Flarf poetry festival at the Writers House

Readings by Sullivan, Smith, Mesmer and Nichols

Gary Sullivan and Sharon Mesmer


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.”

In this podcast — which also features an excerpt from the Flarf Poetry Festival — Al Filreis relates the origin story of the Flarf movement. According to Kasey Mohammed, the author of the book-length Flarf project Deer Head Nation, the movement began in 2000, when Sullivan submitted a deliberately bad poem, “Mm-hmm,” to Poetry.com, a vanity website that lures unsuspecting, apsiring poets with lavish praise of their work and then offers to publish it for an exorbitant fee. Poetry.com did publish Sullivan’s poem; he then shared the poem with a poetics listserv, whose members (Kasey Mohammed, Nada Gordon, and Drew Gardner among them) wrote more Flarf.

Stephen McLaughlin, then an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, introduced the Flarf Poetry Festival. This podcast features McLaughlin’s introduction and readings by Gary Sullivan, Rod Smith, Sharon Mesmer, and Mel Nichols. The full recording of the event is available on PennSound.