SPLENDOR, generation, and VALOR SETS

Cy wrote me a nice comment about the poem two posts down from here, “SPLENDOR”:

I confess I’m curious as to whether it’s a Flarf generated poem or not (not that it matters!).

Let’s discuss this, shall we? Or rather, deconstruct it. Firstly, Flarf is not (in the robotic sense of the term) “generated.” Flarf poems are written. Their materials are, in Kasey’s term, sought. I almost prefer the word rescued. Some poems may be “generated,” like that wonderful “Random Poem Generator” that was hanging around the internet for a while, but Flarf poems are very much willed and constructed.

In a larger sense of the term, I suppose you could say this poem was generated if that is how you think of the mechanism of creation: I do often think of poems as almost biological extrusions, like skin tags or fibroids or, as I posted recently on facebook, reflux.

At any rate, if this poem or any has a generator it is me and not “Flarf.” I’m curious, though, as to whether any of you read it as a “Flarf poem” and if so, why?

Let’s look at the second part of the statement: the good-natured “not that it matters!” Well, hmm, let’s think about that for a minute. Are you sure it doesn’t matter? I am tempted of course to say, right, it doesn’t matter a bit, but that’s the lazy way out. I think we do assign value differently to poems we think of as being constructed from rescued materials than we do to poems that we imagine might have been “inspired.” The assignment of value depends very much on who is doing the assignment and what their “valor sets” are for poetry. I like to keep my valor set somewhat uncodified, although I will swear up and down that I know what poetry is and what it is not, and that when I feel it to be good, I can argue for why I believe so and how it fits into my model of poetry.

My guess is that you, Cy, would like to test your cognitive reaction to the poem against your valor set. That’s perfectly understandable. We all do that.

I’m also wondering whether anyone rather dislikes the poem, maybe finds it too closed or too “poetic,” or too confrontational, or lacking in innovation, perhaps. Or maybe you find something a little naggy about it, or a little neurotic, or just dully unconceptual.

I’m super-tired. I would like to be at the Poetry Project tonight listening to Chris Nealon and Catherine Wagner, I would like that very much, but I’m just too tired. I really thought I was going to lose it on the train to work this morning: the door closing bell made me want to let loose a big guttural scream.

Which reminds me, how come women get maternity leaves for THREE MONTHS per baby when women who choose to be artists instead of having babies don’t ever get TIME OFF to make their ART or write their POEMS? I suppose this unfairness could count for men, too. I want THREE MONTHS OFF RIGHT NOW. Do all those BABIES really “contribute more to society” than all this potential unmade art and poetry would? Or do they just DRAIN it with all their NEEDS? I’m almost ready to fake a pregnancy.

27 thoughts on “SPLENDOR, generation, and VALOR SETS

  1. Hi Nada,

    I liked the poem, most especially this:

    “something palpable
    that makes me want to do battle
    with your ectoplasmic splendor.
    No alembic. Your body folds under”


    “That is how we do not come
    to know one another.”

    It didn't seem google-sculpted at all to me. Didn't seem cloyingly awful either, so I guess not flarfy. The vocabulary seemed more staid than what I think of as yours, & the syntactical glue much more set. When I think of your poems I always imagine them to be longer than this too. But I did like it.

    Skin tags, fibroids, reflex — HA. Sounds like a book title to me.

    You wouldn't be faking a pregnancy—you'd be appropriating a pregnant-like condition. It's a good idea! (Lots of employers only allow six weeks, if that, though, and often unpaid. It's so far short of what a new parent needs it's not even funny).

  2. Thanks for this response Nada.

    It really doesn't matter to me how this (or any poem) was created (and I did mean the word “generated” simply in the sense of “created,” rather than in a kind of mechanical, un-willed sense). At least, it doesn't matter in terms of value. My enjoyment/respect for the poem wouldn't change if you told me it it was rescued from the internet, written collaboratively, written while on drugs, written while asleep. . .

