Friday, February 06, 2009

Dale Smith Deals Death Blow to Flarf

Most of you reading this have probably seen the continuing discussion initiated by Dale Smith about Flarf that is going on at Possum Ego as well as my own and several other bloggers' comment boxes. Dale, with the help of several of his friends, has leveled a series of challenges and indictments at Flarf which I have hitherto not answered. It is my painful duty to report that the reason for this silence is exactly what Dale and other anti-Flarfists have probably suspected: the incriminating weight of their arguments is simply too heavy to ignore or resist, and thus any attempts at self-defense must necessarily appear bloodless and ill-considered. In plain terms, Dale is right and we are wrong. Flarf is an untenable poetic adventure whose minor successes have only thrown into bolder relief the abortive misgottenness at its center. I take its most egregious missteps to be the following (I am confident that Dale will point out anything I have neglected):
1. Flarf appropriates the discourse of many persons, many of them undoubtedly disempowered, by scavenging the traces of their utterances on the internet for use in the composition of poems. Since no credit is given to these persons, and since some of said discourse is extremely stupid, it is evident that Flarf is mocking the underclasses.

2. Flarf deploys a wide sampling of sometimes tasteless and insensitive language under the guise of social critique, but in ways that make it difficult for some readers (particularly those who are ignorant of the use/mention distinction, or who reject flatly on moral grounds anything that resembles irony) to tell the difference between said critique and the injuries perpetrated by the original subjects who are the source of that language.

3. Flarf sometimes takes advantage of the media attention that is focused upon it (a relatively small amount of attention compared to that enjoyed by more commercially viable art forms such as music, customized T-shirt design, or those plastic testicles some people hang from the tailgates of their pickup trucks, but more than is usually focused upon the work of Dale or his friends, and therefore enough to throw into disequilibrium the fragile economy of all the poetic communities concerned), thus making no attempt to hide its complicity in the Spectacle.

4. Flarf commits the dual error of a) resorting to humor as a means of engaging its readers, in a social climate where humor must be considered a grossly self-indulgent bourgeois barbarism; and b) not always bothering to make sure its jokes are funny.

5. Flarf fails to provide a coherent theoretical apparatus with which to contextualize its disruptions of sense and syntax as acceptable modes of political intervention, and so leaves itself open to the charge of willful obscurantism. This failure is exacerbated by the apparently total lack of interest exhibited by most Flarfists in answering its detractors' demands for such an accounting.

It's not clear what the appropriate response for us, the defeated, is in a situation like this. It has taken some time for all of us in the Flarf Collective to agree on an acceptable course of action, but after due deliberation, we see no alternative: we hereby renounce Flarf.

Lest we be suspected of histrionics, we wish to make it clear that this does not entail an abandonment of either our individual poetic endeavors or our collective practice as a community. Flarf as an aesthetic concept, however, has proven itself irremediably vexed, and it must be jettisoned. In order to preserve the salutary creative energy we enjoy as a group, we will continue to collaborate and share ideas, but we feel that the following changes are in order:
1. Getting rid of the name. The word "Flarf" is probably the main thing that makes most of our opponents hate us anyway. A big part of the problem is that although it looks sort of like an acronym, it doesn't actually stand for anything (unlike that other FLARF with whom we are mostly unaffiliated, the FLoridA Renaissance Faire)--just as, politically, Flarf does not take a clear and determinate stand on pressing social issues. From now on, we will be called PORPO (Poets Organized around Responsible Political Objectives).

2. No more Google. Google is a tool of the hegemonic capitalist system that instantly contaminates anyone who touches it with its symbolically deficient statistical false consciousness of pseudo-hierarchizations. All PORPO composition will be undertaken in longhand, preferably with a quill-tip pen or other archaic writing implement. In this way, we will render our aesthetic compatible with the aims of Dale's own Slow Poetry, and related socially conscious submovements like Thin Poetry, Faint Poetry, Not Too Scratchy Poetry, and Extremely Difficult to Smell Poetry.

3. Being serious. The first step toward realizing a poetics with any potential for effecting real social change through motivated gestures of resistance and intervention is acknowledging that under today's grave global conditions, absolutely nothing is funny. We will thus immediately cease writing any poems containing references to squid, assclowns, chicken diarrhea, "pubic" apologies, diaspora-flavored breath mints, crotchless dolphin underwear, or David Hasselhoff (unless we can offer some reasonable political gloss on such references, enabling the free flow of liberatory meaning in a productive discursive context).

4. Never getting famous. Recognition and/or endorsement by any of the official organs of the establishment media (nationally circulated magazines, public radio, universities, museums, blogs that people actually read) indicates that the work in question is too susceptible to recuperation and cooptation by the system. To be seduced by the allure of "coverage" leads down the moldering funereal corridor of bad faith. And it's not fair to those other poets whose work is too steeped in integrity, too ideologically uncompromising, too dedicatedly slow ever to show up on the mass media's radar.

Thank you, Dale, for the tough love. It's no fun being made to confront one's own inadequate capacity for being assimilated into someone else's heroically erect code of right poetic conduct, and I know it can't have been pleasant for you to assume the burden of setting us straight. Thank goodness you got to us in time before we undermined the revolution any further by drawing impressionable young people to our side and away from the true cause.


Stan Apps said...

But Kasey I'm a little dyslexic and longhand is hard for me. I know, that will make it slower and teherefore better, but. . . can I at least use a typewriter?

Stan Apps said...

"teherefore" = therefore

see, dyslexia. and dysgraphia too.

Mo said...

This reminds me of a Tears For Fears song where you let down the children.

I don't even know you anymore... I don't even know you.

Joe Safdie said...

True story: my wife and I had Jerry and Diane Rothenberg and David and Eleanor Antin over for dinner tonight, and at one small point in the festivities, I asked Jerry if he had ever heard of Flarf, and he allowed as how he had heard the name, but didn't really know any of the particulars, so I went back to my study and dug out Kasey's Breathalyzer and read aloud, to the assembled company, one of my favorite poems in that collection, "The swans come hither in great numbers." I thought I read the poem quite well.

