Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Long post that probably no one will comment on

I think precision in poetics these days is rather difficult (this post will illustrate that it is at least difficult for me), although that doesn't mean it doesn't exist or isn't important. I feel like I could (should) write an essay about the lack of precision in our generation's poetics. Of course, there's value in a lack of precision too, as long as it's intentional. I think.

Instead of writing that essay I will blog about Flarf, because for me it's a useful current example of a poetry that often successfully combines/draws from a variety of experimental contexts and techniques and does so with awareness.

The idea of Flarf does seem to encourage fairly strong responses. Combining procedural techniques and an awareness of the relationship between structure and meaning with any content you and Google can find (and any other substitutions & changes you want) and then delivering it all in a poem packed with satire and a good dose of New York school wit and energy on the level of the line (and possibly a performance that emphasizes artifice) is clearly threatening.

I wonder if people come into contact with Flarf just aren't familiar with the histories of procedural work, Language poetry, and 1rst and 2nd generation New York School. Sometimes I feel like people get fussy about Flarf because it's something they heard about at a party in New York and think it has some kind of widespread popularity. I suppose Flarf is increasingly popular, and it's gotten critical attention, but let's keep things in perspective. It's not taking over the poetry world anymore than Language poetry has really taken over the academy. I'm kind of pessimistic. I don't think poetry really takes over anything, I tend to think it gets let in from time to time, and in between those moments it's usually squashed or (more likely now) ignored.

For those of us who are very familiar with the histories of procedural work, Language poetry, New York School, and most US and European avant-garde movements and lineages since 1800 onwards (ok, so maybe I'm still working on developing that level of familiarity)...well, a lack of familiarity obviously isn't a factor in our various reactions to Flarf. For me, I initially didn't think of Flarf as being something unique, although now I think it can be.

However, I'll pause to note an obvious point--just because you're (we're) writing work that might be considered avant-garde or experimental doesn't mean that you (we) necessarily understand the history and context of the kind of work you are making. We have to keep reading/ looking/ listening.

One of the first mature poems I wrote, (which is in my chapbook, Large Waves to Large Obstacles, forthcoming from Take Home Project etc etc) was a procedural translation of a Chinese character. I did this because I wanted to write a poem and I was studying Chinese, not because I knew anything about the history of procedural work, or translation, or Ezra Pound, or Orientalism. But all of these contexts of which I was more or less unaware still come to bear on the poem, whether I want them to or not.

I'm going to reminisce and say that one day Katie, Drew, Rod, Tom, possibly Ryan & Cathy and perhaps other people came over to our place to watch something. Sports. It wasn't the Superbowl. I think it was spring, so it was probably baseball. I can't remember why Katie and Drew were in DC. I remember nothing about the occasion, except that we watched some sports, talked about Flarf, and that Mark and I didn't have very much furniture. And then I got a chapbook from Casey in the mail--a poem written with Google search results from the phrase "And then I wrote." It was all very sweet and lyric as I remember it, actually. Sometime after that I heard him give a reading from Deer Head Nation and I thought that the poems were funny and scary.

Prior to Flarf being called Flarf and developing into itself (?!), several people were having fun playing around with search engines and automatic translations. One I remember is Juliana Spahr's We Are All . . ., a chapbook from 1999, a series of poems made by moving notes she'd made back and forth through a machine translator--English-French etc. This seems like a contradiction, but when I heard/read Deer Head Nation (I keep going back to that book because it was my first major experience reading and hearing Flarf), I didn't think anything technically new was happening--I thought "oh, process, Google, someone has made a book of poems using these things we've been playing with on the Internet. Interesting!" At the same time, the tone and content of the poems, I thought, was noticeably different from a kind if witty, politically aware irony of writers whose work I already enjoyed like Kevin Davies and Tim Davis. Maybe other people had a similar reaction?

Most of the procedural work I can think of, with the exception of Flarf, doesn't tend to be especially interested in satire, although it is sometimes funny. Actually, I should say that, with the exception of some contemporary procedural work, most procedural work (I can think of) isn't satirical. I don't think "MacLow" and then "Satire." I think the fact that Flarf is usually both procedural and satirical is probably worth noting.

Lester preens. I am going to take a nap soon. Also, I will brush my teeth.


mark wallace said...

I think it was probably October, and I think the event might have been the World Series. That, or an earlier round of the playoffs.

Gary said...

Thanks for this post, Lorriane.

Satire is an interesting word that sometimes seems to divide people, especially poets. I know some for whom the word is a sort of a dismissal. When I was doing a global satire workshop at the Project, I mentioned to someone of my wanting to include a particular Russian fiction writer in the line-up, and was told, very adamantly, that the writer was "so much more than a satirist."

It's not that I disagreed with that, just that it did not make this writer any less of a satirist.