    I'm a little naive about Flarf, and that's what prompted my question. I wasn't sure if you always, write using texts found on the internet, or if you sometimes write in other ways. Something about this poem seemed to suggest it wasn't written in that way – less disjunction, I guess, more of a consistent tone. Again, I'm not attaching any value to those terms.

    Thanks again!

  3. The poem is very cool, and to me, what makes it seem a bit tinged with the flarf ethos, is something around

    There are wings
    under my armpits and also
    secret beings. They straddle your
    imagination in my imagination.

    Now, one has to admit that a pair of wings under the armpit might not be such a bad idea. You could reach up and just “flicker the pits” but then that supposes nudity I suppose.

    Also, there is no actual reason
    in any 'straight poem' to make a socially constructive metaphor (or whatever it is straight poets think they are or should do) out of beings living in your armpits.

    And yet, there ARE
    beings living in our armpits,
    and then there's that


    now straddle usually gets associated with

    or sex

    by adults

    and springy dino wigglers
    by children I guess
    or teeter totters.

    So like Straddling
    the imagination

    takes the poem
    out of itself
    and out of the arena
    of the poem as product
    of the expert

    you're not straddling
    a poem, you're straddling
    my imagination

    so i guess
    what i'm getting
    is that my brain

    is like

    a. a horse
    b. a motorcycle
    c. a springy dino wiggler

    Well, anyway.

    Makes me think of my saying
    for Christmas:

    They're growing in your beard, Santa!

  4. I think that unless one has definitive evidence, that is: an empirical artifact, that shows line by line that the work was lifted word for word from a found text(e.g. K. Goldsmith's Day) there is really no definitive way to place a value judgement on the generating of a work. The work must stand autonomous and be critiqued accordingly. I would also say that any poem worth its salt is dislodged from an associative school, be it Flarf, Conceptual, Hybrid, etc.

    That being said, if I was to discover that something I thought was profound and poetically sound turned out to be a culling and dicing of phrases from Obama's Audacity of Hope: there would certainly be disappointment. I cannot deny this bias.

    I see, quite often, the prowess of your work Nada but, and whether I am accurate is irrelevant, the moments where I think this is Flarf rather than pure artistry (e.g. that makes me want to do battle/
    with your ectoplasmic splendor) I am turned away, turned off, and dismayed. You, obviously, have a resounding attention for the spark of craft & insight and that makes it that much harder for me to see certain pieces move in a provincial direction… when they could, in fact, be the launching pad for poetic investigation of the highest order. This is what I would like to see and what I am not seeing in the contemporary landscape of poetry (though Keith and Ann are up for the National Book Award, so: it's not all dark).

  5. Ten years on and people still think there is anything left of signficance to say about Flarfff? Just take found poetry (been around eighty years or so), add some incredibly egotistical and pompous American pseudo-academics, and voila, Flarfff.

  6. Hmmmm. To clarify my own viewpoint:

    I like this poem.

    I like a lot of your other poems, Nada.

    While knowing the method behind a poem can be interesting, I'm too much of a hedonist to have such details lessen my enjoyment of the poem itself.

    Everyone, write more good poems! It doesn't matter if you use a quill and parchment, or a computer and google, or a biro shoved up your ass.

  7. gingatao, i think there is something of significance to say about any writing, even if it's more than ten years old. gilgamesh is, i think, more than ten years old. and yet people still say things about it.

  8. “That being said, if I was to discover that something I thought was profound and poetically sound turned out to be a culling and dicing of phrases from Obama's Audacity of Hope: there would certainly be disappointment. I cannot deny this bias.”

    LM, how do you feel about The Tennis Court Oath? I ask unsarcastically.

  9. @LM: “Flarf vs 'pure artistry'”: I question this dichotomy, and esp. the latter term.

    @gingatao: there was no flarf before 2000, so technically not ten years. still, your comment is irrelevant and kneejerk. you are dismissed.

    @Ross: I agree with your point on “generation” on your blog. I think I meant to say that, but was less straightforward. Swaanky aternity ensembles, yes!

  10. Matt, Ashbery is someone who falls, with absoluteness, into that bias category… so: I, esp. with Ashbery, overlook the found aspects because the way he overturns them is beyond comprehension. When you are, possibly, the greatest poet of latter 20th century you can do things that others, simply, cannot.

