Conceptual Writing:

Originally Published: December 8th, 2008

Kenneth Goldsmith's writing has been called some of the most "exhaustive and beautiful collage work yet produced in poetry" by Publishers Weekly. Goldsmith is the author of eight books of poetry, founding editor of the online archive UbuWeb (http://ubu.com), and the editor I'll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol...

  1. December 8, 2008
     Mark Wallace

    Very relevant, in a way that sits right at the relevant/irrelevant nexus in an irrelevant way that's somehow relevant. And the other way too, of course, and not quite. Show me the money.

  2. December 9, 2008
     unreliable narrator

    Well, I dunno about flarf, but my students would love the first one.
    (Which maybe helps define flarf as well.)

  3. December 9, 2008
     unreliable narrator

    (And, for that matter, conceptual poetry too!)

  4. December 9, 2008
     Joseph Hutchison

    Like the dollar, which has fallen 40% against world currencies since 2002, both flarf and conceptual poetry are rapidly approaching complete worthlessness. And the joke's on us.

  5. December 9, 2008
     andy dancer

    Sure Joseph. As opposed to all those other types of poetry that still have value. Right...

  6. December 9, 2008

    This is another example of wasted space. The "Trib" filed for bankrupcy and as of late has featured such riveting pieces as "Did you get laid election night?"...but you guys have that Lilly gift, so you're safe.

  7. December 9, 2008
     andy dancer

    Sure Jane. A waste of space. I had forgotten that The Trib and Poetry are cultural equivalents serving the identical function. Right...

  8. December 9, 2008

    The Poetry Foundation doesn't have a baseball team, either, sadly.

  9. December 9, 2008
     \"noah freed\"

    Which is good, because Linh Dinh would complain about the umpiring.

  10. December 9, 2008
     unreliable narrator

    Hey, maybe they could start up a mint! "Poetry Money™" (but I guess one doesn't trademark a currency). Once poets have our own denominations (10 pentameters make 1 canto?) we could surely start a baseball team too.

  11. December 9, 2008
     Joseph Hutchison

    The stunningly articulate Andy Dancer ("Sure Joseph" ... "Sure Jane") implies that no poetry has value. What a full life he must lead to be blogging here!

  12. December 9, 2008

    Well, I love how flarf is feminized in this binary, with both TITS and MYSTERIOUS FOLDS. Awww yeah baybeee!

  13. December 10, 2008
     \"noah freed\"

    It seems that the comment stream following M. Share's blog post on this entry - http://donshare.blogspot.com/2008/12/flarf-gives-you-more-bang-for-your-buck.html - is not, with its faits divers à la Fénéon, unrelated to the intriguingly imbricated questions of the fold, the Baroque, the Monad, & other such Hot Topicks, as are so compellingly raised by M. Goldsmith here.

  14. December 10, 2008

    Um, wasted space? Oh, there's just so much of it. Where to start? What to cut?

  15. December 10, 2008
     Paul Squires

    Is this the home of the anti-flarf league? Where do I sign up?

  16. December 11, 2008
     Steven Fama

    Great idea, well executed, much appreciated!
    May I build upon it? And be a rad snide at the same time, in the spirit of fun?
    The real Flarfists wouldn't fold the bill and then scan it, but rather search the web for images of the dollar, then combine those in a manner that's only about one-half as funny as the bill pictured above, then post a group reading on YouTube featuring an audience of that somewhat mysteriously giggles at any reference to George Washington's hair.
    An actual conceptual writer would simply publish the scanner's specifications as detailed in the owner's manual , along with the dollar bill's serial number. That writer would then spend the next decade selling documentation of that event and attending conferences or readings sponsored by universities.
    ...please don't get too bent here -- I'm just having fun!

  17. December 11, 2008

    You may find a response to the response at Don Share's blog to this blog , with a quite different series of foldings of the dollar bills--and much else--

  18. December 11, 2008

    So, flarf is the dollar under Bush?

