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Encyclopedia > Flarf poetry

Flarf Poetry is an avant garde, modernist poetry movement of the late 20th century and the early 21st century. Its first practitioners practiced an aesthetic dedicated to the exploration of “the inappropriate” in all of its guises. Their method was to mine the Internet with odd search terms then distill the results into often hilarious and sometimes disturbing poems, plays, and other texts. The Loves of Zero 35 mm film by Robert Florey 1927 Avant-garde /É‘vɑ̃gÉ‘rd/ in French means front guard, advance guard, or vanguard. ... This article focuses on the cultural movement labeled modernism or the modern movement. See also: Modernism (Roman Catholicism) or Modernist Christianity; Modernismo for specific art movement(s) in Spain and Catalonia. ... Aesthetics (or esthetics) (from the Greek word αισθητική) is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty. ...



The term flarf seems to have been coined by the poet Gary Sullivan, who notes that it variously: "has been described as the first recognizable movement of the 21st century, as an in-joke among an elite clique, as a marketing strategy, and as offering a new way of reading creative writing" [1].

Critics of flarf point to its hodge-podge assortment of Google searches and grammatical inaccuracies as evidence of a movement not to be taken seriously. Fans of flarf believe that it is a new, edgy, and clearer representation of our culture by poets and artists. Google Inc. ...

Joyelle McSweeny wrote in the Constant Critic:

  • “Jangly, cut-up textures, speediness, and bizarre trajectories … I love a movement that’s willing to describe its texts as ‘a kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness.’ This is utterly tonic in a poetry field crowded by would-be sincerists unwilling to own up to their poems’ self-aggrandizing, sentimental, bloviating, or sexist tendencies.” [2]

Dan Hoy wrote in Jacket Magazine: Sexism is discrimination between people based on their Sex rather than their individual merits. ...

  • "The proliferation of flarf and its hybrids recycles an industrial era excitement over human ‘progress’ with no hesitance toward the embarrassing hubris of such a perspective. It’s retro-Futurist, and it’s indicative of their reliance on the virtual realm as a method of navigating reality... If there’s a difference between flarf and its progenitors it’s that Cage and Oulipo researched or created their generators of deterministic randomness, whether it be the I Ching, the weather, or mathematical formulas. They were aware of how each generator distinguished itself as a context and control variable, and their selection of each context and control variable was part of the content." [3]

Joshua Corey, poet and cultural critic, comments on his popular weblog Cahiers de Corey that: John Cage For the character of John Cage from the TV show Ally McBeal see: John Cage (Character) John Milton Cage (September 5, 1912 – August 12, 1992) was an American experimental music composer, writer and visual artist. ... Oulipo stands for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, which translates roughly as workshop of potential literature. It is a loose gathering of French-speaking writers and mathematicians, and seeks to create works using constrained writing techniques. ... Alternative meaning: I Ching (monk) The I Ching (Traditional Chinese: 易經, pinyin y jīng; Cantonese IPA: jɪk6gɪŋ1; Cantonese Jyutping: jik6ging1; alternative romanizations include I Jing, Yi Ching, Yi King) is the oldest of the Chinese classic texts. ...

  • "I admire the subversive energy of the project, the daring of setting out to write deliberately bad poetry so as to put our received ideas of "the poetic" into question. It's become a genuine movement, and the evidence of this is that critics (like Dan Hoy) and assorted flarfists are now struggling to control its reception. This is the final gesture by which a movement or poet or technique becomes canonical, I think: after this it's all consolidation and textbooks. Which does not necessarily negate flarf's subversive potential; but I think the energy behind flarf, the desire to upset the apple-cart, is bound to move on toward something else now." [4]

Discussion about Flarf has been broadcast by the BBC and published in magazines such as The Village Voice, The Nation, Constant Critic, Jacket, and Rain Taxi. Further discussion has taken place on dozens of blogs and listservs across the United States, and in Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Holland, Mexico, and elsewhere. Military signalmen use hand and body gestures to direct flight operations aboard aircraft carriers. ... Canonical is an adjective derived from canon. ... This article is about the computer software framework. ... The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is the largest broadcasting corporation in the world. ... The Village Voice is a weekly newspaper in New York City featuring investigative articles, analysis of current affairs and culture, arts reviews and events listings for New York City. ... The Nation is the name of several newspapers, periodicals or magazines in different countries, including: The Nation, an Irish Nationalist newspaper founded by Thomas Davis and Charles Gavan Duffy in the 1840s. ... The first use of the term weblog. ... Listserv is an electronic mailing list software application, originally developed in the mid 1980s for the Bitnet computer network. ...

