--than we are presently aware.


Thomas Basbøll

I think that's grasping at straws, Seth. But just to be clear: I think the critic must show you what s/he sees. That's the test. The best way to do that is usually to draw attention to the resemblences between poems. And the differences between them too, of course. I'm not going to spend any time proving my qualifications to be part of this discussion, in any case. I'll try to contribute what I can. Stop listening when I'm no longer being helpful. Anything else assumes forms of authority that I don't think can be made to stick around here. Best, Thomas.



Actually, I wasn't thinking of you--you've been fantastic throughout about articulating *exactly* what makes these poems work for you. I was thinking more of those who speak about flarf as though its virtues were somehow self-evident, and seem reticent about addressing the individual poems as they sit on the page. I'm still ruminating over your post on my blog and looking forward to any additional comments you have about flarf. Heck, if we could get a review copy somehow--Ginger and I have little to no personal funds--I'd love to see someone erudite critique Drew Gardner's book for TNHR (speaking out of school, here, because I don't have the final say--but my feeling is that any book which engenders this much debate can only, on some level--if addressed civilly--be educational for a poetry-reading audience to at least *think* about, whether it strikes them as successful in the final analysis, or not).


Thomas Basbøll

But Seth, you talk about Flarf as though its defects are somehow self-evident. It's great that you think I'm fantastic. But I'd rather be grouped with those who make you uncomfortable on this point.



Not to play word-games with you here, but: should I understand your last comment as indicating that flarf *has* no defects, or that it does but those defects are not evident?

For I can assure you that I've never yet found a form without defects, and that after eight years of writing and publishing poetry I'm able to detect defects both evident and otherwise.



Well, lets clear some ground here.

1) Anyone who was discussing these issues on Jonathan’s blog is welcome to continue that discussion here.

2) It seems like we’re getting bogged down in several areas:

2a) There’s a gateway argument being made; that one ought to read X books before engaging in a discussion on Flarf.

I don’t think that really follows given that there’s a Flarf manifesto (of sorts) on line, a transcript history, and numerous examples of poems by Flarf’s “flagship” poets (or, members of the Flarf Collective, if you will.) Now it’s one thing not to have read *any* Flarf (then it would just be silly to try to talk about it), but one can use the “gateway” argument to stall discussion pretty much forever – “Oh, you think *that,* well have you read (insert obscure poet A)?”

I think that my particular claims against Flarf are in how it’s produced and how it fuels a dialogue that really does not need it. I think there are some valid points in there, but no one has yet addressed them.

2b) Buried argument on what is Flarf?

Anne thinks my selections were disingenuous, but the fact of the matter is that those poems are Flarf. If we split Flarf into “good” and “bad” Flarf, the question then becomes how do we do it? Along what lines do we distinguish? And is there an attenuation point where any given poem in question uses X number of Flarf techniques, but relies far more on other techniques – relies on them to the point where we’re now dealing with a poem that’s Flarf-influenced rather than Flarf itself.

Obviously, this is one of the problems with manifesto movements.

2c) Dialouge on Flarf
I think Seth has it right when he questions what kind of extra poetical knowledge needs to be brought to bear on the poem in order to have it function as the flarfists intend. Actually, part of my contention is that flarf is pretty much interchangeable/discardable in the subsequent dialogue; but we can certainly flip the lens and ask what kinds of knowledge predicate flarf being able to engender that discussion.

So – anyway, back to Flarf.

Thomas has a good idea for a reference - let’s all take a quick look at Jacket 30 http://jacketmagazine.com/30/index.shtml

Here’s that Hoy essay: http://jacketmagazine.com/29/hoy-flarf.html from an earlier Jacket.

I assume that by reading all of these (I have) – one might qualify as being reasonably well versed in Flarf, or being exposed to enough examples of Flarf that one can reasonably begin to critique it as an aesthetic/poetic movement.

