“Flarf Poets Still Not Dead, I See” is in the news! Did you expect an obituary?
“The Google Sonnets” by Dig Chase have appeared on the web between February 27 and March 7. Only they are not sonnets. The first poem does have fourteen lines, but due to the way it is posted looks like it has sixteen. The others are longer.
Posted by Greg Perry, who appears to be Chase, the Google-searched poems appear both on The Google Sonnets: The Collected Searches Arranged in Verses by Dig Chase and on grapez, Greg’s daily blog. At the time of this writing, eight poems have been posted—“Katmandu,” “Navajo,” “Hopi,” “Sedona,” “Coyote,” “Grand Canyon,” “Monument Valley,” and “Painted Desert.”
The poems were created using Google (Blog) searches. Each poem began with a search of a single word, the author “selecting [at first] the material with minimum discrimination,” using the material in the order in which it was found, and adding appropriate punctuation. By the fourth poem, the author began reserving one result for the title and reducing all results to “lower case.” In the fifth poem, he has eliminated all punctuation. By the sixth poem, he has resumed adding or changing punctuation and has chosen to eliminate certain results from the poem altogether. “The Google Sonnets” are clearly experimentational.
The poems are conversational in tone and quite accessible. In several poems, the poet makes use of the first person, giving the poems a human voice, in lines such as, “[I]’m writing to you from beautiful Sedona.” The poet continues, describing Sedona as the “new member in our family.” And in “Grand Canyon,” a woman “walk[s] across” the canyon toward a man who “[holds] her heart in his hands.” “The Google Sonnets” are worth reading, no matter who Dig Chase is.
At first glance “Chicks Don’t Actually Dig War” is merely a description of 18th century London streets in a shower, introduced by a few remarks on how Islamofascism pays crack whores to predict a change of the weather. The first of the poem’s assertions is casual and innocent enough: a retelling of the popular notion that the first chicks-dig-war counterargument is “never to get involved in a land war in Asia.” The second, too, may be taken merely at face value–a fact, though a peculiarly unpleasant one, that forks are an indication that a woman is “a bad evil slut”. The cat stops chasing her tail and grows pensive: even so, we find the verbiage accumulates, filth backed up and waiting for the flushing irony may give.
Next we have the advice to the “you” of the poem–the citizens of Iraq. “Chicks don’t dig pirates.” It is, on the surface, friendly advice, but it really says: “Ain’t nobody gonna get laid if they write flarf.” Pirates don’t dine at the google-buffet because they think their host makes blue ribbon h=a=m=l=o=a=f; all the chicks know pirates eat google out of a Eucharistic desire to digest capitalism and become one with the corporate monolith.
From here we move to a comment on a fault in human nature: “wouldn’t it be ironic if the Iraq war actually somehow / increased ballplayers searching for octopus-related porn.” In other words, the satiric intention of the poem is revealed, and now we sense that the “metal masks” chicks don’t dig take on a metaphorical function.
“Chicks don’t dig forehead plugs”–so with the old aches that, literally, presage the mention of Richard Burton. Richard Burton comes, we now feel, not merely from the Civil War and NASA; Richard Burton is related, somehow, to moral failings, the dull ache of conscience in a person not willing to face honestly the fact of his or her character and situation.
The poem now moves into the overt description of hookers killing people with swords. Let us examine the details in the light of the now apparent satirical attitude of the poem. Such a poem as this will not succeed unless the literal descriptive material is striking–physical facts like “everyone knows that guys who dig / putting on Frank Zappa masks are the biggest sluts” and social attitudes like “they’re basically giant robots now, kind of.” (Here you will no doubt find a good many unfamiliar words, such as Frank Zappa, sluts, and robots. Look them up in the Oxford English Dictionary).
Many of the details of the poem involve the dirty, the ugly, the unsavory–for example, the “the vagina I had installed on the end of my arm.” This is, we quickly understand, mock-heroic. But why is the mock-heroic tone used here? To deflate pretensions?
With the vagina installed on the end of his arm, the speaker takes the attitude of the abject, pale, pining lover of the Petrarchan tradition, and contrasts himself with full-blooded, robust men who have arms sans vagina installations.
