For the last few years, I’ve shared and exchanged poems with a number of poets on the Post-Flarf listserv. What I love about the listserv is that I can send around poems that I think are atrocious. It’s a place where experimentation, writing bad poetry, posting “found” poems from the internet and writing highly “distasteful” poems is actively encouraged. I also like that the list isn’t about publishing poetry in magazines but rather sharing work with other poets in an open space.
I asked poets who have been active on the list to talk to me about the aesthetics of Post-Flarf, the differences between Flarf and Post-Flarf and what they’ve found in common with fellow poets on the list. (The list is an open one, so if you are interested in joining, please email me at [email protected])
Sandra Simonds: I invited people to enter this conversation who are active on the Post-Flarf list but who have not been invited to the top-secret Flarf list. This is our revenge. What do you want to say to those people?
Maurice Buford: The primordial Flarf List is a coterie of vampires. They are a secret bunker built atop a tree fort. Since its inception, many people have left the Post-Flarf group for what appear to be legitimate reasons I can no longer recall, and some have since rejoined. Go figure. Maybe it has to do with our haircuts.
Sandra Simonds: No one commented on my poem, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. I guess it sucked.
Tiffany Denman to Sandra Simonds: I liked that poem a lot but couldn’t get past the grape flavor of the title which sent me into a whirling discontent for which I blame Jada Smith. Following M-word 3, the poem is peerless perfection with penguins.
Sandra Simonds: I wrote it to get through watching the movie. I sort of know that the poem sucks, but that’s how I feel about the majority of the poems that I’ve posted to the list. I started writing the Post-Flarf poems after work when my baby was asleep. I would have a glass of wine and writing them seemed to be a way to blow off steam and not worry about writing “good” or “serious” poetry. Anyone else feel this way?
Tiffany Denman: I feel a similar release or freedom from pressure in writing Post-Flarf and I think there is a hilarity present in the poems we write/read in the group. But there’s also something very heady about them, too. I constantly think of the Apollo/Dionysus, Tate/Ashbury contrasts when considering Flarf/Post-Flarf/Conceptual. Smart smartasses.
Sandra Simonds: None of us are that funny, so why are we on the Post-Flarf list? In fact, most of the poems from you guys seem to be sort of serious. Wait! Why are we on the Post-Flarf list again?
Tiffany Denman: Let’s face it, none of us are comedian poets (thinking Eugene Levy, Doug Ross, wha?). There’s irony but not parody. No one, outside of, well, us may be reading these poems for a good laugh. But, as Benjamin (see below) pointed out, we’re laughing from “some painful psychic corner;” we like a sharp poke for our buffoonery.
Sandra Simonds: What is Post-Flarf? Are we just rejects from every other walk of poetry life?
Tiffany Denman: Yes. Thankfully.
Sandra Simonds: Most of you strike me as coming from the far, far left. Like left of left (politically). I know that Brian studied with Joshua Clover at UC Davis and a number of poets on the list studied with Kasey Mohammad, so that, in itself, hints at the political proclivities of this group. Discuss.
Brian Ang: Post-Flarf is poetry responding to the poetry of Flarf’s progenitors, such as Nada Gordon, Sharon Mesmer, Kasey Mohammad, and Gary Sullivan, and their poetries’ characteristic tendencies, such as the use of outrageous mass cultural materials especially from the internet. My first book Paradise Now was consciously a Post-Flarf work, combining Flarf’s approach with Marxist concerns. I started writing it in March 2010, after hanging out with Kasey at the University of California, Santa Cruz’s “Reimagining the Poet-Critic” conference and being asked to contribute to his magazine Abraham Lincoln. My contribution concept of “Marxist Flarf” was generative enough to produce a cohesive book. It was completed by July 2010 when I shared it at the 95 Cent Skool in Berkeley, California. During its composition I also shared it at Kasey’s first annual Lollapaganza festival in May 2010 in Ashland, Oregon, and was added to the Post-Flarf list and shared it through that. The venues for sharing work were essential for its composition.