    Nada, What I was attempting to say is that: when one is working at the apex of their abilities and the work is manifestly solid, that work is, in turn, beyond any school and it moves into a mode of pure artistry. Frida Kahlo is, at her best, beyond Surrealism.

  11. Hmm… seems to me that in fact, anyone with a pair of scissors and a sufficiently aestheticized and nebulous sensibility can write “an Ashbery poem.” In fact that seems to be exactly what an awful lot of poets seem to do these days.

    “Greatness,” of course, sets my teeth on edge.

    I do accept your qualified compliment,though, Lucas, even though, for the record, the poem “Splendor” is all “mine” and the materials are not “borrowed” except of course that no language is “mine” and all of it is “borrowed.”

    What interests me is this: sometimes when I post poems that are “all mine” to the flarflist, even Flarfists seem to get excited by them in ways that are DIFFERENT from and sometimes more INTENSE than the excitement they seem to display over the other sort of RealFlarf(tm) sort of poems. What does this mean? Do even the most diehard procedural artificers finally value “authentic lyric utterances”? Or am I maybe just better at the latter? (although I'm not convinced that is true) (As I mentioned, my VALOR SET remains uncodified)

    Is there something, maybe, about the emotional risk of an ALU poem that makes (some) people more sympathetic to it?

  12. While all this curious weighing
    and reflecting may seem worthwhile

    it is lyric substance itself

    ding an sich

    ie da shit

    dat we live in

    that is wicked cool and evil

    all dat and dem
    liddel ol names and shid

    dats fuh fools..

    can suck my microscope.

    can suck my coffee sponge

    Diego Rivera and liddel
    and little Le Mans
    or whoever
    can suck a galvanized trapezoid
    submerged “au club ala blackheathe”


    you can find my ass in the corner


    a daunce cup
    and packin'
    a paradise

    wv: torat

  13. Well clearly, as LM has eloquently described, many people do value the”authenticity” of writing where the words come straight from the writers brain, as opposed to when they come from the writers brain via the medium of a found text.

    To address Nada's question about the poems posted to Flarflist – do the people who get enthusiastic over them know they are “authentic lyrical utterences”? If they find out they are, does their enthusiasm increase? That's what it comes down to really – the question of whether their enjoyment stems soley from the poem, or from the poem + the poem's methodology. Have you asked them?

    The issue is similar to that of autobiographical authenticity, I think – i.e. the way some people get disappointed when they realize X's poem about being raised by alligators in the Amazon isn't really true, or get excited when they find out it is.

    My first encounter with Flarf poetry was in the 2006 Jacket special feature, and I read them all without understanding that they were composed of found/rescued language. When I realised what they were, it did make me look at them differently, but not in a way that affected my judgment of their value.

    Nada, maybe you're just good at writing ALU poems.

  14. If Ashbery's work was as easy and procedural as you have mapped out then not only would everyone be doing it but Ashbery would cease to be a figure of interest. Fortunately, neither is true. There are certainly people who want to ape (in the negative) or carry on (in the tradition) Ashbery's paradigm but one doesn't just look to Ashbery for the fragments of “borrowed material,” they look to him for a whole range of intellectual endeavors (e.g. art criticism, philosophical investigations, poetics, etc.) and the associative New York School of Poetry's aesthetic range. If Guest, O'Hara, Koch, Rivers, Schuyler, et. al. are just a side note in poetry then a lot of people have been tricked and a lot of people, I respect, are fools. Confidently I say: this is not the case and when others pass/fade/vanish these poems and these poets will remain. Poetry is a craft of longevity.

  15. Much of the anti-flarf sentiment here, ironically (with regard to gingato) a New Critical hangover – absolute autonomy of the text, Death of the Author(tm) etc – Nothing exists in a vacuum – cf the panel at Buffalo on “writing's material curcumstances” (which I've heard so many good things about).
    Should we burn all author bios?

    Once again Lanny says things that
    make me go “hot damn!”.

