Flarf: Memorable? Novel?

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left to right: David Wolach’s brother, Julian Brolaski’s back, David Wolach, Brenda Iijima, friend of Tracy & Julian, Erica Kaufman, E. Tracy Grinnell

Last Sunday, I gave a reading out in Bushwick with Julian Brolaski, Adam Fieled, Scott Hightower, Chris Stackhouse, and David Wolach. Adam and I had a brief, and somewhat heated conversation about Flarf and its import or lack thereof. Adam blogged today that at the reading he had his “first chance to talk in depth to a member of the Flarf Collective”; well, first of all, that was ME, Adam, you can say my name!, and secondly, I mean, depth is relative, I suppose, but it didn’t seem to me that our conversation went beyond a skimming of the topic. He says that the conversation (which lasted at most, I would say, seven to ten minutes) didn’t change his mind, but honestly, that wasn’t my intent. I don’t fancy getting rhetorical about things that people have already made up their minds about without a prolonged investigation. It’s not really worth my energy, and besides, it isn’t up to me to make people try to like things that they are not inclined to like.

As he mentions in his post, his position on Flarf is that he doesn’t see how it can possibly be of lasting value. I told him that was not my concern at all, and that I wasn’t in poetry to get a toehold on eternity: “I do it for kicks,” I said. I also told him that I thought the term “post-avant” is ridiculous by definition; he countered by making the cogent point that “flarf “ is a ridiculous term, too, and I came back with this even more cogent point: “yes, but it’s supposed to be.” I remember saying that what gets passed on through the ages doesn’t necessarily do so because of any innate superior quality, but because of the machines or systems that move it along; otherwise, William Snodgrass wouldn’t be a name we recognize. Adam thinks that poetry is “left to later generations to determine what’s what and who matters,” but this strikes me as awfully naïve. It isn’t entire generations that do that, but a struggle between the forces of canonization (and these are complex, with factors like mentors and peer groups and lowest-common-denominators to consider) and individuals who continuously ferret out what has been wrongfully ignored. It pains me, really pains me, to think that I was able to go through college studying poetry without ever learning who MINA LOY was, or BARONESS ELSA. I had to write my thesis on Bernadette Mayer because no one seemed to really be talking about her.

Adam’s primary point of objection to Flarf is that, in his view, he does “not think [it] makes for the creation of very memorable poems.” To that I can only wonder, firstly, well, which of the high modernist poems are terribly memorable, beyond the first line or so? We can all call up a wheelbarrow, some sawhorses, some tender buttons, but beyond that, is memorability really a criterion for the continued influence of modernist poetry? Isn’t it more the GESTURE of the texts that we remember? I certainly remember many key texts of the language poets, but that could be more because I read them over and over again (“fellaheen” “Tashkent” “Relax/ Stand at Attention” “people are walrus, fuck ‘em”) than because of any inherent “memorability” of the texts themselves.

Even so, and even as an insider, my sense is that Flarf poems actually are memorable, although more perhaps because they are “bad” (In the sense of Eartha Kitt’s “I Want to be Evil”) or obnoxious or funny than because they are “good”: once you have heard titles like “Annoying Diabetic Bitch,” “Chicks Dig War,” or “Mm-Hmm” you will have a difficult time forgetting them even if you want to. They are mindworms.

Adam also made the point that he doesn’t have the sense that Flarf is doing anything new, and that he “fail[s] to see how it adds to the Duchamp paradigm (of the “ready-made”) that was put into place one-hundred years ago.” I couldn’t agree with him more. I don’t think any of us is claiming to be doing anything new, at least not with form or with conceptual gesture. We aren’t motivated by the desire to be at the cutting edge, even though we may be there by default, because everyone else is repeating the same art moves, too; we just have more fun doing it. We write this stuff because it entertains us to write it and to read it, and because it channels, releases, and reshapes energies – notably those of despair and of hilarity.

