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"...given the state of the country and how humans are treating their fellow humans, I will definitively say that the 835th piece of Flarf is not really adding to the dialogue." Well said, my friend.

Julie Carter

I feel like everyone is speaking in code. Have I been flarfed up but good?


Yeah, exclusionary jargon ticks me off as well.


You mean it all started by people submitting deliberately bad poems to poetry.com?

Sheesh! Everyone's done that. And suddenly it's news?

The only interesting thing about the whole kerfuffle is how some people get other people to treat nonsense seriously. There's the storyline: why do some people get to design the Emperor's new clothes; and why do some people choose to wear them?


What we're waiting for is a dramatic re-interpretation of this style by a brilliant non-native English speaker, perhaps 25 years from now... Or we need an Ironic recasting (from Generation Y!) that reshuffles the rehash that is Flarf into a new, ostensibly beautiful poem that affirms life, art, etc, but as all art is a lie, really stands as a scathing indictment of how culturally banckrupt we've become.

Dadaism never dies, it just fades away...

Thomas Basbøll

I think you are making an important mistake when you talk of dimishing marginal returns. Each "piece of Flarf" is not as interchangeable as you suggest. (Jacket 30 offers some interesting and very different examples of work produced under this label; I suppose you could try to say that all those examples have the same simple effect, but it's going to be a difficult argument to make convincingly.)

Your point 1 is difficult to argue with mainly because the aesthetics of flarf openly challenge some the values you propose. I don't think there is any question, however, that pieces of Flarf are arrangements of interrelated effects that together, i.e., cumulatively, achieve more than their individual lines.

In regard to point 2, I've found Flarf an enormously rich opportunity to discuss the boundary between poetry and non-poetry. Flarf is often just barely or very precisely poetry. You can see *exactly* what "turns" the strophe.

As for 3, I can only speak for myself. Flarf is part the literature I read, but I am not a literary theorist and I don't expect my hankerin' for Flarf to effect my career path. I don't know if I've read 835 pieces of Flarf, but it remains a reliable category for finding things to read that I like.

Anyway, there's lots to talk about here. I surprises me that Flarf is already being taken as a strong rhetorical position ("elbowing" its way into the attention space) rather than one way among many to read and write poems. In what may be a related point, it suprises me that anything depends on Flarf being wholly unique and revolutionary.

As I see it, Flarf looks a bit like "imagism" ca. 1912 against a larger background of whatever we're going to end up calling post-post-modernism. (I mean its status is comparable, not that there is necessarily any aesthetic connection.)



"The jangly, cut-up textures, speediness, and bizarre trajectories of the Flarf poem, while fetching, are not the source of Flarf’s originality. Folks, it’s just a species of collage. To my mind, it’s the other aspect of Flarf that distinguishes it. I love a movement that’s willing to describe its texts as "cute," let alone as "a kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness." The Flarfists may have the ultimate defense mechanism in calling their work "wrong" or bad writing, but at least they accurately describe it. This is utterly tonic in a poetry field crowded by would-be (small ess) sincerists unwilling to own up to their poems’ self-aggrandizing, sentimental, bloviating, or sexist tendencies." (Joyelle McSweeney, review of Drew Gardner's "Petroleum Hat" at http://www.constantcritic.com/Joyelle_McSweeney.html)

Thomas, this public statement on Flarf sounds much different than the poetics you describe. McSweeney's Flarf is not simply "one way among many" but a prescription for the way poetry ought to be written, promoted, and read that strikes me as both pretentious and nihilistic--as though the one true path to authenticity were neglecting to give a shit. Smells like teen spirit to me--that massive anxiety regarding one's ability to matter in the world, and the defensive refusal to care. Jon Leon brought up an excellent distinction recently in response to one of K. Silem Mohammed's posts--i.e. the distinction between what's good in poetry and what's cool.

Thomas Basbøll


The last word on Flarf has yet to be written. My sense of the poems is very different from McSweeney's, and even from that of some of the poets. I think it is unfortunate that we keep looking for things people are saying about Flarf instead of identifying the actual flaws in actual poems. In any case, she isn't (or can't possibly be) suggesting that there is no other way to write or read a poem. She's more or less right about the need to do *something* (flarf is one of many things one might do) about "sincerists unwilling to own up to their poems’ self-aggrandizing, sentimental, bloviating, or sexist tendencies."

