Friday, July 24, 2009


The Internet’s getting awfully Flarfy these days. “Flarfiste!” they’re calling and yelling. Because you know that when Poets & Writers

. . . and Poetry Magazine end up on the same thing at the same time, it’s got to be something . . .

So what is the current issue of Poetry Magazine going to do for/ with/ around/ because of/ Flarf & Conceptual Writing? Does it mean something other than the editors of Poetry Magazine wanting to do something different? (It’s only one issue, right?)

I’ve no idea, of course. No one ever does. Here’s the TOC, for reference:

You can read the poems online (if you missed the issue)!

Jordan Davis
Mel Nichols
Sharon Mesmer
K. Silem Mohammad
Nada Gordon
Drew Gardner
Gary Sullivan
Christian Bök
Robert Fitterman
Kenneth Goldsmith
Craig Dworkin
Vanessa Place

So I’m thinking of the Objectivist issue of Poetry, a million or so years ago. And before that, the Imagist wanderings in and around.

Well, Imagism had Pound, and (along with his million or so failings) he was an energetic, hungry sort, casting a wide net around writers barely unified (except as one could say, in opposition to Longfellow and Tennyson, I suppose). It was a great marketing tool.

Objectivism? Well, that didn’t flare up quite as well. Maybe it was the lack of a poster child. Or the authority of a few really aggressive, high-profile writers. Unfortunately. I really liked it. And what if Objectivism had been as big a hit as Imagism? (Among poets or whomever.) What would have come out of that?

Well, maybe it’s all one tradition anyway, as Oppen and WCW seem to get tossed into a line now, but it cost several interesting writers from getting the notice they deserved.

But anyway, Flarf & Conceptual Writing. Huh. It’s not much of a surprise for me to admit that I’ve always like of liked Flarf, in general. How could you not like something that allows you to say, “That’s Flarfy!” Many of those Flarfy things don’t work, or course, but many do.

And the word searches and replacements and recontextualizations of Flarf, we’ve had with us a long time. I write that way, though I’ve always thought of it more in terms of Cage’s “Chance Operations.” As (from Wikipedia):

In a 1957 lecture, Experimental Music, he described music as “a purposeless play” which is “an affirmation of life – not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we're living”

A lot of my friends write that way. Though I’d call it more like “purposeful play,” where the culture adds the actual “thing itself” to the construction of the poems. Very in line, I would think with the “direct treatment of the thing” form Pound, though, I think it was Barrett Watten , who said something like there is no direct treatment of the thing possible, unless it’s the things of language. Word searches allow that to happen in interesting ways.

And the mixing of high and low? One could talk about the Waste Land and quite a few poems by Ashbery (one could even talk about Kenneth Fearing, as well . . .).

But two things are unmistakable: 1. Flarf hit critical mass. 2. Name it something and it has a much better chance of being talked about. (In a way, I'm quite envious. I would LOVE to edit a section of Poetry Magazine. Who wouldn't? But what would I call it? Poetry I like? [that's mostly what Pound did, after all] I demand a named movement! Alas. Alas.)

[ADDENDUM: I've been thinking since I first posted this, and I've now, sadly, realized no named movement is going to be forthcoming. Who could I join up with? Kevin Prufer, Wayne Miller, and Hadara Bar-Nadav? We could call ourselves the Midwesternists? And then who would write the manifesto? Are people in the Midwest even allowed to write manifestos? The Heartlandists! How wholesome. You know? I think I must be going about this all wrong. Someone help me out?]

And now, once again, the material for poetry production has opened up. There’s always energy when things open up. And energy is a good thing for the art. And, well, it’s far better in my estimation, if the energy and press is going to something like Flarf & Conceptual Writing, than if it’s going to anthologies by Garrison Keillor.

Gary Sullivan, "Am I Emo?"


At 7/24/2009 6:41 PM, Blogger Steven D. Schroeder said...

An alternate reading: you can tell some cultural trends have passed their high water mark when CNN anchors and your painfully uncool uncle start embracing them. Yes, Poetry Magazine is your painfully uncool uncle. Watch out, Flarf! (I say this as someone who enjoys a lot of Flarf, particularly The Anger Scale, and who has published Flarf as well.)

At 7/24/2009 6:43 PM, Blogger Steven D. Schroeder said...

P.S. I realize the P&W article hardly qualifies as "embracing." I was just having too much fun with my little analogy, which no one should take too seriously.

At 7/24/2009 7:57 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I hear you. There's a fine line between Going Prime Time and Jumping the Shark.

At 7/25/2009 12:06 PM, Blogger Justin Evans said...

I do not even know what Flarf is. I am not being ironic, nor am I trying to tell a joke. I honestly do not know.

In fact, after owning Ron Silliman's book "The Alphabet" for some time, I am not certain how l-a-n-g-u-a-g-e poetry is fundamentally in conflict with what people call "School of Quietude." If his book is a litmus test for what l-a-n-g-u-a-g-e poetry is supposed to be, then somewhere early on in my education I was greatly misinformed as to what it is.