So what do you expect me to say now? "The assembled multitude sighed and, in mutual approbation, agreed that Flarf was the next great Poetic Movement of Our Times"? "What in the world is that shit"?

Readers, it was neither: when it comes down to it, we're just talking to each other. Our elders, having been through similar situations, recognized this one for exactly what it is.

Having said that, I applaud Kasey for posting pretty much what I would have expected from a lad of his intellect and talent: I reacted to it the same way I reacted to many of the Flarf poems I've had the privilege to read -- I smiled. I'm not sure why this conversation should go on much longer, but I'll conclude my part in it with a simple credo -- I think poetry should matter.

kevin.thurston said...

Lest we be suspected of histrionics

what a great thing to be suspected of

living very close to north korea,


hyperpoesia said...

KC i love you and bert lahr (or whomever that is) and charles bernstein too. priceless.

John B-R said...

you go, girl

I don't care what you call what you and your buds do

I don't care -

it's the shit

so ya'll go

Henry Gould said...

Well, Kasey, what can one say other than "better late than never" [nota bene : phrase found on Google]. I foresaw your gracious apology coming a while back - when I realized that "chicken diarrhea" was "a bridge too far"[P.F.O.G.].

Which leads us to the central unavoidable basic essential crux of the entire whole total inter-tribal postal-American debate here : CAN there be a "serious Flarf"? Or is this an "oxymoron nonpareil" [PFOG]?

On this crucial question, I am tending to side with "gentle Joe Duemer" [PFOG]. The unsurpassed mirth of the Flarfism & the "Flarf Method" is - by its Very Nature [PFOG] - self-cancelling, self-limiting. Flarf, in other words, IS the "anti-serious". This is its ruling characteristic, its sine qua non, its shiny quack - Non!

Hence the rumbustious strictures of a Dale Smith also have a validity which cannot be gainsaid. There is a self-limiting limit to the emotional and ethical range of Flarf, which will forever contain it within the borders of "minor comic writing". When & if Flarf succeeds in "pushing the envelope" [PFOG] - when someone finds SERIOUS flarf - in, say, Jordan or Drew or His Worshipful Canadian Kevin - then, I say, true-blue Flarfists must rise up and cry "NO PASARANA I SPAGHETTI! CHICKEN DIARRHEA UPON YOUSE!" Flarf purists will in such cases clearly recognize the dilution of their work on behalf of General Po-Biz Place-Seeking & Prestige-Pimping PR. & they will be right! NON PASSARANA I FREEDOM FRIES!

Dale said...

Kasey, this is great. I luv the sad clown.


BTW, do you mind if I share the following with you. Kent can't send it in directly since you've banned him from your domain....

"Hey Dale,

Hee hee. Sullivan is SO earnest. And such a bad prose writer. H should stick to drama.

And Mohammad's response at Lime Tree delightfully predictable, eleventh grade, and lame. That's all they got? The "Yeah, you win, we're dead" ironic routine? I love it.

I love, too, Safdie's story about dinner last night with Rothenberg. Too bad we never went ahead and did that recipe and memorable-dining occasions book with Nada.

Time to leave them alone, I'd say, let them go back to the loo...


W. Ridendus said...

Dear Mr Mohammad,

As an exploited factory worker in a non-union shop, I just want to say that I'm going to buy more of your books with my next paycheck.

As for the perennially misguided notion that art need be morally and politically correct and earnestly work to effect social change: Haven't these people ever seen Sullivan's Travels?

Al said...

Two guys walk into a poem. One guy says, "I don't get it". The other guy says, "It's not a joke."

Dale said...

Everyone should check out Tony Tost's recent comments in my last post at possumego....


Aaron said...

Good I'm glad you guys are done. It would have been hard to put Flarf on a T-shirt anyway... this makes everything right again... Poetry goes back to being poetry and I can now make and sell my new line of t-shirts "Flarf is Dead: So Quit Buying the Books"

Chad said...

But now, where will the Flarfists still in the closet go? When Ted Kooser finally admits that he has googled naked pics of XTina Aguilera, what then?

Angela G. said...

may the florf be with you

Darth Flarfer

episode 6 : attack of the poem clones

Handjob Solo will save us in the PostMillenial Flarfalcon

I visited Yoda & all I got was this
lousy Flarf is Dead t-shirt

coming soon to a McDonald's near you:
-Flarfbox Happy Meals-
I'm lubing it!

insert action poet figure into anus
carefully extract shitty themesong
play endless fun with gobs
make pretend of belonging sense
live long in superbadass fantasy

Dale said...

I'm forwarding this message for Kent Johnson:


Dale sent in an email I'd written to him as a back-channel the other day. In the rush of an enthusiasm, I did offer him the OK to post it, but I'd written the message in spirit of a private communication, where there's a tendency to toss formulations and things around.

Anyway, I wish I hadn't invited him to send it, as the remark about Gary Sullivan being "such a bad prose writer" comes off as silly and mean, and I don't, in truth, think that at all. Gary is a perfectly
fine writer of prose, obviously, regardless of what I may think of his positions on poetry, his often churlish treatment of other writers, and so forth.

So just wanted to say, for what it's worth, that the particular statement there was unnecessary and unfair.


michael robbins said...

The ironic "ooo, you got me, I'm so dead" response is the last resort of the scrounger. It's what you reach for when you can't actually respond to yr critics. That said, K actually misconstrues a number of Dale's & others' points, & ignores one of the central issues, which is that for a humor-driven poetics the Flarfists are a vindictive, humorless bunch that can't abide a joke at their expense. Nothing illustrates this more depressingly than K's long-standing ban on our preeminent satirist, Kent Johnson.

The problem with Flarf is not its humor (more humor, please) or its practitioners' fame (good on you, I like the attention I've received too) but with the way it & its proponents take themselves way too seriously. Google says: Lighten up.