What is Flarf?

"Flarf" has become a much-contested term in the contemporary poetic community, one for which it has proven difficult to establish one "correct" definition. Three main senses, however, encompass most of the contexts in which the word is generally used:

1) "Flarf" was first applied in reference to poems and other creative texts produced by the Flarflist Collective, a group of writers including Maria Damon, Jordan Davis, Katie Degentesh, Drew Gardner, Nada Gordon, Rodney Koeneke, Michael Magee, Sharon Mesmer, K. Silem Mohammad, and Gary Sullivan. The term was coined by Sullivan in late 2000, when he submitted deliberately bad poems to Poetry.com's poetry "contest" (actually a marketing scheme) as a way of testing Poetry.com's supposed standards for excellence. (It should be noted that the practice of Poetry.com-baiting predates flarf itself; many other individuals, including North Carolina poet Patrick Herron and syndicated humorist Dave Barry, have engaged in similar pranks.) K. Silem Mohammad is a Flarf concept poet from the West Coast. ... Patrick Herron (b. ... David Barry, Jr. ...

The title of one of these early poems of Sullivan's is "Flarf Balonacy Swingle," hence the origin of the term. Early or "old-school" flarf is marked by a certain distinctive tonal "dialect": it is often peppered with phrases like "aw YEEEAHH," intentional typos, mildly offensive language (e.g., childish references to bodily functions and faux slurs against the Irish), oblique political "statements," and incongruous animal imagery. Sullivan at one point described the dominant tenor of flarf as "A kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness. Wrong. Un-P.C. Out of control. 'Not okay.'" At a fairly early point, some flarfists began using the Google internet search engine as a generative device for their poems.

A fair amount of critical attention was given to Mohammad's use of the Google-search procedure in Deer Head Nation (Tougher Disguises Press, 2003), which may have been partly responsible for a general misconception that "flarf" means any and all poetry written via such a method. It is true that Google-derived text plays a considerable part in many flarfists' works. Drew Gardner's Petroleum Hat (Roof Books, 2005), for example, combines collaged Google search results with word-substitutions and other procedures.

2) "Flarf" has, as just mentioned, also become a catch-all term for any poetic composition that makes use of Google or other search engines. This implies a retroactive application of the term to authors who were using such devices well before the Flarf Collective, such as Robert Fitterman, Alan Sondheim, and others. Some of these writers, naturally, may resist such connections, as their work deserves to be considered on its own terms without the imposition of anachronistic categories.

It is probably too late, however, to object to the increasingly widespread use of "flarf" to refer to a wide variety of research-software-based modes of composition. Sometimes the word is used as a verb in this sense to describe any procedural deformation of a preexisting text via the use of a search-engine or other internet mechanism (such as the BabelFish translation engine): Gardner, for instance, flarfs Dana Gioia's poem "Money" in Petroleum Hat. Anatomy of a babel fish as explained in the BBC TV series. ... Michael Dana Gioia (born December 24, 1950) is an American poet who quit his successful career as a corporate executive to write. ...

3) Another, perhaps even more widespread general definition of "flarf": any intentionally bad, frivolous, or wacky poetry; any textual or verbal doodling or nonsense of any sort. "What's this gibberish?" "Oh, just something I flarfed during my lunch break." "What did that guy say?" "I don't know. Sounded like flarf to me."

External links

Poems on-line

  • FLARF: MAINSTREAM Poetry for a MAINSTREAM World a weblog, active since January 2003, devoted to the poetics of flarf
  • Flarf Feature at Jacket Magazine includes work from some of this movement's more recognizable practioners including: Gary Sullivan, Jordan Davis, Katie Degentesh, Drew Gardner, Nada Gordon, Rodney Koeneke, Michael Magee, Sharon Mesmer, K. Silem Mohammad, Tim Peterson, & Rod Smith

Essays & Discussion

  • The Flarf Files @ the Electronic Poetry Center
  • The Virtual Dependency of the Post-Avant and the Problematics of Flarf an article by Dan Hoy at Jacket Magazine
  • O, You Cosh-Boned Posers! this essay from the Village Voice is subtitled: "Awful poems sought and found: From spam to Google, flarf redefines random"
  • Flarf Festival info about a Flarf event held in NYC in April 2006



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