flarf

Witness Julietta Cheung

What gets in, what gets out

The alternative space Ballroom Projects is located in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, near where I live. Once a third floor ballroom that would have hosted family banquets in this working class area, it was later colonized by punks who put on hardcore shows. You have to walk up three flights of steep steps to reach its tall, cavernous space, which is surrounded on three sides by a mezzanine built out with bedrooms. Lovely banks of tall windows face south. It’s on Archer Street, backed up against Interstate 55, which one never ceases to hear through the cold, brown brick walls. It’s now informally linked to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; students and graduates of SAIC, where I teach, run it as a live-in project space. Robert Fitterman read there this spring, with Josef Kaplan, Holly Melgard, and Joey Yearous-Algozin. I read there one night in 2012. But it wasn’t a poetry reading. I was at one of many fascinating exhibits the space has hosted over recent years. And I was reading silently to myself, page by page from a stack of 8 ½ x 11 sheets set on the floor, one stack among several, something about or repeatedly extolling “true exposure.”

Nada Gordon

'I Love Men,' the Flarf Poetry Festival at the Kelly Writers House, February 8, 2007

Nada Gordon at the Kelly Writers House, March 2013
Nada Gordon at the Kelly Writers House, March 2013

There are so many fantastic events catalogued on PennSound, but one that I find myself coming back to time and time again is the 2007 Flarf Poetry Festival at The Kelly Writers House. And I’m not the only one — PennSound Podcasts featured the event in an episode, and PoemTalk featured Sharon Mesmer's “I Accidentally Ate Some Chicken and Now I’m in Love with Harry Whittington” back in 2010.

What was Flarf?

A Jacket 30 special feature

Flarf Blender
Flarf Blender

From Gary Sullivan’s Introduction in Jacket 30:

Flarf 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. The act of writing flarf has been described as collaborating with the culture via the Web, as an imperialist or colonialist gesture, as an unexamined projection of self into others, as the conscious erasure of self or ego. Individual members have been described as brilliant, lazy, and smug, as satirists, fakes, and late-blooming Dadaists. One anonymous reader posting in someone’s blog comments box suggested that I be thrown into a wire cage at Bagram.

Very little of the discussion has dealt in any significant way with the work itself. While the collection that follows can hardly be called representative of five years’ of collective activity, it is hoped that it may provide a small window for anyone curious about what the Collective has been up to.

[»»] Gary Sullivan: Introduction
[»»] Anne Boyer: Three Poems: A Vindication of the Rights of Women / Mom’s Undiminished Lamb Jacket / Everything Nice Has a Crafted Satin Finish

Flarf poetry festival at the Writers House

Readings by Sullivan, Smith, Mesmer and Nichols

Gary Sullivan and Sharon Mesmer

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Former Kelly Writers House mainstay Mike Magee organized a Flarf Poetry Festival at the House in February 2007. The festival, which was a part of the MACHINE reading series and was cosponsored by Combo Arts Providence, featured seven prominent Flarf practioners who shared their inappropriate, odd, disturbing, and hilarious works. Gary Sullivan, one of the founders of this avant-garde poetry movement, has said that Flarf can be defined as “A quality of intentional or unintentional ‘flarfiness.’ A kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying, awfulness. Wrong. Un-P.C. Out of control. ‘Not okay.’” Sullivan has also said that Flarf is a verb meaning “to bring out the inherent awfulness, etc., of some preexisting text.” Mike Magee’s take on the movement is slightly different — he conceives of Flarf as a “collage-based method which employs Google searches, specifically the partial quotes which Google ‘captures’ from websites.”

we talk flarf

Nada Gordon, Kenny Goldsmith and Steve McLaughlin join me for the 33rd episode of PoemTalk, released today.