The speaker ends with a kind of lyric uncertainty, stating about his installed vagina: “chicks probably dig that.” With this end, the poem assumes all the puzzling portentousness that an object, even the simplest, like a vagina installed on an arm, assumes when we fix our attention upon it. In close, reading “Chicks Don’t Actually Dig War” is like peering through a pin prick in a piece of cardboard at a vagina installed on the arm of a pirate and admired by a hair-plugged Richard Burton and the crackwhores of Islamofascism holding forks. And that “chicks probably dig that “ is what the poem is actually about: a puzzling and exciting freshness that seems to hover on the verge of revelation.
There is no way a poem such as Katie Degentesh’s “I Do Not Tire Quickly” just happened. The poem, part of Degentesh’s forthcoming The Anger Scale, is “constructed” using “the help of Internet search engines,” according to the poet’s bio on The Brooklyn Rail. The title is taken from a question on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. It’s flarf, right? Then maybe all flarf isn’t the same. Maybe this flarfist has made some good judgments. Maybe “help” is simply help.
Starting with a declaration that she (the “I” in the poem) will clean up a “messy” heart, she immediately demonstrates how that will not be done, how there are medications to fix everything except the body, how bodily parts turn “a wartime walkie / into the beginning of scientific Islam research”: a game no one can win. Beginning to think in “hours instead of days,” she remind me that “the hours are inner structure for living cautiously and responsively. . . and [that] as this sensitivity deepens, we become more available to the present moment.” (David Steindl-Rast, The Music of Silence: Entering the Sacred Space of Monastic Experience). But that is not what she means. Bertolt Brecht enters, “[keeping] his secrets safe,” alienating himself (as though monks do not) from the universe, hoping to fix things, like “messy hearts,” through detachment. He is “the main reason” for the poet’s critical “watch[ing]” as the “unusual” continues its march toward her. If “tennis” had become something other than a “rarity,” the heart might be “clean,” or the poet might become a communist. What next? The “battles of the mountains” are still to come.
Flarf or no flarf, this poem deals with the classic struggle of the individual against the cruel world. The poet examines the question, is medicine the answer to self-inflicted pain? What about body over thought? She interjects Brecht, but the “sun comes out” (and, to paraphrase Burns, the best laid plans. . . have gone astray.) Degentesh works it, and she works it well. But the jury is still out concerning flarf and, as she leaves us, neither battle has been won. I wonder about the other questions on the MMPI.
flarfclosereadings.wordpress.com is a multi-author blog dedicated to close readings of flarf.
The authors define “flarf” broadly to include any poetic or dramatic texts written by members of the flarf collective that may make use of source material derived from internet search engine results (from google for example) as part of their compositional processes. These may also include texts by authors not directly or explicitly affiliated with the flarf collective, or that have the appearance of “google-sculpting” while not actually using such techniques. “The Flarf Files,” a collection of statements by a number of writers affiliated with flarf, is available at the SUNY-Buffalo EPC (Electronic Poetry Center); a recent collective statement is forthcoming in Jacket.
The authors define “close reading” in the traditional sense of éxplication de texte, that is, an interpretation–understood in the broadest sense of readerly engagement–that is grounded in the specific language of the text and that attempts to account for how that language operates to create a meaningful text. We fully recognize that, like much non-traditional poetry, flarf often assembles language in ways that do not accord with normative grammar and syntax, thus rendering the idea of a poem’s “paraphrasable content” problematic while insisting on the presence of meaning nevertheless. We also recognize that, contrary to “new critical” ideology, a poem is not a stable, timeless expression of universally acknowledgeable meaning but a socially, culturally and historically contingent human artifact.
Thus, close readings are free to incorporate materials from the full range of human activity in the service of understanding flarf texts. Discussions of poetic techniques, methods and strategies are also welcome, provided they are not cast too generally and are also in the service of understanding specific texts. Finally, texts discussed must be published or otherwise available to the general public.
WordPress.com offers any user who creates a wordpress account (by submitting a user id and password) the potential to publish authentic posts on a wordpress blog. Those interested in posting flarf close readings here should contact the blog administrator, Tom Orange (tmorange [at] gmail [dot] com). All perspectives are welcome.
WordPress is an open source project “born out of a desire for an elegant, well-architectured personal publishing system built on PHP and MySQL and licensed under the GPL. It is the official successor of b2/cafelog.” (http://wordpress.org/about).
(Revised 20 February 2006)