Okay, that post title might be misleading. I don’t know Flarf. “Flarf” used to be a substitute term an ex’s mother used when referring to a fart. I’m not terribly interested or invested in Flarf. I commune with Flarf practitioners and anti-Flarf activists alike. I’ve, at best, skimmed the debates.
Still, I have some firsthand “experience” with Flarf. I’ve heard it read live, and I’ve watched a few of the readings from the Flarf Festival on youtube and have heartily laughed at Flarf poems by the likes of Rod Smith, Nada Gordon, and Tim Peterson.
So why did I find myself thinking about Flarf when I heard Jennifer L. Knox read last night? Jen doesn’t have a large online presence and seems to have just barely heard of Flarf. And yet, and yet, in between some of the hardest laughing I’ve ever done at a poetry reading, I kept thinking, “For all of the attention generated, this is what Flarf should be able to do on a regular basis!” Why the comparison?
Well, I tried to surmise, based on my experience as an audience member, what the primary & consistent components of Flarf seem to be:
1. Funny (or attempts to be, often in a snarky/sardonic/ironic or mocking fashion)
2. Performance-driven (i.e. employ accents/voices, dance, stage interruptions, make cell phone calls, generally upset the traditional notion of a poetry reading, develop new dimensions, etc.)
3. Covert (sometimes overt) or indirect political agenda or commentary couched in lowbrow or kitsch content
4. From what I gather, there’s some loose requirement (or option) to glean material from online sources like Google searches and spam mail, though the fulfillment of that criteria cannot always be determined simply by hearing or reading the poem.
5. Deny the existence of Flarf, tongue-in-cheek style a la the denial of Language Poetry (more here).
Based on my travels and brief calculations, Jen Knox has met & possibly superceded the manifold efforts of most Flarfists. I’m sure this declaration of mine will have little bearing on what she does in the future (& might ride roughshod over some of the Flarf progenitors – advance apologies), for I do not think she spends much time online nor cares much for such debates. She is a pioneer unto herself.
But finally, to come to the real purpose of my post, I pose a few strongly-opinionated questions: How has Flarf generated so much attention when not-so-many Flarf poems seem to actually be successful based, of course, on the criteria above? And how is it that Jennifer Knox’s poetry has been ignored by these practioners in their efforts to establish the School of Flarf? Must one join Fight Club and declare her work flarfy in order to be included?
Additional qualifier: I’m NOT calling for Knox’s inclusion in the school (& she might thrash me for such an implication); I’m primarily wondering how the merits of such excellent work as hers get ignored by the active investors in Flarf when they seem so similar in nature … can someone be a successful Flarfist without noticing Flarf? And if that’s possible, will the most-excellent work of such a poet be ignored by the proponents of Flarf? [Addendum: To be fair, Kasey considers her in relation to the movement, but reverts to point number five above.]
Again, I realize that my comparison might be ill-informed & limited in scope (i.e. did it make *me* laugh? do I remember any lines from the reading? etc.), and my opinions arise, not from following the latest Flarf treatise, but from what I have witnessed as of late and the ensuing excitement only inspired by a few Flarf cases, and then last night, by Knox’s reading. Of course, you should judge for yourself — click here to give Knox a whirl~
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Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She co-edited with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edits the anthology series, Bettering American Poetry, and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.