I have to type the "word" "pronvere" in a little box in order to make these words visible to others.

Jordan said...

Every time you helpfully point out someone's humorlessness, Michael, a flarfie gets her wings. They are pink, by the way, and very sensitive.

K. Silem Mohammad said...

the bad man hurted my feewings

michael robbins said...

Damn it Jordan, why didn't you tell me this before?

Kasey, you do know I'm not interested in hurting anyone's feelings or in any other schoolyard terms? Apparently you're incapable of responding to yr critics except with ironic derision, which is the point I was making in the first place.

Tired of this endless dick measuring. Be seeing you.

Jordan said...

Clearly yours is not endless.

Sorry, but that was money on the ground.

James said...

Some things I learned today:

Flarf is humor-driven.

Flarf has the corner on ironic derision, apparently.

The term "scrounger" should be read in the kindest light.

The term "vindictive" should be read in the kindest light.

The underclass doesn't make fun of its own members continuously, or those beneath them, or above them. The underclass only functions in a sepia-toned setting, with sad economic clouds above.

Art movements last forever. There is still a huge assortment of pre-Raphaelites in Ohio, for instance.

We should worry about art movements and their influence because they last forever. People still argue about the Fauvists daily.

We must view the underclass with the pitying eyes of the upper class and think that the underclass won't resent that pitying.

The stance of the Questioner doesn't assume a hierarchy of power--it doesn't substantiate the question by the power of the asking. Refusing the hierarchy of the power of the Questioner through thoughtful mockery also should be considered the Zone of the Questioner, and thus that Zone should be framed according to the Questioner's wishes. Thus, the Answerer not only must assume the role of Answerer, whether he/she likes it or not, but he/she also must assume the role of Answerer in the way that the Questioner sees fit.

Bullshit is addictive.

Ryan said...

It's funny that no one but the people involved are any longer paying attention to this discussion.

I'll keep reading who I'm reading,
everyone! Muthafukas!

Peace and ass water-based lubricant!

michael robbins said...

James, some things that are obvious to people who aren't vindictive: not wishing to hurt people's feelings is not synonymous with a wish for critique to be presented in "the kindest light" (whatever that is when he's at home). Some of us can distinguish between sheer viciousness, of the sort that you direct regularly for personal reasons at Kent Johnson, one of the kindest people I know, & honestly intended yet harsh criticism. The cruelty you've evinced goes far, far beyond anything I would ever fault the Flarfists for, & would require from me words I would never commit to a public space, were I interested enough in you to utter them. Yr pathologies are yr own burden.

I have no idea who you think brought up the "underclass." The stuff on questioner/answerer would be slightly clever if written by a college freshman.

James said...

Michael, as if it needed to be said, Your pathologies are your own burden as well. Take good care of them, as I will mine own. Thank you for letting me know that I had them, though. And, while I'm at it, I'd like to thank your unbelievable self-importance for letting you know that I needed to be told that. How much do I owe you?

College freshman: clever, clever stuff. Zing!

Until we meet again.

Joan said...

I guess the real issue here is that Kasey and everyone involved in this discussion wouldn't know the first thing about actual suffering (which exists in abundance in this world): not having the cushion of a job to pay bills; not having one's artistry recognized in any way at all, much less publication; being hungry or disabled; having your work stolen for monetary or social profit without credit when credit is so deeply needed; being laughed at and hated and disenfranchised of rights. Wouldn't it have been more of you to actually respond to the importance of the objections raised. But, like the essence of an aristocrat, your only goal is oneupmanship--winning an insider's game. You are employed as a teacher. Are you ever serious with your students? How do you convey to them the seriousness of writing poems in this time? Or is it all a wickedly ironic foray, closing decadently in on itself, a vicious joke where "underclasses" can be invoked without a hint of genuine responsibility. Kasey: you are, in fact, more disgusting because you are smarter and you have the tools to take the writing of poems seriously.

Lose a leg; lose your job; lose several loved ones in succession; lose the glorious attention that you are getting; lose the position that you think in your disgusting vanity that you have; lose everything. Then I'd like to see what you do then as an actual artist, truly daunted for a change and not vaunted like a cad.

Angela G. said...

Amen, Joan!

Jonathan said...

Do you actually know anything about Kasey's actual life to make that kind of statement? Just curious, because you're making a lot of assumptions about his "aristocratic" background.

Joan said...

Jonathan: READ! I said "like the essence of an aristocrat." It's a simile. And yes: I do know he's a professor and his salary is publicly available. His own well-shared biography is available. My statements stand. Stop apologizing for Kasey's fecklessness concerning this particular issue.

phaneronoemikon said...

Who cares if friggin' Kasey is Howard Hughes, or Tiny Tim, or Tiny Hughes.. All of the poor people in the world have one cause (drum roll) their own parents!..

THE WORLD IS NOT ANYONE"S FAULT but its own.. Do you think people SHOULD "suffer".. Well, hello, Buddhism DEFINES LIFE AS SUFFERING..

Lady, get a grip. on your ass clown. Poetry is fun, or should be,
like fashion. It exists as part of the spectacle of THE BIOILLOGICAL MARKING SPACE..

IF i hear another one of you moralizing moronic doodads decry
economic or whatever excuse you have today for being an idiot, I am going to have to have a rib removed from laughing too hard.

Human beings are like THE ROME
of the amoebas.. Our species is like 4 million years old. We have been wearing shoes for 40 thousand years. The species is successful, and even more patently, NOT NECESSARY. So get an education lady,

and put a sock in it, because you are an idiot!

Dale said...

This is why it's so unpleasant to drop by Kasey's blog, Quarles, it's such a state of decay and self-righteousness and condescending attitudes. It's interesting how no one here will even deal with Joan except by barfing on her.

I typed "fogit" to bring these words to you....

Angela G. said...