Adam writes that, “nothing is going to turn me into a novelty freak, because this kind of trend-hopping is anathema to the very slow development of real poetry history.” It strikes me that actually, despite all the media hoopla we Flarfists are enjoying recently, it is not in fact a “trend.” It’s been going on healthily for eight years now. Nor can we even speak, I think, anymore, of “real history” without betraying a very deep conservatism (to which Adam owns up in his post) and willful blindness to the necessity of allowing multiple perspectives and contexts. Maybe Adam is nostalgic for some organized world of poetry he learned about in his Norton Anthology, but it just isn’t like that anymore. In fact, it was never like that. It was all an illusion.

16 thoughts on “Flarf: Memorable? Novel?

  1. This guy is reading with you and giving you a hard time? What is his problem? Never mind, I know. The green-eyed monster has once again reared its ugly head. Lets face it, flarf is wiping the floor with all these bores! Why don't they just sit back and enjoy the show?

  2. I just woke up from a dream I was playing racquet ball in a crappy indooor garage party with Kasey.
    i mean it was okay, they had 'garage raquet ball' but people had their feet on the 'court'..
    and then there was a net catching the ball, a beer store,
    then this crazy woman was being chased on the hiway by cops and she had this old Lincoln with a big empty trailer behind it which was swooshing pyscho.. also there was something about this negro maid Kasey had
    and a secret door which went into 'the spanish part of the house'
    or something.. I have alot of Herb Albert and the Tijuana brass issues
    i'm working out..

    seems like rather than asking about flarf at things like this
    they should just show their scars
    and stuff, you know 'traces of physical injury'

  3. Flarf doesn't add to the Duchampian paradigm? But Duchamp didn't have the internet! I'm sure that should make for a huge difference somehow…

    Myself, I read Flarf mostly as much more Whitmanian than Duchampian, really. Duchamp always retained the aloof aristocratic stance. Flarf seems more uncontrollably democratic.

  4. Dear Nick Piombino,

    I am an honest person. If I were jealous, I would say so. Why would I be jealous of a movement I find to be a LOAD OF RUBBISH?

    Ask Nada: I wasn't “giving her a hard time,” it was a conversation.

    I think flarf poems ARE boring, and, where Kasey's comment is concerned, I was unaware that EVERYTHING he published is flarf.

    It's also very BORING to make an uninformed comment and make a complete ass of yourself, Nick.

    I stand by everything I said. And no one is going to WIPE THE FLOOR with me or my work.

    Thanks,
    Adam Fieled

  5. Hey guys, calm down. Shall we talk about dresses again?

    Adam, I didn't feel that our conversation was adversarial. I thought it was the beginning of an exploration of the issues, although it was, yeah, a little “heated,” as I mentioned. I think the issues are worth discussing, and I meant my invitation to a public conversation sincerely.

    This degenerated really quickly. Can we start again? Esteemed commentators, I would like to ask you all to respond with considered thoughtfulness, if not all-out rationality (because I'm not sure how well that would serve us on this topic).

    My post isn't an attack on Adam, but a response to a response.

    I'm happy to talk about dresses some more, but I don't get so many comments on topics sartorial. What's up with that?

  6. Samuel, right, Duchamp didn't have the internet. What if he had? The mind reels.

    Also, yes, you're right about the attitude. Flarf is emotionally invested, not aesthetically distanced, even though the emotional relationship of Flarf authors to the language we manipulate is not at all simple.

    You get an A+ for recognizing the importance of ATTITUDE to what we do. I've been trying to draw parallels between attitude and style here on Ululations.

    You know, Adam said to me, when we met, “I thought your blog was just about you in dresses.” That statement, Adam, seemed to indicate a really very surface (not to mention very recent; this blog has been around since 2002! Check the archives!) reading of what I do here, and even of how I was treating the Outfit Project.