  16. oh can we please lose the word “authentic” in this discussion. there is not one mode of composition more “authentic” than the next, or if one wanted to make such an argument, one could argue that in an information age semionautic / aggregating modes of composition are more “authentic” expressions of contemporary developed world human experience (and in that way even more radically lyric and emotive) than historical re-enactments of the thought patterns of a now mostly historical leisure class at their leisure.

    and I love that stuff, I do (at least in its historical context), just don't buy it is any more “authentic lyric expression” than works that use other methods of composition.

  17. Hello Nada,

    I'm chiming in a little after the fact, perhaps, but thinking about your poem and this question is fun.

    It seems that there's a “you” in “Splendor” even if the “you” doesn't really have a body. There's also a “we” and an “I” that, despite interventions in the bodies and the distances between them, feel fairly stable. Well, at least at first. But the more I read this, the subjects recede and the ways of relating objects to knowing emerge. The last two sentences tricked me into thinking there was some distasteful regret or nostalgia (yuck), but, nay, the results of straddling imaginations are neither! I imagine an imagination flying over to someone else's, straddling ensues; it's physical and a wish and neither seems to preclude the other.

    A poem might strike me as super flarfy because, among other things, it does away with even the initial sense that SOMEONE is speaking to SOMEONE. The speech seems to be the “point,” not the people doing it. For me, that's true here, too, but I read the initial presence of “you” and “I” as less flarfy.

  18. Ann: I had scare quotes around “authentic lyric utterance”! I want to be clear about that! Still, I think the notion of authenticity is very much coded within us, no matter how we question it or distance ourselves intellectually from it. I'm interested in our resistance to the word and our responses to what we see as [note more scare quotes]: “authentic.”

  19. Hmm. There always seems to be this cross-over that happens in “art forms” in which one form borrows from another “more serious” species. Photography from painting, music from poetry and vice versa, collage from quilting and now, poetry from the entire digital age which is not only a wildly creative and fluid environment but it is also a pervasive one that few people have managed to successfully live “outside of”.

    I don't think anyone can in fact describe flarf without violating one of it's primary concerns and that is the un-aestheticness of cheap humor, everyday speech of the masses and more importantly, what the masses “hear” on an everyday basis. Flarf is meant to be pedantic and sometimes even to the point of sounding rather elitest and poo-poo ish of the masses it seeks to illuminate or emulate (without them knowing it).

    One of K Silem's poems on his blog just haunts me to death…the last line:

    you are now connecting to a bank

    There is no falsifiable condition to the way we “are” as a culture right now. A person some time way back asked whether or not a Palestinian would have much use for a Deer Nation or Terminal Humming (which isn't very flarfy at all but more of a random).

    I tend to doubt they would regard it with anything much or worse yet, they would find it insulting that poor rich American poets are in fact so unconcerned and/or bored that they insisted on producing pseudo-poemography.

    Random. Flarf is random. But not found, not really. The fact that human sense and choice play into the selection of text to include..well…there you go, it includes the mind/character/soul of the poet. It is impossible to write a poem without choosing…

    …unless you generate some using a computer and do not touch the thing after you've hit “enter”.

    I don't think you can have it both ways and to say that earlier flarf was not more or less generated is being disingenuous because alot of it was or, at the very minimum, was highly influenced and generously populated by well known computer search phrases like adult.alt.porn.escape my horny radish

    You see?

    It was clear to me then and even more so now that flarf has a limited bioavailability to sooth the need for MORE POETRY. It has to change back into it's previous self which is plain old trickiness.

    Poems are tricks. No more and no less and the good poet knows how to trick the reader into stopping for a moment and existing inside the meaning of something regardless of how sensical or nonsensical of a thing that might be.

  20. And here's the other thing…inclusiveness. What about everything that isn't included in the flarf package?

    This is the falsifiability of the premise. The inherent flaw in what we all KNOW about flarf regardless of one flarfist's insistence (about it's definition) or the other's, is the fact that a choice was made.

    Why that choice and not another? Why is it a bank connecting rather than an am/fm station? Or an Xbox?

