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June 08, 2009


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What is "flarf"? Thanks.

Hi Noah. Thanks for asking. If you don't mind, I'm just going to send you (below) the postscript for my book, Annoying Diabetic Bitch, which has a pretty complete answer:

In 2003 Gary Sullivan asked me if I wanted to join a poetry listserv: a handful of poets were entering outrageous and/or inappropriate word combinations into the Google search engine and making poems out of the results, then emailing them around to each other. Lines from the emailed poems could then be reworked in equally outrageous and/or inappropriate ways and sent around again for further recombining. Gary said the poems were called "flarf." I was delighted with the invitation, and the prospects: I'd been collaging text material in poems almost since I first started writing, in 1978, and had always been drawn to running funny, vulgar, non-"poetic" language — the beef-tongued, stockyards parlance I grew up with on the south side of Chicago — up against "beautiful" words (after all, as a poet I am attracted to "the Beautiful"). It seemed like a generous, wabi-sabi kind of poetry that could inhabit bodies very different from the poet's own and allow them to speak. Plus a certain amount of control (i.e., ego) would have to be surrendered, allowing the word-image to come under the influence of chance. Who knew who would be speaking? People I didn't know, certainly. People I didn't necessarily like.

The community aspect of the project appealed to me as well. The poems seemed to have been written by a meta-mind: in my poems I could see traces of my friends' poems, and in theirs I could see my own. By constantly incorporating bits of the posted poems into new poems, the content of each subsequent poem reflected the collective sensibility, while still containing the indelible stamp of its lowly origin. And while the original poem might remain inviolate, we could watch it morph again and again, creating hilarious, outrageous fractal integers of itself, as if composed by a team of comedy writers in the Darwinian TAZ of tin pan Googleland.

There's a scene in Werner Herzog's 1979 remake of "Nosferatu" where the citizens of a town gripped by plague dance and sing and carouse among corpses rotting and burning in the town square. In a way, flarf does pretty much the same thing. But without that awful stench.

Thanks. Sounds like fun.

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