  7. While flarf lumps poets in its collective, I have trouble giving it all a passing grade or damning the whole lot. I was at the Whitney reading and, yes, there was some of it that was “memorable” — and I don't mean merely in terms of my capacity to remember it.

    I fear Adam's remark about flarf come from perceiving it in the general rather than looking at it in the particular.

  8. Brennen, I so often feel that that is the case.

    People come with so many prejudices, which generate categorical statements and dismissals.

  9. People remember flarf enough to get painfully heated about it.

    Duchampian paradigm.

    Blogs & their comment boxes are often allergic to particulars, subtleties, etc. It's good to change this, though.

  10. I have, many times, been on the, what could be called, anti-Flarfist side, but that designation is superficial at best. Kasey's blog posts are more erudite and poignant than 90% of so-called poetics that gets published widely. I am not going to sit here and make a list of the merits of Flarf, and those people involved, but I would say that to slag it off with presuppositions without having really delved (Have these people read The Romance of the Happy Workers?) is reactionary, at best.

  11. It is not that I have a static opinion one way or another when it comes to Flarf. Gary's How To Proceed in the Arts is an extremely important text to me. While, on the other hand, I simply am not motivated, stimulated, or moved by Kasey's work. Yet, Kasey is one of the most dynamic thinkers I have ever met (though we differ on just about every subject that we have covered). The incongruities between the one and the other are the true stimulation. I can say, with confidence, that I love Folly and Jorie Graham and Kevin Davies and Donald Revell (who is actually one of my favorite writers and thinkers of all time)… I don't think Flarf is meant to be “liked” or disliked in any conventional sense. Gary's essay in Consequences of 21st Century Poetics hits on a lot of what I fear about Flarf but, adversely, Anne Boyer's work is everything that I love about writing and art.

  12. God, I've just read both Adam's original post, and his reply to this one. I don't get it, so don't know where to begin. I've tried arguing with him (about the post-avant thing), and it's pointless. Conservativism at it's most stalwart, methinks.

    And when was it decided that art couldn't be fun, and who was it? I want to punch them.

    Oh, and btw, apparently langpo was as serious and considered as anything TS Eliot wrote … I weep.

  13. Okay, so I'm going to duck from this conversation, bail on flarf, other than to say: I do agree with Brennan and Lucas – that avoiding the universalizing tendency when it comes to the movement, which by its own admission (no?), is necessarily fractured, or plastic. Like, Nada: I dug your reading. It was memorable, quite so, as I blogged about recently. Yr poems are often memorable. But sticking to the particular isn't quite right either, as (and this is where, Nada, during that conversation, I said that our poetics are overlapping despite the “end product” differing hugely), there is a poetics of flarf, especially viz. agency and rethinking that old set of questions under which the term falls, rethinking agency, e.g., viz. the use value of text arts, its position in the context of the www dot fill in the blank machinery that's spectacled us out. So really, Nada, I should say I dug THE poems that you-plural shaped.

    Anyway, I loved the readings simpliciter, and I'm no deep pluralist, so that's something I suppose. Was a nice night. Nice dress, by the by. For Adam's part, gotta say, I do like the loose jeans. I can't pull off that look at all. In fact, Nada, what's up with that picture? Everyone looks great except me. My head is shrinking into my neck, my neck into my shoulders. Hell, if I believed in a stable subjecthood I'd be insecure about whether “I” looked like this all the time.

    Hey, still looking out for some work from you – poems but also Mayer-oriented essay / ??

    Oh, but one more thing: not sure about “Whitmanian” re flarf. I'm not seeing a consistent and gong-like lyricism in flarf. Nor am I seeing the sort of illusion of union, that sort of phenomenology in flarf like you see in (at least the earlier) WW.

    In Solidarity to both,
    David

  14. I wish somebody would talk to me about poetry sometimes.

    >pout, very long faced and lip pushed out

    It's like this yasee, they gots the goods yasee.

    Yasee?

    silisal

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