  19. December 11, 2008
     \"noah freed\"

    I never dreamed the day would come when I would have to read the phrase "the real flarfists." Like, gag me with a spoon.

  20. December 12, 2008
     Ted Burke

    What you're implying is that a reader is short changed if they credit Flarf with having any currency.
    What, no rim shot?
    Alternative currents within alternative streams makes for intriguing footnotes in literary histories and can give reason for a Cultural Studies major to further beg the question as to how information glut and digital dispersion usurps claims to regional voices and the certainity of the distinct and original voice rising above the rabble, but we have , in essence, the return of the Dada Gesture. The point is to gum up the works and make farting noises in the back row while the admittedly stuffy conversation , quietist and post-avant, drones from the podium. Good for a giggle, but Flarf seems like an undergraduate writing program manifesto that managed to crawl out the Kinko's copier and land on someone's accommodating server.

  21. December 12, 2008

    "good for a giggle"
    As if that's a bad thing. Can people please, please give at least a tiny effort to entertaining the idea that it's ok for poetry to be funny? Sometimes I think they should call this the KilljoyFoundation.

  22. December 12, 2008

    > managed to crawl out the Kinko's copier
    Yes! That's it exactly! Like the first fish with feet.

  23. December 12, 2008
     \"noah freed\"

    Wait, flarf is supposed to be funny?

  24. December 12, 2008

    It's ok for poetry to be funny, just as some people find the comedy of Jerry Lewis to be poetic. Me, I like Bazooka Joe comix.

  25. December 12, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    >Yes! That's it exactly! Like the first fish with feet.
    I see that one of the iconoclastic fish with feet is giving a talk at this year's AWP, on "Where Poetry is Headed Now." (Rm. 155, The Hilton)
    Does anyone know in which room the panel "Illuminating the Repressed: Flarf as Unintended Dramatic Irony" is taking place?
    Jordan Davis wants to know!

  26. December 12, 2008
     Bill Knott

    Oh that we were our primal ancestors,
    a little lump of slime in tepid swamps.
    Our life and death, mating and giving birth
    a gliding forth out of our silent sap.
    An alga leaf or hillock on the dunes,
    shaped by the wind and weighted towards earth.
    A dragonfly's small head, a seagull's wing
    would be too far advanced in suffering.
    –Gottfried Benn, trans. by Michael Hamburger

  27. December 12, 2008

    When I was a tadpole and you were a fish
    In the Paleozoic time,
    And side by side on the ebbing tide,
    We sprawled through the ooze and slime,
    Or skittered with many a caudal flip,
    Through the depths of the Cambrian fen,
    My heart was rife with the joy of life,
    For I loved you even then.
    Mindless we lived and mindless we loved,
    And mindless at last we died,
    And deep in a rift of the caradoc drift,
    We slumbered side by side,
    The world turned on in the lathe of time,
    The hot lands heaved amain,
    Till we caught our breath from the womb of death,
    And crept into light again.
    We were amphibians, scaled and tailed,
    And drab as a dead man's hand,
    We coiled at ease 'neath the dripping trees,
    Or trailed through the mud and sand,
    Croaking and blind with our three clawed feet,
    Writing a language dumb,
    With never a spark in the empty dark ,
    To hint at a life to come.
    Yet happy we lived and happy we loved,
    And happy we died once more,
    Our forms were rolled in the clinging mould,
    Of a Neocomian shore,
    The aeons came and the aeons fled,
    And the sleep that wrapped us fast,
    Was riven away with a newer day,
    And the night of death was past.
    When light and swift through the jungle trees,
    We swung on our airy flights,
    Or breathed in the balms of the fronded palms,
    In the hush of the moonless nights,
    And Oh! what beautiful years were these,
    When our hearts clung each to each,
    When life was filled, and our senses thrilled,
    In the first faint dawn of speech.
    Thus life by life and love by love,
    We passed through the cycles strange,
    And breath by breath and death by death,
    We followed the chain of change,
    Till there came a time in the law of life,
    When over the nursing sod,
    The shadows broke and the soul awoke,
    In a strange dim dream of God.
    God wrought our souls from the Tremadoc beds,
    And furnished them wings to fly,
    He sowed our spawn in the world's dim dawn,
    And I know that it shall not die,
    Though cities have sprung above the graves,
    Where the crook-boned men made war,
    And the ox-wain creaks o'er the buried caves,
    Where the mummied mammoths are.
    Then as we linger at luncheon here,
    O'er many a dainty dish,
    Let us drink anew to the time when I,
    Was a tadpole and you were a fish.
    -- Langdon Smith, 1895