Regarding “far left” tendencies in Post-Flarf-related poets, I attribute it to a combination of practitioners’ developments under “the post-2008 market crash’s systemic re-exposure of capitalism’s brutality at the level of everyday life and resultant re-ignition of political imagination and praxis for the efficacy of activism” (see my “Poetry and Militancy”), in contrast to Flarf’s development during the post-9/11 political malaise, and experimental culture’s historical potentials for cultivating radicalism by being an interface to radicalisms in the culture at large. The composition period of Paradise Now coincided with my participation in the University of California protests, studying radical political theory with the purpose of immediate praxis, and Flarf’s characteristics were exemplary for reflecting on my enthusiasms.
Tiffany Denman: I think you’re accurate in the left-of-left (see Marxist concerns, radical left sympathizers) assessment of the politics of the group which seems as though it could be nothing but. Why is that? Brian’s assessment, which I think is accurate for poets in the group mainly concerned with dialoguing directly with the political, as well as the younger poets in the group who came-of-age in the political climate he specifies, is part of the solution. I’m not sure the group at large is as concerned with writing directly at these issues (though receptive to them, yes).For me, I allow the political in as it is present in the language or it is present in my conditioning/ thinking, but the concern of Post-Flarf, I think, goes beyond this.
In 1992 (to date myself), I took my first poetry writing workshop with Brenda Hillman. In it, two key lessons she offered stuck with me as my writing (over decades) shifted from the lyrical to what we’re examining now. The first was the idea of the poet carrying a journal at all times. An elementary idea to experienced writers, but the idea of writing down scraps of eavesdroppings (ploop), is I think what drives the poetry I work on today. At the time, I could gather material in a coffee shop, grocery store, campus quad. . . Whether my presence in the public or the public itself changed, over time I stopped overhearing anything that seemed worth working into poetry. There seemed nothing to hear any more. To say people speak less, what they say in public is less interesting to me, that the shift to the electronic versus the real has changed our public interaction—all true. But I think more it was the discovery of the chatter online at my disposal. Like a cultural mnemonic, it was there for the stealing.
Which brings me to the second lesson, plagiarism. I remember specifically the instruction that using over three words from another’s work was plagiarism and was to be avoided with grave, unnamed consequences (which I reasoned meant expulsion from the poet club). I received lines in the class from a graduate student during a writing exercise. I remember the lines, “I wish I could be as brave as fruit/ All skin and showing it.” Agitated, for several years I tried to work pieces of this into work without violating the rules of plagiarism. The discovery of work which not only allows this rule to be violated but encourages the blatant, unrestrained repurposing of other’s language/words/work, was as liberating to me as the first time I broke a villanelle. To begin where we all begin and tap away at accepted structure/rules/traditions, that’s what drew me to the idea of Flarf (not discounting the humor and irreverence).
I think this same rebellion/humor/irreverence is present in Post-Flarf but the marriage to the outdated lyric and the attempt at infusing the “I” and its relation to the stolen words from the electronic echoes we draw from is vital. I don’t see how else to net the language of the contemporary/ to capture the echoes without utilizing the swirling electronic cacophony. And I think that’s what Post-Flarf is concerned with—whether the focus is political, social, cultural, sexual, personal—it’s the reverberations. Since I just completed it, I’m thinking specifically of Sandra’s Mother Was Tragic Girl and the play of the associative, the created, the repurposed—the creative/non-creative formal gesture which produces what I love most about Post-Flarf and the work that the group produces—the tear-jerks from laughter and heartbreak and the greasy smear of nostalgia for an intimacy I’m not sure ever existed and the discord produced as a result.
Sandra Simonds to Tiffany Denman: I am fascinated by the academy’s hysteria (for lack of a better word) surrounding plagiarism. It’s like everyone has Turnitin.com-itis. It seems like such a modern phenomenon and I do wonder if the Flarf/ Post-Flarf poetry that uses plagiarism as a sort of aesthetic stance is a kind of response to issues of intellectual property and the idea that language could in any way be “owned.” But the plagiarized language seems to come from anywhere. Like in the poem you posted called “R U Relevant?” where did you find the following line: “I forgive u, for u not neither what ur on about, nor r u relevant anymore. #sadlittlemen.”
