July 22, 2009

I’ve been drawn into discussions about Flarf, an experimental poetry/poetics movement that was recently highlighted in Poetry Magazine. As someone whose tastes seem to diverge from those of the “powers that be” in terms of what is considered “good” poetry or writing, I’ve been intrigued by the possibilities that a movement like Flarf offers — to chip away at some of the ever-present preconceptions re: what poetry is exactly, how it’s experienced or received, etc. Related to this — Flarfists seem to want to address the context in which their poetry occurs and how this “context” — our digital environment, for example, — is inextricable from the writing itself. Kenneth Goldsmith writes this in his article on Flarf and Conceptual writing which appears in this issue of Poetry:

Our immersive digital environment demands new responses from writers. What does it mean to be a poet in the Internet age? These two movements, Flarf and Conceptual Writing, each formed over the past five years, are direct investigations to that end. And as different as they are, they have surprisingly come up with a set of similar solutions. Identity, for one, is up for grabs. Why use your own words when you can express yourself just as well by using someone else’s? And if your identity is not your own, then sincerity must be tossed out as well. Materiality, too, comes to the fore: the quantity of words seems to have more bearing on a poem than what they mean. Disposability, fluidity, and recycling: there’s a sense that these words aren’t meant for forever. Today they’re glued to a page but tomorrow they could re-emerge as a Facebook meme. Fusing the avant-garde impulses of the last century with the technologies of the present, these strategies propose an expanded field for twenty-first-century poetry. This new writing is not bound exclusively between pages of a book; it continually morphs from printed page to web page, from gallery space to science lab, from social spaces of poetry readings to social spaces of blogs. It is a poetics of flux, celebrating instability and uncertainty.

Goldsmith is trained as a sculptor. Such uncertainty is compelling. As a proponent of genre blurring and disciplinary merging and selective appropriation, my eye is caught.