    It is the reason that the average Palestianian would not find flarf a useful tool for everyday existence and that is assuming that the average Arab is far more involved with poetry than the average Joe the Plumber…I assure you that.

    Is flarf really translate-able?

    Kent posted an interesting piece by his British peers which delved into the problems of translation of pure words versus the translation of meaning (Marx in Jargon) which hits the nail right on its sorry head.

    In that, Flarf becomes not only lonely but literally, it is the epitome of isolationism…not just of the poor self tuned into the connecting bank in all of its slavish, herd behavior mentality but also of the loneliness of the entire North American English speaking tribe.

    Here's another strange thing.

    For the first time perhaps in the history of mankind, most people KNOW where they are in terms of the past and the present.

    There are no nostalgia based art forms you know before I'd say, the twentieth century…we became a backward looking culture trying to hang on to the glowy and not too distant glory days. We became a culture of realizing that looking back felt better than looking forward. This is a grave sign you know. Very.

    Where does flarf look i.e. forward or back?

    It seems to me that it looks nowhere but just stands there reflecting a bunch of things just like the computer that parents the central premise of it i.e. here's the product.

    There's a whole other level to this you know. And I don't mean to be arrogant or insulting to anyone in this but it is clear to me on a day to day basis.

    Most of the poetry produced in the English speaking world right now from language poetry to flarf to the now marginalized “quietists” (whatever in the hell that means) is poetry that is produced in an age of jahaliya.

    I'll let you folks look that up for yourselves.

    And it in no way means those who write flarf are stupid. Not at all but I'm not all that sure that they are rocket scientists either.

    Just ordinary citizens in that dark world of confusion where oh so many people live now.

    It's the event horizon of something most of you would probably be horrified to know is prophecied and promised.

    You know Ghazali believed that the scholar had a duty NOT to reveal to the masses certain parts about all of this…believed they couldn't handle it.

    I don't like that idea and fight it all the time but usually…I hate to say it…he was right.


    I like that one. tralo

  21. Art describes the times and hopefully leads us out of them into a world of authentic fake deer. At some point, it would be beneficial to note the arrival of Flarf with the beginning of the Bush era. The flagrant duplicity of the era, the era of nonsensical pre-emptive war, the smirking murderous president, and a national journalism quite okay with being embedded in the military, can almost not be considered in a rational tone. The insanity must be met with disgust and “butterflies out the butt”–or whatever you said that one time, Nada. (I agree).

    Flarf is not some simple joke, or intellectual stagnation, or lazy, childish writing–at least to me it isn't. It's a political and artistic statement, in and of itself, and it represents the times as it presents the times.

  22. Well said, James, although I have my doubts whether the Bush Era was in fact any more flagrantly duplicitous, smirkingly murderous, or nonsensical than any other: it was just maybe more transparently so. Your statement begs the question: is Flarf only fitted to its zeitgeist? And is there perhaps anything beyond zeitgeist? I am not talking about dehistoricization or eternality. I just mean, aren't there some constants (or constant mercurialities) to address in poetry without being corny or anachronistic, i.e. suffering, exuberance, loss, craving, sanguinity, and so on, i.e. the whole spectrum of affect? That spectrum is really what interests me. Flarf feels like one way of hitting new notes on affect's vibraphone, and I think more of that than of writing a Poetry of the Now. Perhaps it is retrograde of me to think this way, but so be it.

    I don't remember uttering a butterflies out of the butt analogy, but if I did, well, how funny!

  23. Certainly, agreed, the US's constant war of the world has been an always been. Doesn't Vidal list something like 150 distinct (known) US military operations since the Berlin Airlift? The Bush era was just unbelievable in the transparency. And, no, poetry that only speaks of the NOW, though it sits in it, can have feet in the past and the future. Flarf leads us to emotional uncomfortability, via seemingly the congruence of dissimilarity of tones/dictions/sytaxes, which is really closer to All-At-Once Reality than the narrower one we often like to believe in. I was actually just simply meaning to say that there is weight under the humor, under the disturbances of Flarf. I feel like that isn't given its proper due.

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