Tiffany Denman to Sandra Simonds: That line came from a message board regarding Irish identity in sports (I surmise). Interestingly, the search didn’t reveal anything outside of that line (with some number combinations I’ve been working with which I edited). What I was mostly concerned with was this idea of “relevancy” and the number “33” (which my work has been connected to for a number of years now.) In a poem which is greatly concerned with weak intimacy and defining identity (cultural/political), it is an entirely appropriate board (http://www.peoplesrepublicofcork.com/forums/showthread.php?t=188733&page=3) for dialoguing with the piece.
This idea of language being “owned” is so tricky. I consider the language that most of us draw from to be eavesdropped. The complication, of course, is that the language is recorded in some sort of written form (though even that varies—poets and pieces both). I think that the approach is deeply a stance against this idea of intellectual “property” and redefining what is inherent to language, the “speaker,” the poet, the poem—what can be possessed and what can be stolen.
Benjamin Bourlier: This has helped me realize the things I find funniest aren’t (as) funny as poetry, more or less as a rule. Or that poetry-funny is this deep, dark plumbline of comedy that maybe isn’t funny-funny, but something you laugh at...in some painful psychic corner. Too painful for basic collectivity.
Flarf for me has been about a nauseated cynicism, very much a “post-9/11 political malaise”, as BA says. Living in NYC in 2008, the market crash did do something to complicate and direct this malaise. I don’t know who it was exactly that said this about the original DADA movement (probably Tzara?), that it was not “fun” but incredibly bitter and desperate...I sort of like to think of Flarf as having to do with this, though Flarf folk clearly have plenty fun. Consider the middles of flarf poems...
I recently wrote: “force of/ rectal disgorge/ is in my love of gatherers/ of protein into hair to call brothers/ forward from whatever shit room/ they end up in, renting”. I feel this is my postflarf. There is camaraderie in the sense of that James Baldwin bit, that “camaraderie makes the question of sincerity archaic”. And this is politically charged, and leftist. But it’s dialed back a stage, the body fluids as still the body’s, the partial digestion.
I’m very interested in the so-called “New Extremism” in film. It’s maybe useful to consider how postflarf can be such an extremism. There is no “new extremism” film that is definitively funny/nihilist/porn/horror/arthouse et cetera and they’re so gorgeously debased and violated and teeming with some kind of visceral aesthetic frame that requires private life romantic delusions that go overripe and savage in ways flarf can’t allow itself.
The Zhivago passage regarding “the private life is dead..for a man with any manhood” comes up so often for me, considering the political ramifications of flarf. The first half of the statement is something very un-flarf because it is very much flarf itself. The second half could be flarf because this couldn’t be serious rhetoric and because it implies genitals and presents them neatly for violation. Part of flarf is in the neatness of presentation for violation, yeah? There is chaos but everything is coughed up neat, in google chunks. Everything has been sort of neutralized prior. Flarf isn’t dead, it’s dead.
I have the thought of the difference between a body-without-organs and a body-beside-organs...
Also, re: plagiarism: Proudhon on the mathematical impossibility of property, on the right of increase...Nietzsche’s theory of the origin of philosophy being ascetic, there being an epistemological dependence on asceticism, such that plagiarism, inasmuch as it restricts subjective access/advancement, may reproduce the ascetic ideal which “for a long time served the philosopher as a form in which to appear, as a precondition of existence”.
Thus the hazard of originality in contending with the very death of reason. Plagiarism as the “provisional expression” of free thought, of subjective pause.
I feel, in other words, that, coming out of my reading of Nietzsche, plagiarism is quite literally a necessary precondition of thought itself.
The progression of contemporary poetry goes:
Make it new (Modernism)
Make it fucked up (Flarf)
Stop making it (Conceptualism)
And Post-Flarf is somewhere between the final two.
Post-Flarf is a hangover, and I don't mean that pejoratively. A hangover’s dysphoric moments provide critical introspection, discontent, and an enhanced sensitivity to the absurd. So the abundance of wet absurdities meant to provoke laughter or at least nervousness in Flarf gives way to the more subtle absurdities and cynicism in Post-Flarf.