And now we have the sociopathic Bill O'Reilly of the Flarf Collective, Lanny Quarles, jumping in and telling people "SHUT UP, YOU MORON!" How much more articulate of a response from a Flarfist can you get.

Meg said...


As far as snarky riposte...well.

Not well done. Rather juvenalia-ish if you ask me.

It's a joke or its not a joke is the jokesters jokester.

A real "poet's poet" and a real "man's man".

Could that get any worse than that in terms of elitist?

The anti elitist mob elites itself into its own elite-ness and again, Henry's golden words "pure special pleading" which ought to be avoided at all costs unless someone is really willing to say here:

Best thing since sliced processed cheese.

And no one is really....

But I must say, the review above says a profound thing about it all:

Kasey is very much a modern poet doing something quite modern and evidently, timely.

But he should avoid getting angry because it reveals a side of him better left unrevealed i.e. his human incapacity for criticism which apparently is something we all share to some degree or another.

phaneronoemikon said...

the human species

is a

celestial "pumpkin scratcher"

ala sygmeti

there is no criticism


physical critter-schism

and different

'index momentums'

to the abstraction layer

phaneronoemikon said...


shall be the new FASCIST MOTTO

of this aqua-foma
trapped in bona buboe

wv: imeen

aarontodd said...

"Everyone is Sorry" We are Just Human

We’ve been making it too hard. When there is an adverse outcome, everyone is sorry, as they should be. Everyone wants to show empathy, which is a basic human response and need. Also, it is important to understand that Sorry Works!

All we can do, all Larry can do, is control what he does. You folks are just plain silly; sure everyone is sorry. Sorry, but everyone –is- sorry. But still, there is no justice. Next week real human beings whose living and breathing flesh is just one lonesome little patch of sunshine found in itself. You know, I think nearly everyone is sorry for the Liberal Party of to-day. Whether or not we can change human nature-whether it is possible to change just so we could smile at him, and talk so he wouldn't have to, or in terms of the death, of a human body, a man dying and decomposing will have a legacy, as will we all, not just the great minds of our time. I believe we look upon the disabled in the same way as religion or philosophy. All human beings are equal, we pay lip-service to this dogma. But children are equal as human beings. Everyone is sorry; It is just this halo which irritates the people.

Everyone is very quick to judge others, we are all human and make mistakes, you all are certainly just human. Not Everyone is sorry when they are caught. Irene made a huge mistake but everyone needs to remember that she is established on human size standards and measurements. It's just not realistic. We have all expanded, and 18-inch butts are just older and wider baby boomers - not everyone is sorry to see the increase. As human beings, we have a history of not fitting in. You just had to be at the practice.

We’ve been making it too hard. Everyone is sorry, and Sorry Works! Everyone is sorry, as they should be. I am from New Zealand and we have just had the Oprah show. She is an absolutely disgusting human being! She isn't sorry for anything, except that she is a sack of crap. I can forgive her, but I just don't believe that.

We might keep him despite what he did, but without him we will suck even worse so. Posting with no regard for human life! As in most cases like this, the next day everyone is sorry and wishes they will overcome. Father, Husband, Wife, and Spiritual human being, we think you should just let little things go. Everyone is sorry.

Family said...

Does this mean the cage match is off?


Ryan said...

The problem with a statement like "I'm sure your suffering isn't as great as mine/someone else's/the Bangladesh poor/a kitten's pizza injuries," is that it silences any discussion. It is, contrary to what was said above, the O'Reilly response, which makes it pretty unfair to claim that responses to such nonsense are themselves nonsensical or overreactions.

What makes Joan's statement terrible and moronic is the blatant attempt it represents to "own" and then bottle and sell suffering as a rite of passage; silencing someone in terms of whether or not their voice has "suffered" enough to gain "privilege" into a certain realm of verbal expression is lame, and in bad faith (ESPECIALLY when you know nothing about that person's history). I know plenty of "sufferahs" who aren't worth a shit...their suffering hasn't ennobled them or taught them how to not suck any less.

Angela G. said...

Why not let Kasey answer Joan's comments himself? Why do some of you feel compelled to speak for Kasey himself? Isn't this his blog?

Speak Kasey. "ourusnob" the word says.

Ryan said...

I'm jus' sayin'.

Jonathan said...

Yes, it's the ultimate onedownmanship. I can make a list of bad things that haven't happened to someone, but that's about as meaningless as saying that my hobby is NOT collecting stamps, or that I have the habit of NOT eating oysters. I mean, how many limbs have you lost recently? (If you have, I'm very sorry.)

I could enumerate particular ways in which Kasey does have the right to sing the blues, have a a right to feel low down, have a right to sit and cry down by the river, but that would be beside the point. It's a gratuitous attack on someone that is completely immaterial to the original post.

Jonathan said...

Why would someone even want to answer an attack that absurd and mean spirited? There's nothing to answer. You haven't lost a limb! You teach in a university so you can't possibly know suffering! If Kasey answers by enumerating his sufferings, he's admitting to the cretinous premise of the attack. What's he supposed to do, list the loved ones he's lost?

Ryan said...

Well, there's this playground theater of let-him-fight-his-own-battles magnitude going on here:

High noon, and one man stands alone. He skips lunch for breakfast. And now he can't eat anyway, the irrevocable climax surely not curtailing the gravity felt in very orifice of his being together...Now he must cock triggers, and open the fluid grimace to conceal a laugh.

I mean, honestly, is there any need to have any poetic community open to discussion when it's now clear that what this is really about is attacking one person with generalizations?

dctristero said...

As someone who has been particularly inspired by Flarf, I'd have to say that this post seems like the perfect stance to take. Many of Flarf's critics seem to operate on the assumption that Flarf wants to be seen as an unimpeachable and perfectly-rounded response to our times. Who would be interested in reading that? An enormous amount of truly valuable writing is messy and flawed, not only aesthetically but idealogically. Since when has perfection ever been inspiring? These poets see the contradictions in what they do, but they also believe in it. If someone else doesn't believe in it, they won't be convinced. What do you do then? Well, if you're the type of person that writes Flarf, clearly what you do is make jokes. But not empty jokes. Kasey's post is certainly snarky (I think enjoyably so), but in my estimation it says two things pretty clearly, or rather (in true PoMo fashion) asks two questions:

1. "Who said we were perfect?"
2. "Why is it so important for you to publicly demonstrate our imperfection?"