I think you mark the right issue when you mention "that massive anxiety regarding one's ability to matter in the world", but part of the pleasure I derive from reading the poems is a certain accuracy in the way they deal with it. I think this anxiety is what much of the poetry McSweeney complains about fails to "own up to", instead insisting on a sincere, if you will, desire to matter, or hope that one might matter, or even worse, bald assertion that one does matter. Flarf is much more than a "refusal to care"; it engages with conditions that make it almost impossible to care. It is a only a very uncharitable and inattentive reading of Flarf that doesnt' grant it that much. Whether it succeeds in its engagements, even succeeds in helping us to care, is an issue to be settled at the level of the individual poem, not the poetic programme.



Thomas, it's tough for me to agree that the discourse is separable from the poetry in this case, but I do respect your approach.


Joyelle McSweeney doesn't write flarf. She was simply writing about flarf.



Thanks for all the comments; it’s an interesting subject, I think.

Thomas, I wanted to respond to some of the things you wrote, and my apologies for not getting to them sooner.

As to the “interchangeability” of discrete pieces of Flarf, well, yes, I did make the point a bit strongly. Let’s take a look at that though: Obviously, from one perspective each piece of Flarf will only address some small corner of the world. Either the thing to be discussed is *in* the Flarf poem or is reflected by it (forgive the physical analogy). If it’s *in* the poem, that’s to say addressed by the poem, touched on by the poem, mentioned by the poem, then we can have a conversation about “the thing.” If it’s not in the poem, or it’s not reflected by the poem (in the sense that something might be absent from the poem that one thinks “ought” to be there), then, again, we can have a conversation about “the thing.”

The question is how big do you want to draw that “absence” box. If you draw it large, you need only one piece of Flarf to have a productive discussion about poetry, aesthetics, the creative process, etc. It’s an interesting conversation, one that’s happened before, surely, but an interesting one none-the-less. If on the other hand you draw the “absence” box small, you’d probably want to have a large collection of Flarf on hand which addresses discrete subject that you’d like to talk/think about. Hence the need for a lot of Flarf.

But my problem is this – the aesthetic conversations that are generated by Flarf clearly have a diminishing return. One does not need that 90th piece of Flarf to talk about how Flarf ironically undermines established literary conventions by doing them poorly, taking the piss out of them, or juxtaposing them in ways that reveals their weaknesses. (Does this conversation sound familiar). Also, the questions of (not an exhaustive list) meaning, authorial intention, appropriation, found poetry, etc. can easily be covered by only a few pieces of Flarf.

Now, that pretty much leaves “substance” – which I why I suggested you might have to dust in then-contemporary terms (in 10 years) to our imaginary flarf time-capsule. Obviously, if we invade Iran, we’d want that showing up in Flarf. Or, we can go with the “large absence box” approach and say that it’s ironic that Flarf Piece 5 does not contain any reference to the Iran War, and then go on to talk about that.

So Flarf, for me, aesthetically, is derivative. It exists in relation to a target – as far as it wants to undercut that which needs to be undercut, that’s just dandy with me. But it seems to me that while we have significant amounts of stuff that needs to be undercut, we don’t have nearly as much of a normative discussion within poetics, or, via poems, about the state of the world as it is.

Also, substantively, it’s very limited. If we’re pulling in random lines to use as a jumping off point, or writing deliberately bad stuff to use as a jumping off point, why not just skip that part and jump off?

Why not do *real* sociological, or psychological, or political, or pop culture, or cognitive research? Why not have these conversations in light of accurate sampling and unbiased (as far as can be) studies? Why not pull a Todorov and stop using “literature” as a proxy? Why not just write an essay based on random google cullings? Why not write an essay or a satire or a pastiche (remember those?) that directly addresses the problem (say) of the faux-epiphany and its domination of contemporary “mainstream” poetics?

The cynical response is, I think, implied in my initial post, which is that it’s easier to write Flarf instead of sweating bullets over a considered poem. It may even be right.