Now, I’m honestly not sure how the poems selected by Trantor qualify as Flarf. They have little or no resemblance to the manifesto listed above. In fact, they often seem to be weak or sloppy versions of, well, mainstream poetry. If Anne finds my argument disingenuous for not quoting “good” flarf poems, well, I have to ask if the collection in Jacket qualifies as “good flarf” and if so, I’d ask Thomas to consider where we draw the line in terms of “what is flarf?” I.e., what’s the line where we look at a poem and decide to read it by assuming that the poem in question ought to be at least initially interpreted/read as within the orbit of the Flarf aesthetic?

Again, I’m not trying to put off the discussion by asking these questions – I’m trying to actually *have* it.

Beyond that, if anyone wants to address the normative arguments I’ve been toying with, I’d like to hear from you.


PS – Thomas – sorry you feel burdened in the debate. I’m not a huge fan of AG in general and a lot of my criticisms are easily swapped from one movement to another (largely because those movements operate on similar fundamental assumptions. I don’t mean for that to be as uninviting as it might sound – it may be at the end of the day that I accept your arguments with certain caveats, but I rather think those caveats often scuttle that acceptance. Regardless, thank you (and Anne) for discussing rationally.

Thomas Basbøll


With all due respect, I recently posted a remark about this discussion (which burdens me only to the extent that I try to lift my end of it, and I do that in so far as the exercise pleases me ... it's a free blogosphere, after all) at the Pangrammaticon) I think my remarks about Seth's approach to talking about Flarf now also applies to you.


Suppose someone said, "the fact of the matter is that those people are [category of people being denigrated]", where the reference of "those people" is a set of people who, in the light of the discussion, will have their worst aspects (or their most pertinent defects, let us say) emphasized. And where the discussion is not really about those individuals but about the category that is being held resposible for them. Moreover, that reference also indicates aspects of these people that are visible only because they are not on their, as it were, "best behaviour". That, I am saying, is how bigots make their case, not people who are seriously interested in human virtues.

So, applying this to poetry, let the discussion of Flarf be about its best examples. I don't see that as "gatekeeping", I see that as ensuring the best possible discussion. Jacket has printed three perfectly good, perfectly flarfy poems by Drew Gardner, at no cost to the reader. Take "I Am *So* Stupid". The title is typical Flarf (cute, annoying, cloying, etc.) it's content fits, say, Kasey Mohammad's "a studied blend of the offensive, the sentimental, and the infantile." I haven''t yet seen anyone try to get their mind around that very important word: "studied". Instead they read (dropping also the evocative word "blend") Kasey as saying Flarf is offensive AND sentimental AND infantile. Well, I'm rubber and they're glue, people.

Instead of saying, "I've read it and I still don't dig Flarf" (which you're free to think and say, but which is not part of a critical discussion), it's time to say *what* is wrong with "I Am So Stupid". Now, since people who like Flarf (publicly) actually praise specific poems and books of poems, I think the burden of proof (at the beginning of this discussion, with the posts by you and Seth) has always been on you.

You and Seth can say nice things to me all you like, but the fact is that you are being jerks to a bunch of pretty sensitive readers of contemporary poetry and you're making it less easy to enjoy that pursuit. (I like this kind of thing, of course, but that's my problem.)

You may no longer be insulting them personally (after they gave you a taste/overdose of your own medicine) but you are insulting everyone's intelligence by picking poems, saying, "That's Flarf, right?" and refusing to read the poems that would shed positive light on the movement ... including the poems you read disingenuously, i.e., in such a way as to conceal their virtues.

I'm pissed off this morning. But, hey, let's keep at it.


Thomas Basbøll


You said: "I was thinking more of those who speak about flarf as though its virtues were somehow self-evident."

Then I said: "But Seth, you talk about Flarf as though its defects are somehow self-evident."

Then you said: "Should I understand your last comment as indicating that flarf *has* no defects, or that it does but those defects are not evident?"