Henry Gould said...

That's IDEOLOGICALLY, DC Tristero.

Check your spelling.

You know what bugs me about your attitude, Tristero? It's anti-intellectual. It's a self-serving ratification of dumbing-down. It's basically the new mediocrity (I'm OK, you're OK - we haven't read it - who cares?). & this is the best definition of Flarf I've found yet.

It's the new mainstream. It's the Big Tent (you don't have to read carefully - just laugh!).

Tell you what, Tristero - this is the kind of crap real poets try to avoid. By studying.

Ryan said...


If art can be intellectual, why shouldn't it be anti-intellectual?

Henry Gould said...

Because you need the intellect in order to understand your own limitations & imperfections - which will give you the opportunity (if you have the good will) to at least try to overcome them. Everything else is philistine brutality.

Poetry is a protest on behalf of humane civilization. It's been that way since Ovid was sent into exile by Caesar, & wrote his poetic letters, "Tristia". It's been that way since the Hebrew prophets stood up & condemned the wickedness of their rulers. It's been that way since Mandelstam was sent to Voronezh.

But this probably won't interest you. It's not a matter of easy laughs.

Ryan said...

I was asking for clarification. Strange that you would herald the joys of the intellect yet dismiss an honest question.

"But this probably won't interest you. It's not a matter of easy laughs."

What an intellectually dismissive statement!

phaneronoemikon said...

Ryan! Alright! Good work. This line:

If art can be intellectual, why shouldn't it be anti-intellectual?

I love it. An absolute semiotics of 'the possible'.. ie a space for contouring.

Henry is old school. He sees a blank page, or a discussion and forms a stratagem based in blah blah, but what a mind like this misses isn't that ~"there is mediocrity" in flarf or whatever..
all that kind of hierarchicalizing
is really just a kind of priest's rhetoric or cultist copula-trickery.. It's because they all read linearly..

Take this sentence:

I am red.

My first subsequent phrase after that was:

Dear Mother Eye..

Now, could Henry ever have gotten
from "I am red."


"Dear Mother Eye"

and then

Der Mutter wry


The Error mutters wryly.

That is probably a kind of flarfic quintessence of language right there, if that doesnt sound non-idiotic enough. I espouse a kind of Nobsian poetics, which states,

"Is" is the original mistake in every sentence.

That's not just a talking point,
it is THE crux of the entire human political social dilemma.

I can't believe these old schoolers aren't willing to give up the sham. Money is the institutionalized externalized version of this language sham. Religion a second version. Morality a third.

There is nothing going on


is simply the changing
of things
which can never
ever be changed back

and filth
is stuff that is created
and persists
in some form
or another

Those two categories
are really all you ever need
to understand
in this world.

Henry claims intellectual superiority, but he can't admit

is nothing but blind, empty,
uterly worthless


is a vampire.

What is the old tale?

A vampire can't come into your home unless he's asked..

get it?

In Ezekiel 3: 9,10, Look it up,

It says..

Behold for I have made your forehead harder than an adamant

or some such..

Cultural reality is malleable,
and the simplest of pebbles
may yield infinitely complex visions.

Reducing anything that is in the universe is not possible, there is only paradox

all reductions become expansions
and all expansions become reductions..

Think upon the world
absent of wriiten language. There were nearly 4 billion years of it,
and now laugh.

Ghoul or Gold

I make the world, here.

wv: matestst

Angela G. said...

Lanny! Don't you have some amoeba ringtones you should be selling? wv: aizesive

Ryan said...

Oh, Angela! Do you want to answer my question?

Henry Gould said...

Actually, I think I answered your question, Ryan. But as I predicted, you aren't interested.

Go take a look at Silliman's blog today, & read all the links about James Schevill, who just died. You might learn something.

Henry Gould said...

Not to be too obvious... but Schevill's letter to the Government of California (see link at Silliman's blog, on his last name) is a very good example of what I was talking about :


But you'd rather watch late-night joke shows. You are part of the problem.

Ryan said...


You have no idea what you're talking about. What's funny is that someone must give you access to books, so you're kept busy. Where are your heroes tonight? Or are we between segments and now going to commercial breaks?

I repeat: answer the question.

Henry Gould said...

Ryan, if you remember, you asked :

"If art can be intellectual, why can't it be anti-intellectual?"

& I answered :

"Because you need the intellect in order to understand your own limitations & imperfections - which will give you the opportunity (if you have the good will) to at least try to overcome them. Everything else is philistine brutality."

We now return to our regular programming. Nighty-night.

Henry Gould said...

I also replied :


But you will never get it.

You think playing the Rebel is cool enough.

It's nowhere near enough.

Ryan said...


Hmm...Let me rephrase. I'm not being clear enough.
What I'm interested in is more along the lines of why poetry can't be "anti-intellectual" in "theme," yet still speak t truth to power. Why can only the intellect speak to power: isn't there a moment when the intellect creates something dubbed anti-intellectual? All that stems from the intellect falls under the intellect, both "high" and "low." There is a greater humanity in choosing to reject than to go along with simply because it's what we do. Where's the choice if we have others dictating what is and isn't poetry, what is and isn't "intellectual"? Schevill knows this, why don't you?

Ryan said...

ps. Is it that much of a sacrifice to be a "rebel" at a school your father taught at, where you're somewhat protected by the fact you're a legacy?

phaneronoemikon said...


As long as there are nation states
there is no civilisation
as long as there are species
cultures races
there is no civilisation

when there is one energeum
one smooth surface of becoming
of computation
when pure sacrifice..

is the orange peel

O great Orator!

whatever dude.
10 billion sewer users
is what you're talking about

What are we at?