I want to be clear that I think these discussion of both Flarf and the secondary issues (I’m positing in this post) are useful and immensely important, and I don’t mean to hedge them off into a preserve of university educated experts. However, I think it’s kind of depressing that the AG is so bankrupt that Flarf has become the new hot thing. There are lots (as you pointed out) of good poems out there, but instead we have a good deal of energy being pointlessly expended in aesthetic wars.


Other points:

Personally, I’m not very interested in trying to draw a line between prose and poetry – seems like trying to draw a line between a river and the ocean. Further, to what use could such a line (if it existed) possibly be employed? I’m *not* saying that analysis and thinking about such things isn’t useful, I just wonder if that’s a particularly useful goal to pursue.

Flarf as Imagism:
I find Flarf to be more like Dadaism – but the world that Flarf is “rebelling” against has already been overthrown.

Flarf as addressing conditions which make it impossible to care:
Um. Part of the problem of Flarf is that, like much of the contemporary AG, it relies on one standing outside Flarf to tell you what it means. Granted, this applies in some form to all literature, but we’re less likely to have consensus on the significance of a piece of Flarf (in terms of “what it says” in a greater context) than we are to have consensus on a poem by Billy Collins. Now, you may disagree with Collins, someone else might agree with him, but usually, the conversation is “about” the same set of issues. On the other hand, Flarf really is mandala like. You can pretty much, given the compositional method and the disjointed sense of many of the poems, successfully assert that a piece of flarf is about *anything at all*. (Which, as I said above, renders it not-all-that-necessary, save for a quickly forgotten starting off point.) As a mental exercise try taking a piece of flarf explication, then reversing it (contrarian game). Then try making the same analysis and shifting the words about.

Basically what I’m saying is that you can, assuming there’s a truth of the matter or a likelihood that something is so, “flarf” flarf explication. And no one would know, unlike “flarfing” legitimate works.

Anyway, this has been more time than I wanted to spend today, so I’ll stop here.

Thanks again, everyone, for their comments; I really enjoy it when there’s a good exchange of ideas and perspectives here.


Thomas Basbøll

Hi RJ,

Yes, let's work through some of this. I've posted a couple of quick reaction at my own blog (most just to mark my initial responses; I apologize if they're a bit snarky.) I'm busy today, so this is going to be a bit terse. I think I need to clarify a few things about my working hypotheses about Flarf. Keep in mind that I'm working mainly off the poems (and to some extent the actual sources of those poems) not so much (but not oblivious to) the various declarations of intent that are ciculating.

First, I didn't mean to suggest that Flarf is more like imagism than Dada; rather, I meant that the role of Flarf in 2006 is comparable to the role of imagism in 1912. (That's a kind of prediction to, which may turn out to be wrong: Flarf will turn out to be a central aesthetic procedure of what will be seen as "our" poetry.) That said, I think vorticism is a better precursor than Dada, though there's certainly some of the latter in the mix.

Second, you ask, "If we’re pulling in random lines to use as a jumping off point, or writing deliberately bad stuff to use as a jumping off point, why not just skip that part and jump off?" I think the tension between Flarf as the deployment of "random lines" and "deliberately bad stuff" is important to consider. These are the two "points" or "basic ideas" that people often refer to when they say the "get it" (often in order to dismiss it as old hat, or juvenile, or worthless is some other way). But Flarf is neither random (the poems are enormously coherent in their "substance", often due to key repetitions) nor bad. It's deliberately made out of *material* that is *arbitrarily* related to the emotions presented in the poem. Rich poems are here made out of "cheap materials" (as I like to put it).

And that, third, is why I didn't say poetry/prose but poetry/non-poetry. I should maybe just have said the difference between literature and non-literature. I think you're right about the first distinction; but I find the second enormously interesting.

Lastly, I wonder if your post here is a contribution to the war or to the appreciation of good poetry. I think it becomes a war only when Flarf is assumed to occupy a territory; as long as Flarf is only filling pages it's just poetry, right? Perfectly harmless. Perfectly sparkling.

I'll leave it there. Looking forward to your response.


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