Although I didn’t know it at the time, in 2007 I was writing flarf poetry. Flarf exemplifies the random, heterogeneous, often absurd character of spam e-mails and of other information available on the web, appropriated and blended into a discontinuous (non-sequiturs rule) mesh of colorful language. It’s striking for its aforementioned absurdity, sudden shifts of subject, its non-hanging-togetherness. If there is meaning in flarf, generally speaking, that meaning consists in the flarf poet’s attempt to mirror (or simply record, curate, edit) special instances of digitally-mediated language, almost always removed from — what? everything? — context, human relationships, an immediate setting which would give the totally of the poem its traditional meaning.
An unpublished work of mine; not however, flarf.
Seeing months ago via Rod Smith’s Facebook feed that two Mel Nichols videos were featured on the Huffington Post set off a train of thought that led me here, to bibliomanic, to speak of flarf. In the mid-aughts, I used to see these two poets, Rod Smith and Mel Nichols, when I attended the regime of regular Thursday night pub-crawls that they and Dan Gutstein (my then poetry teacher, at George Washington U) followed.
Most of my flarf was a long poem without any line breaks I wrote on a typewriter in drafts and in numerous revisions on a computer: ‘Starving revelation tooth factory’. The title (a riddle, the answer of which is something like the human body in frenzy, pleases me, but the poem is unsatisfactory to me today, with the rest of my so-called “juvenilia” (in fact, this was the name of a collection I put together when I was about fifteen), it’s a little embarrassing. “Starving revelation tooth factory” is a narcissistically jagged long poem. Contains some flarf elements, much autobiographical incident, a heaping bucketful of discontinuous imagery, flibbertigibbet and other what-have-you, “kerflaffle-fla-flam,” and even the following (which I can still admire the beauty of):
thrombic lycocoptyopenic purpura
gnitirw erutuf sdrawkcab
meop ni esrever
That’s not flarf. And neither is Charles Bernstein. My attitude towards flarf poetry is ambivalent, but I don’t like it. On Wikipedia on the ‘Flarf’ page I read:
‘I love a movement that’s willing to describe its texts as ‘a kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness.’ – Joyelle McSweeney
Ugh. Flarf surrenders to the sometimes-vacuity of the digital infoscape. And for me, it seems rooted in the first eight years of the new millenium, standing opposite George W. Bush’s empty rhetoric, littered with mistakes and itself hollow, void of meaning, like the image flarf attempts to project of language as existing in a weird vacuum of truth and human intimacy or even intelligence.
I don’t think that art or literature or poetry needs to be engagé to be meaningful, but poetic language should not be complicit with the prevailing inane discourses that they have the power to counteract.