4 billion toilet owners.


Medicine I think is what you are thinking about

is much closer
to the sound
of gorillas
in the midst

Burn victims
may enjoy poetry
and may even get some
small sense of relief

but they will still look like shit
in the mirror


is Epi-C



Matter = Light

Epi-: Prefix taken from the Greek that means "on, upon, at, by, near, over, on top of, toward, against, among.

isn't that pretty much every situation?


Heraclitan Truth..

each moment
is not like any other

The poem
that is matter
is truth

anything that can happen

and that
is all

the universe is an inscription surface
and no matter what happens
more inscription
will follow

Isn't that just weird enough
to be right

Isn't "Generative Oddity"
just correct enough
to be a Diophantine

baj salchert said...

KSM is quite sharp and quite subtle. To me, he's not backing off one millimeter from his aesthetic persuasion as a Flarfist.
An author makes what that author is moved to make. That is how it is, and is how it/ should be. And if an author does forsake one persuasion for another, so what? As to capitalism, my basic definition of it is: capitalism = something to sell + someone to buy it. The comment thread here is interesting and someways useful, but even if no money changes hands because of it, its roots are the capitalist ones of power, fame, wealth. So says baj (as in garage).


Lemon Hound said...

Oh, I thought it was the comment box that was dead, not flarf.

I'm so sad.

Jordan said...

Brian -

But there's always been exchange, and for a long time it's involved multiple parties and neutral counters, clams, semolians, lettuce, cheddar etc. Where capital comes in is placing bets on future exchanges -- selling shares in an enterprise -- running the enterprise not for long term feasibility of the enterprise, but for a short term sales target, to win this round, and the next round, and so on until you get an offer to go work your magic somewhere else for ten times as much moola at which point the enterprise which you have flogged into a froth can just drop dead. Great for the individual winners, pretty crummy for everyone and everything else.

This is different from a ponzi scheme, which literally only takes money from new investors to pay the old ones, and advertises the great success of the program in order to attract more and more new investors. A ponzi scheme is pay-as-you-go, which is actually how social security is run. This is why people get antsy about social security -- at some point the population will drop and the people currently working will have to pay more and more to meet the obligations to the people no longer paying into the system.

Sometimes, especially when the system is falling apart, critics like to overlay these financial systems onto literary movements as a way to score points. The comparisons are inapt and the finger waving is as sonorous as a housefly trapped in a return envelope.

If there's a connection to be made between flarf and some economic model, the emphasis in flarf on egalitarianism and, well, industrial collaboration puts me in the mind of syndicalism. I'd say more but am running out the door. Another time.


Matt said...

Easy laughs are a protest on behalf of humane civilization.

Henry Gould said...

Maybe so, Matt. But that doesn't make them poetry.

aarontodd said...

Henry, why is it you who has the exclusive right to define poetry?

I'm not saying that I myself am a poet by any means, but I can't see how anyone can nail down an exclusive definition of an art form.

Ryan said...

I agree with Henry, with one caveat: they're not always poetry. Laughs are actually ways to deal with tragedy, as it turns out. Laughs are used by many sucky cultures when they realize that they will remain sucky until a suckier country liberates them and establishes a sucky national anthem. Daily suck can grow old, but oldness doesn't inspire rebellion, it inspires resignationstates. And laughs take off from here. The laugh usage in sucky countries is heartwarming and poetic, and can be seen around the eyes and tongue. Some are known to SHRINK bellies, others fill them. Yes, laughs can actually perform miracles: they are Christ's toes; so laughs what? I mean Christ's toes didn't do anything?

No?! But laughs are another story in the chapter on suckiness. Back to laughs and tragedy, since both are funny. Tragedy began, says Meester Death of Comedy over here, when no one wanted to write comedy into poetry. Laughs had to leave and go somewhere else. But every century or so, when parody and irony are actually remembering Twain and Cervantes, they return. This laugh fest to quell suck is called "Othello."

Stones, heaven, laughs.

But that doesn't change the fact that poetry can be funny. And should. Tragically.

Henry Gould said...

I agree with Ryan.

I mean what he's saying is that no laughs are cheap. Laughs are expensive.

Poetry, on the other hand, is very sad and poor.

Aaron, I never claimed an exclusive right to define poetry. Poetry doesn't need my definitions, it is what it is. I'm just pointing it (poetry) out to people who are more interested in cheap laughs at the expense of whatever is not funny.

That's why I'm so poor.

Henry Gould said...

"The laughter of fools is like the crackling of flames under a pot."

That's poetry.

baj salchert said...


Excellent response.

I knew my capitalism equation might get me in trouble, but I thought: oh, what the heck.

However, what most pleased me was your view of flarf. Finally, a sensible definition new to me.
At my control blog is a link section (Literary and related) which is there for me and anyone else. One link in it is to an old interview of Kasey in which flarf is discussed at length. Why? It impressed me when I first read it, and I considered it a good introduction to what Kasey and others of like mind were doing.

I am older than Silliman by a few years. I was born in the northern midwest in a small conservative city. My capitalism insert is not a jab, cloaked or otherwise, at flarfists. My point was that most of us (which includes me) in this nation are participants in the fantasy.

Social security I knew about, and while I cannot prove it, I feel that had it not existed/ I would have been more responsible than I was. For all my intelligence, had I been less of an idiot/ I would have been more responsible anyway.

Being active in the financial markets--which presently I am not--is, yes, a gamble; yet many have learned how to do it right. There may come a day when the free market system no longer exists. Enough.

Due to my personality and experiences, my only poetic agenda is the artifact. That there are artifacts which are difficult for me to appreciate doesn't mean they are unworthy of appreciation.

[ Final note: I do not keep track of how many visits my blogs get because i'm agin' it, even if there were thousands each day. Besides, my security's agin' it too. ]

jane said...

