One of the most problematic features of the early twenty-first-century poetic "movement" known as flarf was the immediate and immoderate effect it produced of rendering assessments of larger contemporary practice incoherent. Very soon after the first murmurings surrounding the Collective, there arose a widespread tendency to label any and all new poetry as flarf. Drew Gardner? Flarf, for sure. Nada Gordon? Flarf. Jordan Davis? Flarf again. Rod Smith? More flarf. Ben Friedlander? Clearly and indisputably flarf. Katie Degentesh? Probably flarf. Even poets like Anne Boyer and Rodney Koeneke somehow, absurdly, became connected in the public mind with flarf. In much the same way that the ascension of the Language poets resulted in earlier poets from very different traditions, such as John Ashbery, being lumped in with them, soon the Language poets themselves were viewed as somehow a part of flarf--perhaps, indeed, its founding mothers, only gradually realizing their full potential through the final realization of flarf. Or maybe it was the New York School, or the Dadaists. At any rate, probably the single most significant factor in the ultimate (and inevitable) decline of flarf as a poetic category was the rapidity with which flarf and poetry itself became essentially synonymous, thereby eradicating the need for two different terms.
If it is at all possible to sift through the gunky crumbs of history and reconstruct what exactly happened to give flarf this unlikely power to grow beyond itself into an overarching rubric, we must begin by addressing the fundamental question of when precisely the confusion set in. That is, we must determine what work could legitimately be considered "true" flarf, and what unconnected work became preposterously tarred with its hue.
Certainly Gary Sullivan must be included among the practitioners of flarf, as the very term was his coinage (despite Tony Tost's later, much-disputed claim to be the true originator of the neologism). Equally certainly, Lara Glenum, Tao Lin, Dale Smith, Jennifer Moxley, and Tom Orange, as members of the original cadre who first started explicitly identifying their Google-collaged productions as flarf, must be included. But what of poets like Joseph Massey, Reginald Shepherd, Linh Dinh, Brenda Hillman, and Graham Foust, who despite their presence on the early list, and occasional participation in its activities, quickly distanced themselves from flarf as a practice, sometimes publically and violently? What of later list recruits like Michael Magee, Christian Wiman, Joshua Clover, and Lorna Dee Cervantes, who all managed to extract some capital from their association with the Collective, but all eventually staged opportunistic scenes of rupture with the group (some, like Magee and Clover, penning virulent anti-flarf treatises). What about Lisa Jarnot's short-lived FLARP! interventions? What about Anselm Berrigan's clearly flarf-inspired "Ground Beef Cantos"? What about Jeff Clark's edible graphic novel I Ain't Yer Carbonated WHEEE-UP Pedophilic CAMEL Sauce?
Most of the murkiness surrounding the issue must be blamed, along with so many other critical distortions of the period in question, on Marjorie Perloff, whose well-meaning chapter on the Collective in her book New Innovative Radicalities: The Third Return to Modernism heralded flarf as the single most important poetic development of the new century, but in so doing employed so many irresponsible exaggerations and misrepresentations that it both launched a backlash based on resentment, and soured the palates of those who felt that the flarfists themselves must have put her up to it as an academic puff piece.
For better or worse, we now live in a post-flarf poetic age, one that is simultaneously aggressive in its rejection of received notions surrounding flarf, and indelibly stamped with the characteristics that at one point or another, accurately or inaccurately, became associated with flarf's stylistic and thematic features: the constant allusions to squid, asshats, mopeds, and other "goofy-sounding" verbal objects; the inclusion of derogatory cultural references (particularly, for some reason, those concerning the Irish, diabetics, gay Asian males, and "chicks" of all nationalities and orientations); and--most strikingly of all--the exclusive use of internet search engines in the compositional process. It is now almost impossible to imagine a past time when some poems were created "freehand"; the prospect of reviving such an archaic procedure seems even more ludicrous than it seemed a few decades ago to suggest writing contemporary poems in rhyme and iambics. Whether this is our great fortune or our lamentable loss must be decided by posterity.