The laughter of Flarf begets the shivering of Post-Flarf. I like Bourlier's assertion that “Flarf isn’t dead, it’s dead.” Let me put it this way: Bruce Willis for the majority of The 6th Sense is Flarf. Post-epiphany Bruce Willis is Post-Flarf. Perhaps that's why many of the poems that have been shared on this list have contained fewer (if any) elements of the wet absurdities of pee-stained unicorns, pizza kitties etc. — although realizing one is dead is technically impossible, it is still a very grave matter. (Believing you are dead can have negative consequences that can lead to actual death whereas simply being dead has no repercussion other than to feed the things that digest your corpse, but then again, it's no longer yours to disperse.)
The formal aspects of Post-Flarf speak to its heightened cynicism, sometimes even approaching the purely nihilistic. In my own poems I steal when I want to steal and create “original” content when I want to, knowing that it is meaningless to make a distinction between the two modes. Post-Flarf still retains the same generative noise mechanics of many Flarf works, using the web's steady banal hum as putty, but not as its exclusive fuel. Perhaps Post-Flarf asymptotically approaches conceptualism’s disregard for the Subject, yet it doesn’t have the faculties or the determination or the funding to linger for more than a moment on epistemology.
Sandra Simonds: Yes, there’s something about Flarf that contains the fool’s laughter (I’m thinking of Shakespeare here). Post-Flarf seems to want very little to do with this. There’s a different kind of intelligence going on with Post-Flarf, I think, that’s more direct than in Flarf poetry. I like the idea of that Post-Flarf poems are still drinking in the banquet hall in the early morning when everyone else has chosen to leave chasing after some old-fashioned lyric goodness. In this sense, it might be the ideal form, both born of the decaying empire and made for it. And, in this sense, it does seem like a kind of Realism.
Sandra Simonds: How does Post-Flarf subvert issues of sincerity and irony?
Maurice Buford: Post-Flarf was not only (or really) a reaction to Flarf, but a reaction to economic and political strangulation—e.g. Economic Collapse, Endless War, made poetically corporeal by the Flarf v. Conceptual “war” and just as disingenuous and back-door handshake-y as our current political situation.
Sincerity and Irony are not at all interesting concepts to me in terms of writing and language. These concepts are imaginary political poles in the same manner as Democratic and Republican: they are hollow words filled with a kind of candy that rots the mind.
Flarf and Conceptual writing were, arguably, the first new forms to bring the construct of the internet to the foreground, to make present and known the ubiquity of its language. Post-Flarf writers assumes the internet. Also, Post-Flarf is nothing more than a “shiver” in reaction to endless void of the internet (space, death, etc.). The Post-Flarf list is the saddest party. It is not a movement, or a function of limbs, but instead a Neutral position of the body, sitting in front of the computer, watching the whole world get fucked and burn.
Sharon Mesmer (Interloper!): Well, here I am, the first Flarf interloper — Sharon Mesmer. I see my name mentioned somewhere — anywhere — and I have to be there, you know.
Firstly, and briefly (yeah, right … just wait and see how long this ends up being), I take issue with the comment by “MB” (Maurice) about how the primordial Flarf list is like a coterie of vampires. If Bourlier is asserting that “Flarf isn’t dead, it’s dead,” then how can we be vampires? Vampires are the UN-dead, as practically everybody knows. Or is that zombies? Whatevers. Are we still talking about Flarf in relation to PostFlarf? (And is there a hyphen there or not? Nomenclature, people!) If so, I prefer to think of Flarf like the machines in “The Matrix,” and PostFlarf as our energy source, our brain-in-a-vat, our “exclusive fuel” (per BC — whoever that is). You people seem to have no idea why PostFlarf was created. Except for BC, the new Neo. Actually, to be honest, I found “The Matrix” kinda hard to follow, so maybe someone could explain it to me sometime. Along with the breaking of line. That Helen Vendler can be so “back door handshake-y” sometimes.
I found the following to be possibly the most salient points of this discussion (outside of the issue of Irish identity in sports, which *really* is a subject someone needs to take on). Firstly:
Make it new (Modernism)
Make it fucked up (Flarf)
Stop making it (Conceptualism)
And Postflarf is somewhere between the final two.
