If you’ve never attended a Flarf reading, picture a giant, glistening squid, hunched over the steering wheel of demolition derby jalopy, doing doughnuts around a junior high school football field at midnight. In cough syrupy pinks and reds, the seizure-inducing flood lights flutter manic Morse code rants, while Eddy Arnold singing “Make the World Go Away,” slowed to twice its normal speed, moos like a tranquilized whale-sized cow from the field's speakers. The jalopy’s tires rip off a wad of grass, and fling it through the air where it slaps the face of a nude, morbidly obese double amputee. Roaring torrents of bodily fluids shoot into the air like oil geysers, and the clown goes wild.
You can read explanations of Flarf here, here and here. There are many more out there.
The central point for our porpoises is: Flarf poetry is created by performing Google searches, and cobbling the results into poems. By using language that has already been generated —most of it very unpoetic, for Flarf’s aesthetic favors the ineloquent and outrageous—Flarf elevates our basest exchanges by wrapping them in poetry's high faultiness like gold-plating a turd. Flarf wades into a raging toxic river of human communication, and connects to it. That’s what Whitman wanted. That’s what whirling dervishes want. Who doesn’t want that? But like tantric Buddhists, if you want to swim with Flarfists, you gotta drink with the larvae-crusted rainwater in the bottom of the tire swing.
That’s the job of a conceptual poet. You don’t go around licking photo spreads in Architectural Digest, whining, “Daddy, I want that one!” The wind blows you in every direction at once, all forms are impermanent, and Andy Kaufman practiced transcendental meditation his entire adult life.
Experimentation doesn’t always lead to funny (hands up if you’ve ever been stuck at your buddy’s ground-breaking art/interpretative dance/spoken word/drum circle), but if the poet's Flarfy, you're pretty much guaranteed that humor resonates through his/her work. Flarf's proportion of funny feminists is way up there [other Flarfettes include Shanna Compton, Katie Degentesh, Nada Gordon, et al.]. Oh, the Flarf "collective" no longer exists, btw. Hare today, goon tomorrow.
No matter what form Mesmer's words are taking at the moment, jokes—actual jokes that go “hardy-har-har!” at you, me, “I,” dogs, trees, astronauts—pop up like vermin in a Whack-a-mole game. No one is safe. Elbows, two-by-fours, knuckle sandwiches, and banana peels fly. Perhaps her most fixed form is that of Mesmie, the ninth Stooge.
Mesmer's most recent poetry collections are The Virgin Formica [not Flarf] and Annoying Diabetic Bitch [Flarf]. An excerpt of her story, "Revenge," appears in the new Les Figues anthology, I'll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing By Women. A selection of poems will appear in the forthcoming Postmodern American Poetry—A Norton Anthology.
Is your sense of humor genetic, or are you a singular freak?
Hey, what's with the oppressive dichotomy, man? Okay, okay…I'm a singular freak. Literally: I was voted "Class Freak" by my fellow seniors at Our Lady of Enhanced Decolletage High School…and I made up the category.
When did you first realize you were funny?
When I was born and the doctor slapped my mother. Oh, wait — I thought you said "ugly." Weird how that didn't bother me.
When was the first time you made people laugh with your writing?
I read my poem about the Baby Jesus at my First Holy Communion Mass, and the whole church started cracking up! But that might've been because I was peeing on myself.
How would you describe your sense of humor?
My sense of humor is radically in opposition to all other kinds of humor. Occupy All Other Kinds of Humor!
How does comic timing and pace differ from the less funny bits of a poem?
There are no less funny bits in any of my poems. Unless you're talking about the beginnings, ends, middles, and most of the words.
Have you ever realized that you’ve crossed a line?
I've crossed the line so many times I now just end all my poems with "Whatsa matter, can't ya / take a joke?"
Have you ever been dissed/dismissed for being a funny poet?
Yes. It was a really long time ago, when I was a very young poet just starting out, and so my memory of the incident is dim. But I do remember telling Walt Whitman to go fuck himself.
This is what students always ask me: do you decide to be funny, or does it just happen?
This is what students always ask me: "Will you please stop, or do you want me to press charges?"
Do you believe that you sacrifice anything when you choose to turn the poem down a funny road?
I don't know about anybody else out there, but every time I choose to turn the poem down a funny road I have to sacrifice a huge manatee. Oh, the huge manatees!
Who are your favorite funny people?
Lieutenant Worf from "Star Trek: the Next Generation," Chewbacca ... oh, I thought you said "furry people." Is Kung Fu Panda "people"?
When you write, do you distinguish between funny and not? I think a lot of people who aren't funny think that's it's a part of some plan.
I think a lot of people who aren't funny think everything is part of some plan. Personally, I wish I had that kind of confidence.
Do you think humor in writing comes from a place of self-loathing?
I think it comes from a place where unassuageable negative emotions are somehow, through some process that I can't fit a pattern to, transmuted into a source of joy, and find a better, more helpful, existence as humor. The need for release via change seems important. The process is certainly interesting but I don't want to think away its magic.
Tomorrow: Sommer Browning
The Swiss Just Do Whatever
The Swiss just do whatever
like masturbating their doink-doinks
deep in rural France
in the shadow of Mont Blanc.
and prepared for whatever
the Swiss vago-simulacrum recognizes
King Hussein and President Fabio,
always just about to touch each other
on their devolved sparkle-offs
and Neil Patrick Harris appreciation pages.
Everyone knows when these bizzarre Swiss cometh
they cometh with fluffy Beatles-like
six packs of shit-covered reindeer
knock-knocking like a bummer.
Glitter is the Swiss Army knife
of the most bedazzlingly ridiculous
emotions: the part just before
the paranoid cheese-maker says,
“Whatever you do in Palm Springs,
don’t yodel”—a most unusual Swiss Miss
mixture of very early skunk and the robotic
sadness of women’s mold
heavy, greasy, dense and low, like
lethargic sea-green gardens
with a buzz overpowering, like
modern outdoor inbreeding.
You know you’re Swiss when,
when foreign visitors ask to see your
chocolate factory, you answer,
“Why don’t you and Hannibal Lecter
just kick out the jams?”
’Cause you know you got the chamber,
and Fear Factor.
Originally published in Poetry
Juan Valdez Has a Little Juan Valdez (i.e., Energy Cannon) in His Pants
It’s a true dichotomy, hauling beans on a mule.
Beans take exactly the same amount of time to decompose
as road apples.
Juan Valdez, Java Man, you should be neither slandered nor lionized.
I shall personally make the wolf parade apologize.
Juan, let me take this opportunity to embrace,
as per the washing instructions on Camilla Parker-Bowles’ underpants,
the following idea:
Juan Valdez + love machine = bovine sex club.
Boy, you rocked me so hard I peed my pants.
You are so a varied artist!
And a deviant since Apr 23, 2004, 9:10 AM.
Only an orderly military type, not a gung-ho big Newt loose cannon,
would know the truth:
Juan × True Petra = Orpheus with TB.
Let all hell break loose.
I did foolishly try to put loose grounds in my unit.
This didn’t work nearly as well as picking coffee as a young girl
with no pants on.
Pants were not yet acceptable for girls in those years.
At the Modesty School the uniform was white dress shoes,
and panties with burgundy slits.
No one said anything about pants.
We were deflowered week after week on Nassau Street.
But Voltaire’s theory of gravity showed us:
Juan + bovine sex club — Orpheus with TB = don’t get overconfident.
Can we start with how I feel without my pants?
And does it make me angry, sad, that Juan Valdez and his burro Ramone are not wearing pants?
Originally published in Jacket