The more people try to tell me what the differences are, I can't help but focus on things which are similar.

I guess I am not nearly as smart as the average bear.

At 7/26/2009 9:14 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I don't think any of this is about being "smart." It's just people seeing the world differently, and therefore reacting to it differently.

The is a pretty big difference between Silliman's The Alphabet and, say, to name a rough contemporary, Charles Simic, though they may use many of the same words. Even, here and there, a whole line (or sentence) could possibly be from either. At least it seems that way to me when I look at them.

At 7/26/2009 9:27 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

For instance, which poet, SImic or Silliman wrote this:

"People's heads turn to watch a funeral procession."

At that level it's impossible to tell. But, if you add a couple more lines (sentences):


People's heads turn to watch a funeral procession.

Birds march up the slope of the hill, pecking at the cut grass (one's relation to an audience is historical): the wind sends dead leaves skittering (rhymes with punt).

Standing around in the air of an old fart, apricots fading (politics), into changing a lightbulb in the ceiling of a dark room (weather) -- balance insinuates order (our books will not be read).

On the hottest day of the year, this small, aged woman is wearing a raincoat (the young man wears a Walkman in a holster).

The shadow of a butterfly.


And it should be obvious!

At 7/27/2009 4:38 AM, Blogger Ross Brighton said...

and then you dump Bruce Andrews next to Tony Hoagland ... This could become a fun game.

I for one am not sure I get conceptual writing. The reason I enjoy some of it - Kenny G's 111 or Day, for instance, seems to be the exact way he doesn't want it to be read (though that could be said about my aproach to some of Browning's work as well...)

And Craig Dworkin's piece, much as I love his criticism, seems, like much of it, to be an exercise in look-how-clever-i-am-ism. Bergvall is great, but how does she relate more to these folks than to, say, Jackson Mac Low, or Tan Lin?

At 7/27/2009 7:09 AM, Blogger Don Share said...

Your painfully uncool Aunt Harriet (Monroe) egged on Zukofsky to concoct Objectivism, much to his eventual regret & chagrin, as it became an albatross round his poetical neck; see full story here:

Long live the Midwesternists, and yes, someone should write the manifesto!

At 7/27/2009 8:10 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I wish she were my aunt, uncool or not . . . she had a good marketing strategy. Too bad is was on the destructive side of constructive for those involved.

So if I write the manifesto will you publish it?

Currently it's called "Flyoverism" and takes up the issue of "corn" rhyming with "porn" as why the coasts covet the daughters of farmers, as well as the pretty geometric shapes of our fields from the air that illustrate a formal structure, causing a pang of nostalgia in fly-over travellers, which is why they like to put perfectly good tractors in their museums.


Every time I see someone write Kenny G. I get bad elevator jazz flashbacks. It hurts.

If we want to play the "what does it look like game" I propose that Jordan Davis's poems sound more like Rae Armantrout's than they do any of the other poets in the portfolio, for what that's worth.

At 7/27/2009 11:14 AM, Blogger Andy Gricevich said...

1) The manifestos of the Midwest are crackling like corn in the late summer night (is that SoQ, Post-Avant or just bad/flarf?).

2) There is no representative Language Poetry. Learning about it in school almost always seems to get it wrong.



At 7/27/2009 11:27 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

There are people who learn about it in school? Neat.

At 7/27/2009 12:03 PM, Blogger Steven D. Schroeder said...

Don't get me wrong, Don, I like a lot of what Poetry does, particularly online, but the thing you're linking happened in 1931. Even my parents weren't going to be born for more than another decade. I don't think it does a lot for Poetry's street cred now. It's like Dr. Evil saying "I'm hip. I'm with it," air quotes around the entire thing, and then breaking into the Charleston to prove it.

At 7/28/2009 8:34 AM, Blogger Don Share said...

But Steven, the portfolio wasn't done for street cred or to be cool.

Dr. Evil

At 7/28/2009 8:42 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I've always kind of wanted to be Dr. Evil. The bad guys get all the best outfits and lines.

At 7/28/2009 8:47 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

And what's with McFadden's "An Auto-da-fé" not mentioning cars? It was the flarf issue, after all!

At 7/28/2009 8:53 AM, Blogger Steven D. Schroeder said...

Don: I'm not saying it was, which is a good thing, because it'd never work that way. I read your comment as suggesting that Poetry wasn't uncool because Harriet Monroe advocated for Zukofsky to come up with Objectivism. Perhaps I misread it?

At 7/28/2009 9:08 AM, Blogger Don Share said...

Ah! Yes, you misread it. I wasn't saying that or implying it.

At 7/28/2009 9:10 AM, Blogger Don Share said...


Point taken about McFadden's poem...

I like your idea for the ManiMidfesto!

Yr. Uncle Don

At 7/28/2009 9:13 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Wait. I thought we were cousins?

At 7/28/2009 11:56 AM, Blogger Don Share said...

It's all so incestuous - I forgot that I'm Steven's uncool uncle! Sorry, Cuz!


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