A kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness.

At the poem talk yesterday, Al Filreis, Steve McLaughlin, Kenny Goldsmith and I were discussing a poem of Sharon Mesmer’s and at one point Al asked me whether I thought the poem was corrosive. I paused for a minute, because I realized that I didn’t, and I don’t think of flarf in general as being corrosive.

Of course, Gary’s now-famous (?) definition of the stuff is…

A kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness.
A kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness.
A kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness.
A kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness.
A kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness.
A kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness.

The fact is, though, to me anyway: Flarf is not corrosive.
Corrosion destroys, eats away at, disfigures. Flarf does quite the opposite.

It’s construction. Bricolage (using what’s around). Flarfists are magpies. It is a wholly creative and non-corrosive way of proceeding in poetry.

The famous flarf description above came from Gary. I talked with him about it this morning while we still in our robes, clutching our corrosive caffeinated morning beverages. He felt that flarf is certainly not corrosive now, but that it was at the beginning. I still disagreed. Flarf was/is about transforming poetry, not annihilating it.

I have noticed that Gary likes to use the word “corrosive,” and that he may have a somewhat idiosyncratic usage of it. For him, I think it might include some notion of criticality or obnoxiousness. Flarf is certainly, still now, liberally obnoxious, or at the very least rife with mischief… just not, I think, exactly corrosive. I also think that, while there is an element of invective (whose aim, surely, is somewhat corrosive) to flarf, the invective is always to some degree undercut by, or at least shot through with, the mischief.

Would you use the word “corrosive” to describe flarf? Why or why not?

2 thoughts on “A kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness.

  1. (Here before, back via Silliman)

    I've always liked that definition of flarf, I've always used it as kind of a touchstone in trying to explain to people what flarf is, and I think I have always taken the “corrosive” to mean exactly “some notion of criticality or obnoxiousness.”

    Flarf is about transforming poetry and not annihilating it, yes; but at least to me as a reader of it that transformation was initially about burning away a lot of self-serious solemnity in a way that “corrosive” feels like a very good word for. Leaving poetry out in the rain to rust and weather, instead of keeping it locked up in a glass case in the trophy room.

    For me at least, that transformation has been so successful that I now take that “corroded” condition of poetry as a given and flarf doesn't hit me on that level so much anymore. The flarf that I enjoy now tends to be the more emotionally driven, less satirical stuff.

    Which seems like a slight loss, to me. I think of corrosion as a valuable and very aesthetically appealing process, in dialectic with construction.

  2. i think dialectically discourses on the critical ethos of flarf is great stuff. pathos, ethos… whatever… “affect” and all that… you know… “those” kinds of words…


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