Is Flarf corrosive? (PoemTalk #33)

Sharon Mesmer, “I Accidentally Ate Some Chicken and Now I'm in Love with Harry Whittington”

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Kenneth Goldsmith, Nada Gordon and Steve McLaughlin gathered in Al’s office/recording studio at the Kelly Writers House to talk about Sharon Mesmer’s flarfy gem, “I Accidentally Ate Some Chicken and Now I'm in Love with Harry Whittington.” The recording we used was made at the Writers House in February of 2007, at a mini Flarf Poetry Festival organized by our own Steve McLaughlin. We’re pretty sure that the poem was first posted to the flarflist – a listserv of flarf practitioners (and a few nonpracticing advocates) that serves as a medium for trying out all sorts of improvisational and quasi-improvisational poetic “bottom-feeding” (to use Kenny G.’s positive phrase). Is flarf poetic, non-poetic or anti-poetic, or, anyway, what combination is it of those three? That turns out to be the crux of our discussion. What “poetic” elements and devices does Mesmer retain and employ, and to what effect? Gary Sullivan originally defined flarf writing as, among other things, “corrosive,” and when Al asks the group whether Mesmer’s poem is corrosive, a fascinating discussion ensues: in part, we seem to move away from Sullivan’s notion. And since this is a poem, at least at first (at least superficially [superficially?!]) about Harry Whittington, the man Dick Cheney shot during a boondoggling hunting trip in Texas, it seems reasonable to ask about the political meaning or import of the piece. The answer is hardly straightforward. At one point Steve pulls out the smoking gun (as it were), proving that Sharon Mesmer took most of the poem verbatim from internet sources. And what about taste? Al puts it straight to Kenny, who has sometimes argued that one conceptual work is effective, while another work is not--the key being, the quality of choice of of concept. So what, Al asks, is the role of aesthetic distinction and valuation? Nada adds some possibly quite relevant biographical information, so we are led to ponder: What does Mesmer’s family of blood-on-apron butchers and her own principled vegetarianism have to do with the politics of the poem – its critique of a culture in which everything, actually and figuratively, tastes like chicken? It is, of course, a culture that includes this poem and makes it entirely (and specifically) possible.Here is Sharon Mesmer's PennSound author page, and here is a direct link to a recording of the poem. Here is a link to one of Mesmer's internet sources.

Our engineer and director for this program was James LaMarre.

Is Flarf corrosive? (PoemTalk #33)

Sharon Mesmer, 'I Accidentally Ate Some Chicken and Now I'm in Love with Harry Whittington'

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Kenneth Goldsmith, Nada Gordon and Steve McLaughlin gathered in Al’s office/recording studio at the Kelly Writers House to talk about Sharon Mesmer’s flarfy gem, “I Accidentally Ate Some Chicken and Now I'm in Love with Harry Whittington.”

The recording we used was made at the Writers House in February of 2007, at a mini Flarf Poetry Festival organized by our own Steve McLaughlin. We’re pretty sure that the poem was first posted to the flarflist – a listserv of flarf practitioners (and a few nonpracticing advocates) that serves as a medium for trying out all sorts of improvisational and quasi-improvisational poetic “bottom-feeding” (to use Kenny G.’s positive phrase). Is flarf poetic, non-poetic or anti-poetic, or, anyway, what combination is it of those three? That turns out to be the crux of our discussion. What “poetic” elements and devices does Mesmer retain and employ, and to what effect? Gary Sullivan originally defined flarf writing as, among other things, “corrosive,” and when Al asks the group whether Mesmer’s poem is corrosive, a fascinating discussion ensues: in part, we seem to move away from Sullivan’s notion. And since this is a poem, at least at first (at least superficially [superficially?!]) about Harry Whittington, the man Dick Cheney shot during a boondoggling hunting trip in Texas, it seems reasonable to ask about the political meaning or import of the piece.

The answer is hardly straightforward. At one point Steve pulls out the smoking gun (as it were), proving that Sharon Mesmer took most of the poem verbatim from Internet sources. And what about taste? Al puts it straight to Kenny, who has sometimes argued that one conceptual work is effective, while another work is not--the key being, the quality of choice of of concept. So what, Al asks, is the role of aesthetic distinction and valuation? Nada adds some possibly quite relevant biographical information, so we are led to ponder: What does Mesmer’s family of blood-on-apron butchers and her own principled vegetarianism have to do with the politics of the poem – its critique of a culture in which everything, actually and figuratively, tastes like chicken? It is, of course, a culture that includes this poem and makes it entirely (and specifically) possible.Here is Sharon Mesmer's PennSound author page, and here is a direct link to a recording of the poem. Here is a link to one of Mesmer's internet sources.

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