So I appreciate those for whom satire is not a bad word or somehow beneath the domain of poetry. Rodrigo Toscano is someone who uses it to describe at least some of his own work. But, he is also someone with a very good sense of the history of satire and poetry--he knows, in other words, that these are not mutually exclusive kinds of writing, certainly not historically.

My own sense of what I might label satire or satirical may be broader than some people's, and probably broader than the official definition of satire. I include among living people who have at least somewhat of a satirical bent: Johanna Drucker, Charles Bernstein, Rod Smith, Mark Wallace (hi Mark!), David Bromige, Pamela Lu, much of written (and visual & conceptual, for that matter) dada, Fluxus, Ron Padgett, Rob Fitterman, Kim Rosenfield, Lytle Shaw, Bob Perelman, Carla Harryman, Kenward Elmslie, Jerome Sala, Lin Dinh--on and on.

Some of these people may not like being called satirical or satirists, and I know that, while they "technically" may not be satirists, I see lots in what they do and how they do it in common with satire as it's generally understood at least in the history of Western lit.

Okay, enough of my blah, blah, blah. Suffice to say I appreciated reading this.

mike said...

Comment: this is too long to read. Happy Valentines Day!!

Ryan W. said...

hmm, I think someone asked what an RBI was, and Lorraine very reflexively answered about what an RBI was, and Mark was proud.

I agree with just about everything in this post, if it even makes sense to say I "agree" with it, except for the statement that flarf is threatening. I can't think of anyone who would find flarf threatening. it wouldn't even cross my mind to find it threatening, nor do I imagine other poets or some "establisment" finds it threatening. I almost feel like it's a gesture that contains within it acceptance about the fact that nobody will be threatened, and that's part of its poignancy. it's like a protest that knows nobody will care. that's kind of the feeling I get. Even something like "Chicks Dig War" -- that's flarf, right? -- as sublimely right on as it is about things... it's not threatening to anyone, is it? tho I guess it depends on context. if I read it at a family reunion, people would be so threatened that they wouldn't even know they were threatened. they would probably just call it "rude."

I wasn't around for Dada -- were people threatened? did dadaists imagine people were threatened?

Gary's comment is interesting to me b/c it reminds me that nobody talks about "satire" as such anymore, as a general heading -- not that I can see -- probably in part because of flarf.

Ryan W. said...

of course, your statement that "I don't think poetry really takes over anything" is consistent what I'm saying about the non-threat. actually I think poetry is a slow threat, a very slow threat.

Ryan W. said...

ok, maybe flarf is threatening cuz "Chicks Dig War" would be threatening if it were published in the Washington Times. so I guess it's all about context and access. things aren't threatening out of context, and aren't threatening even when they're in books of poetry. but if it were on cereal boxes... hey wasn't that a dada move? oh shit that just goes back to your "being let in." I'm going to go try and write poems again. I would like them to threaten me a little, or else sing me into a long, deep contented slumber.

kevin.thurston said...

Combining procedural techniques and an awareness of the relationship between structure and meaning with any content you and Google can find (and any other substitutions & changes you want) and then delivering it all in a poem packed with satire and a good dose of New York school wit and energy on the level of the line (and possibly a performance that emphasizes artifice) is clearly threatening.

kind of spring-boarding off of ryan (suppose we're off the same generation, since we both latched on to this) to whom is flarf threatening? and when that gets answered, i hope the why becomes apparent.

hope you enjoyed yer trip. it turns out it is cold in the midwest during winter.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

Hey Guys, thanks for reading. I was thinking mostly of the recent conversation on Jessica's blog when I wrote this, as well as Gary's defense of satire, and conversations from outside blogland.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

And also, all this:

Combining procedural techniques and an awareness of the relationship between structure and meaning with any content you and Google can find (and any other substitutions & changes you want) and then delivering it all in a poem packed with satire and a good dose of New York school wit and energy on the level of the line (and possibly a performance that emphasizes artifice)

doesn't happen only in flarf poems, nor does it happen in all flarf poems equally well. This is a description of the contexts I think flarf tends to work with.

Perhaps "threatening" isn't quite the word I mean, although I'm not sure what to substitute. Flarf does seem to create conversations that frequently enough end up as debates. I say "flarf" on my blog and suddenly I have like 150 more people reading it--even though I don't think this post is necessarily one of the more interesting ones I've written.

But speaking of this post, what do you all think of my other, more interesting thoughts relative to other contemporary procedural work?

kevin.thurston said...

well, regarding procedure and the 'chance' stumbling across historical precedents after a work has been completed (your example being the procedural translation of a chinese character only later to find out about pound/orientalism, etc) is something that i too had happened 'early' on. perhaps it is an inevitable thing. by that i mean to say, and this will not be precise, a certain kind of intelligence will be drawn to certain forms. it seems reasonable that these intelligences cannot get too far away from each other. this isnt to suggest a continuum, rather a rubber-band ball with a certain amount of predefined energy, and the occasional band sticking out and new ones being added.

yeah, im not sure this did what i want it to.

blog casual,