Flarf: (taken from Wikipedia): Flarf poetry can be characterized as an avant garde 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.
Flarf. Not something you come across every day. I like reading poetry, and I’d been aware of the term for maybe four or five years. Like Large Hadron Colliders, it was something I had heard of, knew something about, and that was that. Nothing more.
Until a few days ago, when I found myself part of something Coming Soon On Forgodot.com. Tried to figure it out, and couldn’t. On the face of it there wasn’t much there to be confused about. Issue 1 was going to feature new poems by a group of poets, a fairly large group of poets, and I was one of the poets named.
Which was great. Except for one thing. I hadn’t actually submitted any poems to the authors/editors. I do write poetry, but I’ve been keeping the poems to myself for some time. For quite some time. For a very long time. The last time I published any poetry, there was still a Shah in Iran.
I downloaded the pdf, started reading through it, soon realised that it was something other than a collection of poems, and gave up reading. I didn’t even get to see what it was that had been attributed to me; I couldn’t be bothered to go through hundreds, maybe thousands, of pages, just for that piece of information.
Ron Silliman, whom I read reasonably often, puts it like this: ….the quirkiest thing about Issue 1 is going to be that, if it includes your name – and, hey, it probably does – you have no memory of having written that text, nor of submitting it to Issue 1….
Ron suggests that the list is “as complete a collection of mostly post-avant poets [he has] ever seen”.
I think it’s simpler than that. I think the common element between all the names in Issue 1 is Ron Silliman. I think that every person can be directly linked to Ron, via his blog, via his blogroll or via the comments people made on his blog. I was curious as to how my name came to be included in the issue, and that’s the best I could come up with. It just so happens that many of the post-avant poets tend to read Ron Silliman.
How do I feel about being included in an anthology of poetry that is unusual to say the least, containing a very large number of poems that look like they’ve been written by one or two people at most, and having words attributed to me that I did not say or write?
I had a whole bunch of reactions, which surprised me. Here they are, for what they’re worth:
- Installation art: A part of me, a relaxed, laid-back part of me, felt that it was like finding out that someone had created an installation art exhibit out of local telephone directories, and my name was visible amongst thousands of others.
- Trolling: A slightly more uptight part of me felt that the project felt a bit like trolling, and I wasn’t happy with that. I don’t like trolls. But I couldn’t stay uptight. The truth is that I couldn’t really convince myself that Issue 1 was the work of evil trolls.
- Professional poetical pride: A very small part of me wanted to see the particular bit of doggerel associated with my name, but I found I was too lazy to do that. I’ve been misquoted so often in the press that it really doesn’t matter to me….except for one thing…. if my name was somehow associated with something violently against my beliefs, something truly repugnant to me. Then I would be upset. Then I would do something about it. On the face of it, having riffled through the first few pages, I think this risk is negligible.
As you can tell, I was largely relaxed about it, but that may well be because I’m not a practising publishing poet. At least not right now.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the project, the guys have made me think. And learn. Having known what “flarf” was, I now know what “anarcho-flarf” is.