I think you *can* read, so I'll assume that here you are simply unwilling to. As you point out, you are trying to decide between two wholly possible readings, one of which casts me as a complete idiot and leaving the question open. So, yes, I think that you are playing word games. You may want to check up on the hermeutic principle of charity.

It's a rushlight, friend. Leads back to splendor.


Thomas Basbøll

Some strange things seem to have happened elswhere on this topic while I slept. Just a quick note to say that my comments have no bearing on that.
Best, T.


Hey Thomas –

Sorry you feel that way. And I’m sorry that there’s been a lot of drama about the issue, even though I don’t really think *I* caused the drama (although it seems obvious that I played some part in triggering it). (Please read my prior post, I think I’ll also make a new post to the blog.)

First off, I don’t think I ever attacked anyone personally, here or elsewhere. I’m an old on-line flame war veteran and try not to engage with that sort of thing more than I absolutely have to. I’ve no desire to step on anyone’s toes personally, which was one reason I went with flarf from the mainstream poetry blog, rather than go after Drew or Kasey.

Secondly, you may think it’s bad form, but as someone noted somewhere in the discussion, the flarfists (loosely) themselves tend to strongly critique work they don’t like in rather broad terms - for example the debate over Mary Oliver’s kitten poem on Limetree. So I hardly think they’re defenseless saints in this regard, or that I’m ruining poetry for people by asking questions about the scope of the project and what it actually does.

Third, I think I’ve been pretty above board in being clear in my arguments, and at this point I’m absolutely willing to shift from the examples I initially proposed to something you feel might be more productive.

So, if you’re still willing, I’d certainly like to take you up on discussing a flarf poem (or better, two flarf poems by different authors) of your choice – shall it be something from the Jacket? I’d rather you pick, since you were concerned about the selection of initial examples. Name them here and we’re off to the keyboards. It would probably be best if we both do pro/con and try to relate the pieces picked to Flarf in general – I hope that will concretize some of the arguments here. Or just pick two for me.



Gary Sullivan

I haven't read everything here, but just a quick note: There is nothing academic, at least not what I would call academic, about flarf or the flarflist. The list was started in May 2001 by myself, with the following members: Kasey Mohammad, Nada Gordon, Drew Gardner, Katie Degentesh, Jordan Davis, and Mitch Highfill. Nada teaches in the English as a Second Language department at Pratt, and Kasey was teaching at the time at UC Santa Cruz. Other than that, the rest of us, including myself, have never held an academic job or position.

While a few members added since then teach in academia (Michael Magee, Maria Damon, Benjamin Friedlander), most of the newer members do not (Rod Smith, Tim Peterson, Christina Strong, David Larsen, Rodney Koeneke, Allen Bramhall).

Not that this will change anyone's opinion about anything, but there you go.


Data's always good Gary - thanks for dropping by, feel free to jump in.

Thomas Basbøll

I like to think I "think so", not "feel that way", but, OK, on with it.

I've got two close reading assignments set for myself this weekend. Links to the relevant poems can be found at the Pangrammaticon in these two posts:



The Gardner poem I'm thinking of is "I Am So Stupid". As far as "Flarf in general", I'm still wary. But we might try testing Kasey's "studied blend" idea.

Anyway, I should have something up on my blog on Saturday.


Excellent - looking forward to it.


I am very late getting back to this.

I haven't read Gardner's other book, so I don't know how it differs. I only know I wasn't expecting it to be so powerful, and I found this anti-flarf-blog-talk very ill-timed, given I've been reeling from Pet Hat in a way I haven't reeled from poetry in a very long time.

If it helps you Seth, I should say I've never met/personally corresponded with Gardner. I also only just briefly met J. Knox this weekend (she said, Anne Who?) and read Chicken Bucket very differently than you. Though now that I've met her (and she said, Anne Who?) I feel somewhat confirmed in my reading of the poem.




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