I like this because 1.) it situates us; 2.) it situates us (all contemporary schools and movements, really) in relation to the first world war, which was really why we have anything like Modernism at all. People hate war, and yet war has given us so much. WW1 gave us Modernism; WW2 gave us, or rather we gave the French during WW2, the “WC,” and the French gave us practically all our ideas as a way of saying thank you; and the War on Terror gave us Flarf. I’m not sure what gave us Conceptual, but I think it might've come from Kenny's beard. And, as Maurice noted, Endless War gave us PostFlarf. So, to me, PostFlarf is a critique of the concept of endlessness, and that's why you guys all have such short lines and oddly-timed line breaks.
The second thing is something noted by BB, i.e., Brigitte Bardot (another way the French said "thank you" ) . . .
I feel, in other words, that, coming out of my reading of Nietzsche, plagiarism is quite literally a necessary precondition of thought itself.
Coming out of my reading of Heidegger, plagiarism is the ground, the absolute ground of all thought. And not just a precondition but a pre-cognition. Which implies that there's some sort of prescience, or pre-science (which, of course, is science fiction), at work there. Which reminds me of the observation made by Philip K. Dick in Valis (or, really, an observation made by Horselover Fat — the flarfiest name ever in the history of literature — who is, in reality, PKD of course):
The One was and was-not, combined, and desired to separate the was-not from the was.
Thus, Flarf and PostFlarf are the was and the was-not, each always already past-tense, one positively charged (pizza kitties, unicorns, poo and poo nurses), one negatively ("the saddest party") in an always already was plagiarized universe.
Bios and Sample Poems of Participants:
Maurice Buford lives in Maine and is a member of the internet.
STATES OF THINGS
for Sandra Simonds
1. How You Are
we speak now of the language of corrections
or the apocalypse of the attention as Marx
is neglected in our century of vocabularies
of what is unspoken what is unspeakable
this line is lovely as Emerson was lovely
“a bee-line to the axe” necks fat & god
glistening in underwater vessels streets sing
like birds sings pre-occupation what is
happening to us to our use walloped into
the dumps which cost me perception
which cost me $$$ so much threatens you
to speak as TV people fracture our
language supporting the “perfect economy”
2. How The World Is
the world is consigned irrevocably insofar
as 1) in Berkley Duncan (the lion) sleeps
not dead 2) myself goes out into the night
got so far into the water felt my ear bend to
touch trout each coming up to speak of how to be
in a space as poetic practice shapes the
mind even declared clear we check the
statement true 3) you kiss the building
you take the building into your mouth &
gently tie a knot cut your own with a sword
then are glad to be an occupant without
language beyond me you question being
a self only through signing other words to it
Brian Ang is the author of Pre-Symbolic, Communism, Paradise Now, and the poetry generator THEORY ARSENAL. His current poetic project is The Totality Cantos, an investigation of epistemological totality. Recent criticism and theorizing have appeared in The Claudius App, Lana Turner: A Journal of Poetry and Opinion, Rethinking Marxism, and a commentary series inJacket2, “PennSound & Politics.” He edits ARMED CELL in Oakland, California.
Sample: Reading in Oakland
Benjamin Bourlier studied composition and piano performance at the University of Michigan, has written various chamber and orchestral works, four books of prose and poetry, and currently works as a church organist in New Baltimore, Michigan.
can almost light the purpose
with which the leaves receive.
red cent. I know I am the dog.
forsythia something ingrown
that doesn't flower
the eye what
declines to purge
something it doesn't flower
but reams piling over
in a hiss of common spill, ten
ants tend, shun flocks, bead
the particular in still a cult of heat, an
agony, a whiteness I give up
as spring's on time, I see
getting mail admitting
there could never have been enough
water, beginning to accept
common aridity in public, free to
this and every weekend in the city
still a cult of heat
dicator gum ring on a peeking cock
shaded in the least
obscure patriarch to date
no vote or feet...
probably anything in the night sky is mars,
pieces of the rug. the sitting
men, as little respect as them as
red constant this mars at night.
this fluid exchange of persons
stuck at the stage of light a sec.
how the widths of roads get so
acceptable beside single-trails
of my arm laid out on the table
of a home the drywall is the first
thing in which one comments on
thus: "Who, who could, when this is, I mean"
I mean my arm is lifting my shoulder, spreading peace
like a prop or better wall. I seem to remember
a cartoon that turned the world into flannel
and this is the echoic nearness of my joint.
