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Flarf is dead! Long live Flarf!

April 26, 2011 \pm\30 12:44 pm

What happens when good poetry gets made despite intentionally being written to be bad?

Flarf happens. Flarf is neodada; a meaningless term or wholly pants exposing flarfist junk to castigation.

Flarf (verb): To bring out the inherent awfulness, etc., of some pre-existing text.

Flarfy: To be wrong, awkward, stumbling, semi-coherent, fucked-up, un-P.C.

Flarf: To take unexpected turns; to be jarring. Doing what one is “not supposed to do.”

Flarf came about a couple of years ago when Gary Sullivan submitted a deliberately bad poem to Poetry.com.

According to Flarfists, initial aesthetics of Flarf went largely unarticulated, but they can probably be approximated by the following recipe: deliberate shapelessness of content, form, spelling, and thought in general, with liberal borrowing from internet chat-room drivel, spam scripts, and search-engine vomit, often with the intention of achieving a studied blend of the offensive, the sentimental, and the infantile.

According to Flarfists, the truth is Flarf is not a movement, never was, because it has no principles as such, beyond some characteristic compositional techniques that developed along the way (collaging Google search-engine results, etc.).

There is no such thing as Flarf. Except that Flarf has been uttered. Flarf authors and texts now exist.

And as a result of Flarf, Chomp Away, Drew Gardner’s third full-length collection, gets made.

It’s conceptual, to say that it is a Flarfist production. It has all the characteristic markings as laid out by Joyelle McSweeney in a review of Gardner’s previous collection, Petroleum Hat.

The jangly, cut-up textures, speediness, and bizarre trajectories of the Flarf poem, while fetching, are not the source of Flarf’s originality. Folks, it’s just a species of collage. To my mind, it’s the other aspect of Flarf that distinguishes it. I love a movement that’s willing to describe its texts as “cute,” let alone as “a kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness. The Flarfists may have the ultimate defense mechanism in calling their work “wrong” or bad writing, but at least they accurately describe it.

Chomp Away is fun and entertaining. Especially if you can let go and allow the Gardner- inducing mental state of hyper-visual ADHD to take hold. This book would make excellent source material for visual artists looking for a muse. There are amazing juxtapositions happening in these poems. I found myself numerous times, falling prey to their music that Gardner creates throughout with keenly placed techniques of assonance, alliteration and anaphora. These are not merely cut-ups or random collages–in fact some seem strangely narrative–these are poems accessing modes of creativity both constructive and original.

It is interesting to note that Gardner has included an informative and procedural appendix. Making transparent both his artistic action and intention.

Gardner’s book is a contradiction of worthwhile and well-composed Flarf.

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