Michael Leong

Bad combinations

Flarf, Amiri Baraka, paranoia, and cultural memory

“Baraka suggests his duty is to act as a vatic vector of affective memory, which is necessarily messy and unreliable.” Adaptation of photo of Amiri Baraka, via Wikimedia Commons. Text: “Somebody Blew Up America.”

Could it be a coincidence — that two Flarf poems inspired by Amiri Baraka both contain the word “popsicle”? There is Benjamin Friedlander’s “Somebody Blew Up America” (2011), a response to Baraka’s poem of the same name: “if you leave your popsicle in the sun, / you have to expect the pages to get sticky. // It’s one of the reasons Lynne Cheney is careful with any book.”

Could it be a coincidence — that two Flarf poems inspired by Amiri Baraka both contain the word “popsicle”? There is Benjamin Friedlander’s “Somebody Blew Up America” (2011), a response to Baraka’s poem of the same name: “if you leave your popsicle in the sun, / you have to expect the pages to get sticky. // It’s one of the reasons Lynne Cheney is careful with any book.”[1] And Michael Magee’s “Mainstream Poetry” (2003) flarfifies Baraka’s “Black Art” through a series of Mad Libs-style deformations:

The periodic table of poetry

Pictures of the Periodic Table of Elements picnic table outside of the Chemistry
Pictures I took of the Periodic Table of Elements picnic table outside of the Chemistry Department at Wake Forest University.

In 1869, the first version of the Periodic Table of Elements was created by Dmitri Mendeleev to illustrate the known chemical elements of the time and predict new ones. Elements are distinguished by having a single type of atom, and as they are discovered by scientists, the table grows. But what of the elements classified and discovered by poets, elements not made of atoms but language? Is poetry a kind of periodic table of language where poets chart, predict, and make elements as alchemists? Perhaps the P.T.O.E. is itself a P.O.E.M. 

One under-acknowledged and yet groundbreaking phenomenon of our time is that, in addition to some poets responding to science as a way to think about language, poetry, and science in more novel ways, some poets are practicing science by making poetry and therefore making something else from practicing both science and poetry at the same time.

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