Bryan Coffelt is the associate editor and graphic designer for Future Tense Books. He is also founder and publisher of Mammoth Editions. Bryan has an MA in Book Publishing from Portland State University.
when an impulsive tendency towards some important object is frustrated
when the consumption of mates loses an element of sweetness it may mean
a loss of market share or it
just might mean what i already thought
that sorrow, no
that pity is not a compound
made of sorrow
the common voice that hides
inside of things and
busts out saying
the 80s was a motherfucker
which may be difficult to comprehend in an objective or conceptual way
in this regard, the concept of the 80s is subordinate
to guilt in terms of its emotional intensity
many people find themselves
wishing they had done something
in the 80s
i myself suffered
mass production of railroads
and the first skyscraper in history
i watched you endure
Duran Duran you were
of the world
Tiffany Denman's poetry has appeared in publications including West Wind Review, With + Stand, Berkeley Poetry Review, and housefire. She is one author, with Brian Ang, Joseph Atkins, and Jeanine Webb, of the poetry pamphlet Poetry is not Enough. She teaches writing, reading, and thinking in Northern California. Tiffany resides in Davis, California.
We Wrote That We Wrote Again
A voice: It was a clap of thunder.
Me: If it doesn't work after smacking it, you're not hitting it hard enough.
Joe said: I'm too lazy to find our other thread, so sue me!
You said: Tense situations.
A voice: Since I was under the weather New Years Eve, I didn't have my shrimp cocktail; this was after
We said: The first thing everyone did was ooh and ahh.
He said it again: Yes, yes.
We said: He had been sitting in a box in his home and he hadn’t meant it. We are sad to see that again.
Sam (who is a fan of Casablanca) said: Ho hum, he is beasting it again.
He: Recently, I only say it ‘cause I mean it; I only mean it.
Me: Tireless collector of manuscripts—you get five or six of them a day. He never actually said that
phrase as a scripted line.
You said it: My heart’s in motion. I won’t ever do it again—‘til you ask me.
Shortly thereafter, Reagan said: I certainly don't think there should be an economical alternative to heavy
Excerpt: The “Murder-stroke”
We: The default behavior is to use color for weather. However, this might only be a one time
lurker and a full minute of nose wiggles.
We said it before and we’ll damn well say it again.
You said: It doesn’t get much better than this.
I only said: It. Every word.
A voice: I want to be prepared for when it gets hot.
Me: It is time.
Others said: I prayed to be surprised. They said not to be worried. I’m honest about it. They all said so.
You said: I believe I sell more. I have a lot on my plate; you can see my designs.
Me: It don’t mean now.
Ethnographic Notes: This seemingly strange composition is more evidence. Using ink to "paint" over the
cracks—encroachment on territory—viens-t'en.
Sharon Mesmer is on vacation now, but eventually is going to hell.
When Tantric Sex Gets Ugly
I'm not sure what "Tantric sex" means
but I think a finger goes up your butt.
“Tantric sex” seems to be reserved for people
that went on vacation for a week
at a Medieval Times restaurant
in Sedona, AZ
with a large dwarf named Bruno.
In other words
the redheaded stepchildren
of the fly kingdom.
When I get angry, it’s ugly.
When Gurdjieff gets angry
it’s “Tantric sex.”
At least that’s what P. Diddy told me.
I WAS A TANTRIC SEX SLAVE
FOR A SENIOR TIBETAN BUDDHIST MONK
screeching at the Tibetans to
GET OUT OF CANADA!
I was 16 and content to be
5'2" of pure Jewish jewishness.
I ended up on an island
surrounded by old perverts
where high priestesses were chanting
and touching themselves
to escape dementia.
That's when I spotted Steven Tyler
with giant white dentures
in half a coma.
I smelled a familiar perfume
the one my grandmother had worn
to her own funeral.
My fly was undone
my shirt unbuttoned
and I was making love
to a barking tiny pony.
His or her name was
Barking Mad Elmo.
He or she was not distracted
by the guy who invented Ctrl-Alt-Delete
who also happens to be
Yes, apparently, the Fonz is back in town
looking for Tantric sex involving Arthurian legends
involving Spongebob and Gandalf
involving gangsta rap and druidism
and a wrinkled-up dragon lady with all sorts of spooky
Eastern sex secrets.
I wish him all the luck.