Just because, oh, someone has to. Jordan's definition of capitalism above is a fine thumbnail of that form/phase known as "financial capital." Capitalism as such may elude such thumbnailing, but it is worth noting as Jordan tries to what's missing from Brian's definition. I think one starts a more comprehensive definition from the coordinating points 1) the privatizing of common property such that 2) the majority of folks are compelled to sell their labor on the open market to get by and 3) are paid somewhat less than the money generated by the sale of the goods and services they produce, 4) a ratio endlessly impinged upon by competition between capitalists for profit and laborers for work, a ratio which 5) is in turn endlessly modified by technological innovation which increases output from a fixed labor input, an increasingly significant actor in 6) the inescapable confrontation between labor and capital over this imbalanced situation.

That's a little less wieldy than Jordan's version, but it does throw into similar relief the question of the applicability to poetryland. No doubt poetryland has haves and havenots, and no doubt that the haves lure the participation of he havenots by promising potential "have" status. But that is not particular to capitalism; I would say what's missing is most notably (2) the idea that participants are compelled to enter the poetry market so as to feed their families. Entering into the world of poetry seems to have a whole other set of volitional elements, and so doesn't really develop by the same logic and a capitalist dynamic.

It would be very hard to argue that poetryland has its own capitalist logic that unfolds remorselessly, except insofar as it exists within a larger and actual world organized by that dynamic, one to which the haves and havenots are similarly subject. The identifications of "capitalism" within the world of poetry, as best I can discern, are most often veiled recognitions of those forces at play in the world beyond poetry that still manage to magnetize the scene.

Jordan said...

What Jane said.

David said...

Wow! Chiming in from China, I have to say that is a helluva job of self-criticism and the cadres in charge have run an outstanding struggle session.

Now for more poems about the glories of exterminating the sparrow population, forging steel in your backyard smelter and increasing dairy output using modern industrial chemicals!

Onward, comrades!

(A side note: Flarf has been rendered entirely unnecessary by the Chinglish industry; indeed, China once again outdoes the West at its own game [See: Kingsoft].)

Jordan said...

Mmm... homemade steel. Too bad they're pulling all the old plants down for scrap from Bethlehem to Lafayette!

I'm guessing the next economic system will look a little like neo-Maoism, a little like finance capitalism, a little like the traffic in Mumbai, and a little like a George Romero movie... This is what they call a safe guess.

mongibeddu said...

Now for more poems about ... forging steel in your backyard smelter

Funny you should say that, David. I was just reading a poem from the 17th/18th c. called Gothland, about Sweden, that includes these lines:

At Norkoping, where copper-plates
Are forged, the steed our driver baits.
Large coins are here impressed, and threads
Formed of vast length from copper shreds.
To distant lands these precious wares
In loaded ships the merchant bears.

That's Bishop Huet, translated from Latin or French by John Duncombe. And unfortunately it's also the most boring part of the poem. Biscuits broken with a hammer definitely make for better verse than smelting metal. To judge by Gothland.

Ben F.

Tortilla ex Machina said...

I applaud any poem that employs images of Andy Griffith, Japanese Nukekubi monsters if they detach their heads and go around eating people, and scenic images of coastal Maine.

Does Flarf have that? If so, I applaud it. Nice and loud, I mean, as long as everyone else does, too.

mongibeddu said...

Tortilla: It's like Marianne Moore said, "If you demand on the one hand / the top half of the head of Garth Brooks / in all its jellied actuality, and on the other / the scroll-ball assembly underneath, / carefully cleaned of particles of food, you are interested in flarf."

Ian Keenan said...

The statement “Flarf takes itself too seriously” has too possible meanings, because as stated by Michael R, it can’t allege “Flarf lacks humor” so it either means “the tendency of Flarf to defend itself should be perceived as inappropriate” or “the Flarf poets have too high an estimation of their writings.” The second claim is not appropriate to the milieu if made directly which is why Kent backtracked from his original choice of candor (untrue, in my opinion) over spin artistry.

Also, not only would some implement the administrative directive that it’s inappropriate for Flarf to defend themselves, but that to do so ironically indicates the stubbornness of maintaining the aesthetic of the movement when faced with critique in conventional rhetoric. The statement that an assertion is characteristic of a college freshman strategically or out of ignorance obfuscates the tradition of poets 18 or under – not a PC intervention on my part but a case of noting the falsification of literary history to maintain hierarchical bureaucracy.

The statement that “Flarf (or KSM) hasn’t suffered enough” ignores on one hand the different backgrounds of Flarf poets and also seems to be constructing an aesthetic objection around “not taking poetry seriously enough,” trying to logically prove that because Flarf poets haven’t suffered (an inaccurate statement) their style can’t be viewed as a constructive response to suffering. Suffering indeed often produces aesthetic conservativism, and if that weren’t so world leaders would make some attempt to eliminate it.

dctristero said...

Henry Gould, I caught the typo, but only after I had clicked "publish." You are right that I should be more careful, as apparently I can count on you to be a douche about it.

There is nothing anti-intellectual in what I said. It is absurd to propose that a truly anti-intellectual person would even be reading this blog. Your world must be tragically small.

My point, which you mostly ignored, was that literature that takes risks will always have flaws. Christ, look at the Beats. We could talk all day about the flaws of writers like Ginsberg and Burroughs. Same goes for Williams, Olson, Eluard, Bataille. But claiming that those flaws add up to irredeemable work that should be derided and/or ignored would be missing the point in a big way.

Where are you getting "You don't have to read carefully" from anything I said? From my point of view, there is no reading less careful than one that finds only things to hate in work as original and multifaceted as most Flarf.

More offensive still, "We haven't read it - who cares?" Seriously, what can possibly lead you to assume that I haven't read the work I'm talking about?

In closing, you are the kind of person that uses the word "philistine" in all seriousness. I recommend you make some friends.

dctristero said...