  28. January 28, 2009
     Bob Grumman

    Why isn't the flarf piece also conceptual?
    Joseph has Andy Dancer wrong: he is not implying no poetry has value but that it is as dumb to say conceptual and flarf poetry are approaching worthlessness as it is to say any other poetry is. Both of you are just making trivial evaluational assertions. And it's absurd to couple Poetry with the Trib; the latter is much more culturally valuable (to make my own trivial evaluational assertion).

  29. January 28, 2009
     Tom Harr

    Leave it to avant-garde to make trivial evaluational assertions, eh?

  30. January 28, 2009
     Bob Grumman

    "Leave it to avant-garde to make trivial evaluational assertions, eh?" --Tom Harr
    I don't follow, Tom. Are Joseph, Andy and I all avant garde? I happen not to think there's an avant garde in the arts, anymore, but if there is one, I suppose I'm part of it.

  31. January 28, 2009
     Tom Harr

    Sorry to be obtuse, Bob. I guess I thought the crack about the Trib vs. Poetry was some sort of a-g humor. Maybe it's just glibness. If you were being completely serious, I beg your pardon - but I'd then have to wonder if you've seen either publication lately. The Trib, well... it's trivial.
    That said, why not let folks know what poetry publications you think are "culturally valuable." And we can also discuss what we mean by cultural value.

  32. January 28, 2009
     Bob Grumman

    I may never have read the Trib but I assume it has comics. Therefore, it's of more cultural value than Poetry. That's a trivial assertion and glib, but I have browsed a few recent issues of Poetry which have made a few gestures of accommodation with "avant garde" poetry, but it still seems to me working mainly to come to terms with post-Edwardian poetry. I'm no longer too up on what poetry publications are out there, although no American poetry-publishing magazine reaching more than a few hundred or maybe a thousand readers that I am familiar with seems to me of any cultural value (at least so far as poetry is concerned). But some on the Internet like Big Bridge and Mad Hatters Review spring to mind as reasonably valuable publications culturally. Some of these may reach a lot of people.
    Okay, I've delivered my boilerplate. I have a blog if anyone wants anything more from me on poetry and poetics. (Currently, I'm hard at work on Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18." Figure that.)
    --Bob G.

  33. January 28, 2009
     Tom Harr

    "Post-Edwardian" and "accomodation," wow, that's gonna hurt! There's no pleasing some folks. I'll check out those comics, at any rate, as well as Big Bridge, Mad Hatters Review, and your blog.

  34. January 28, 2009
     Don Share

    Hey, we've had comics in Poetry, too, you know! Both the Trib and Poetry now have a grab-and-go format, so the race to cultural significance will occur on an even field. The a-g, of course, will be in front of us both, for those keeping score.
    Oh, and another comic-inclusive mag, The New Yorker, has just produced this essay on the death of newspapers.
    Yrs. accomodatingly...

  35. January 28, 2009
     Bob Grumman

    "Hey, we've had comics in Poetry, too, you know!"
    Good to know, Don. But I'll bet you don't have anything up to Mary Worth. Dunno if the Trib does, either--I just assume every newspaper must have Mary Worth!

  36. January 29, 2009
     Don Share

    You got me there, Bob - and I'd give anything to have Mary Worth in our own pages!
    We did have Tintin on the cover, though, in January.