To clarify what I meant about your use of the word "philistine" is that your kind of person is why so much of America thinks being an intellectual means acting really angry and superior all the time. Your criticisms could have some shred validity, but your malevolent, elitist attitude is so exaggerated that everything you say just comes off as bizarre and repellant.

dctristero said...

And yes, I now see that my first sentence there is missing a comma. I'm sorry if that was traumatic for you.

Henry Gould said...

"Literature that takes risks"... "has flaws"... how bloody 20th century. What a bore.

Literature that's any good is perfect. We remember Emily Dickinson, for example, because out of many hundreds of poems stuck in her bureau, she wrote quite a few perfect poems.

But Flarf is CONSTRURCTED on a parody of the very idea of the perfect, the serious, the beautiful. It needs them, in order to mock them. This is both its modus operandi & its raison d'etre. The means justify the ends & vice versa.

But you want me to check around through the Flarf anthologies for some good work, even though it may be imperfect.

I've got better things to do.

dctristero said...

Then surely you also have better things to do than attack people on the internet for writing or enjoying poetry that you don't find valuable.

IiIwayne said...

and thus the prideful henry gould and joan procured from heaven the true knowledge of poetry and its purpose in this world and spake it unto the unhearing masses and when they saw the unhearing with which we have characterized these masses and which they also exhibited or possessed depending on ones understanding as to how that epithet applies in the experiential categories they flew into a mighty rage a rage which it would be quite difficult really to describe but perhaps we can have recourse to the feeling one gets when one writes something that someone exhibits an inability to understand in the most regular and annoying sense of that misunderstanding anyhow these two prophets having undergone such a rage they resorted to explaining that poetry is some sort of perfectly idealized process either identified as the expression of proper styles and amounts of suffering or the rebellious appeal for humane society and people still didnt really listen so their prescriptions were kind of vaguely debated in a really half assed sense until a retrospective scribe could come into play namely myself and say that you should look at my goddamn username and maybe give a thought to things like popular culture and not sit in your obscure internet corner moralizing other obscure internet corners like jesus christ this is the most absurd thing ive ever heard for most people poetry has nothing to do with suffering except on the level that can describe how sad they were when they were teenagers and their girl or boy friend broke their heart poetry is simply a way of reinforcing preconceived notions about pleasures and the pursuit of them look at the fact that the only popular contemporary poets are the authors of songs like lollipop off the album the carter iii which you should all listen to because its much more interesting than you might give it credit for all that aside however this was a really good post originally i was a big fan of the duplicity with which you presented yourself and your goals and then on top of that you managed to start a very interesting discussion actually im just kidding the discussion was pretty fucking puerile and masturbatory

phaneronoemikon said...

Dr. Lacan,

Let's be dangerous.
We are no longer warried.
Angelique, I am sinking,
singing in Sherry.

Es harries, and through
division carries
the long divising

the bustle
the hustle of the vice
the vise
the vision singning

of violent line

nil loin
you roil

real cakes
are hats

real hats

are the sublime
sex of minds

urges lines of lice
to fnil
the hreniad

Meg said...

"Biscuits broken with a hammer definitely make for better verse than smelting metal."

That all depends on how seriously you take your own slag. Everything is interesting, everything is only a response to the truth. The problem is in the notion of our position in relation to that truth i.e. innate truth which doesn't care much for your arguments about "it" i.e. the moon followed willingly, the sun also...

The reality expressed by poets...well...some are more populist in nature and some are obscurantist in nature and some are closer and some are further. When a poet nails something on the head matters not really...what "style" utilized except to say that it would be nice to be understood in say...a thousand years by the newest residents of our colonies who look over our graves and say tsk tsk.


between winter &
chequering bottom
pool, swimming
to dream
in castlists
no name
shocks and fevers
hostage dramas.

looking down just like a Pieta then
for planes
for birds
for kites
or stars,
tempt me.

still hurts
to breathe
why why why

the corpse
of djinn,
the old families
inside lizards,
which day it was
he got in.

away ago
through an eye
a spiritual cousin
name of splinter
in the meat
of orbits,

a piece of bramble.
you tiny things.
you tiny societies.
you tiny tin-toothed.
buzzard keepers.
curs. bunch of curs.
no magic
nor curses left.
pockets dry.
amulets useless.
natural causes
might amaze you.
There might
be a stumbling.
a deflation.

wv: pertenn

wv2: tallyi

Meg said...

I'd like to add...

Poetry is merely a reflection of the personal reality of the singular poet. When it comes to various schools of poetry...well...a person can get lost in the aftermaths of social change, philosophical change as it transmutes itself into new norms and new realities.

Postulating that poetry IS this thing or that has to be careful about that because a person can become inflexible, ungenerous and eventually, unenlightened. To say that poetry is merely a reaction to the "world" is delinquent because that puts poets in the position of actually being able to change something that is pretty much...out of their hands.

"Man is a wonderful creature; he sees through the layers of fat (eyes), hears through a bone (ears) and speaks through a lump of flesh (tongue)." -Ali ibn Abi Taleb, Chief of all Believers, May Allah be pleased with his Ahl Bayt

kyle said...

Gould has the best sense of humor in this whole discussion. he's the only one who can stay in character.

whenever i read these long-winded discussions about the seriousness of humor in poetry, i always try to imagine my uncles sitting out in the duck blind talking about the moral implications of various calibers or the artistic considerations in choosing certain paints for their decoys. just kidding, i just wrote that without ever thinking it.

i'm pretty sure 'philistine' is a compliment. no, wait, complement. shit. quit making your detractors do the work of actually giving you compliments and just recontextualize their insults as adulation. duh.

WV: exopar, and patti

-the talentless underclass (forget me not!)

Jennie K said...

I'll bring the booze, you bring the balls, Killer.

Taypee said...

This is almost as funny as "East Bound and Down," but maybe, maybe, the funniest thing of all is:

"Dale said...
*EVERYONE* should check out Tony Tost's recent comments in my last post at possumego...."

Damn Dale, you're my new Barney Fife!