An introduction to the 21st Century's most controversial poetry movements.
From the July/August 2009 Issue of Poetry Magazine

by Kenneth Goldsmith

Start making sense. Disjunction is dead. The fragment, which ruled poetry for the past one hundred years, has left the building. Subjectivity, emotion, the body, and desire, as expressed in whole units of plain English with normative syntax, has returned. But not in ways you would imagine . . .


Originally Published: July 1st, 2009

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. July 1, 2009
     duane sosseur

    truth and beauty are in love\r
    like the clouds they drift above\r
    dancing slowly in the air\r
    bright as flowers\r
    always there \r

    "We were so in love before"\r

    we were so in love before\r
    til you found somebody new\r
    I could give you so much more\r
    than he could ever do\r

    and we could live in castles we'd call home\r
    with sparkling magic in the halls\r
    we could rent a villa outside Rome\r
    tuscan paintings on the walls\r

    we were so in love before\r
    why'd you have to find somebody new\r
    why must you go, before\r
    is there nothing I can do\r

    I could love you so much more\r
    I can't tell you enough again\r
    why can't you know for sure\r
    it's not a one night stand\r

    we were so in love before... \r
    conceptual and romantic\r
    written by me

  2. July 1, 2009

    At first I thought this said, "An introduction to the 21st Century’s most conventional poetry movements." Hmmm...

  3. July 1, 2009
     Kent Johnson

    Dale Smith has an interesting and serious response to Kenny Goldsmith's Intro/Manifesto today at Possum Pouch:\r


    His phrase for the phenomenon, a handy one for future reference, perhaps, is "F-Con Po." But read his essay.\r


  4. July 2, 2009
     Kent Johnson

    Conversation unfolding at Dale Smith's blog, link above.\r

    But where are the F-Con Po poets?\r

    Exchange is good. Or so the principle used to be...\r


  5. July 2, 2009
     Desmond Swords

    I was always confused about what Flarf poetry was, hearing about it from the sidelines when lurking at Ron da Silly mohn y'all, finkin wut it wahz is yah, Flarf 'n that bein all like, yoo hoo, ha ha ha, halooo ah - look at moi, innit maaarhd mohn, flarf like, aint wheeze all crazee po-mo dingalongs diggin in fo yo ! flarf\r

    I listened to the commentaries keeping the product itself at bay, trying to figure out what it was by atuning to the circumstantial evidence, rather than going straight to the product itself, and trusting one's instinct to the cosmic mill, the gear itself ground to mine ear like sweet sounds that breathe upon a bank of violets, stealing and giving odour. Enough, no more, tis not so crazee now as it was before, methought.\r

    Then i saw some vidz of flarf being recited at The Flarf Festival 06 at the Medicine Show Theatre NYC, and realised it was all a bit of hoo ha over nothing substantial really, now is it?\r

    It was student japes, a one joke pony enacted by one's middle-age adolescence, and essentially an in-joke of a very very small minority, rather than any serious attempt at working in or extended the Write-Through form, which (from my understanding) is a central compositional plank in flarf.\r

    The write-through form is when we take a text as the raw material, then juggle and re-jig the words (effectively the letters) into another text. \r

    My first attempt at write-through was Sylvia Plath's Colossus, (the process is documented at the link) after writing a poem and suddenly having the idea to re-write it into another one, using the exact same words and letters. After completeing that task, i decided to take a random poem of another author, choosing Colossus because the book was resting on the computer monitor and flipping through it till i landed on this poem about her father.\r

    This was in the third year of a Writing Studies BA, and when i showed it to Robert Sheppard, a British poet connected whose poetic is pure Langpo, who created and ran the course in which the poetry component was all American Modernism - he told me the form was Write-Through, but i cannot remember the name of the poet who coined it.\r

    The write-through method is at the opposite end of the compositional spectrum from strict metrical writing, but at least, if not more intellectually challenging, as it is like sieving ones mind through a tea strainer; knocking down an edifice of letters, and rebuilding an entirely different text with them. It is great exercise for homing one's cerebral fluidity, as we don't have to think of anything apart from combining the letters into soemthing readable.\r

    For your first time, i would advocate using no cheating, using every single letter, and as you get handier, the form sorts itself out and becomes just another trick in the tool-kit for composing. Small blog desposits are ideal, as you can reverse the polarity.\r

    I had a spell of writing through Carol Rumens' poem of the week when she first started on the Guardian, starting with Gary Snyder and working a way through a fair number of 'em. As far as i know (and in keeping with the boasty nature of flarf) i am the only person working in this form.\r

    This is an example, where i took a negative comment from the blog of American poet resident in London, Katy Evans Bush and wrote through it.\r

    "Dear Ms Baroque (If that is your real name)\r

    Did you know the following?\r

    a. Noone cares about your opinion.\r

    b. Your photo alone is enough to make most either stop reading, vomit on there crotch or track you down just to slap you round your pretensious face with there flacid cock.\r

    c. Your head is so far up your anal passage that you have gone on a disgusting trip, passing the wonders of your bowels, instestines, stomach, up your esphongus and out your mouth which has never known when to shut up."\r


    Kieran Special - "PLAIN ECES, AIR, K"\r

    Dear Baroque\r

    Did you know that you\r
    Alone make most here care\r
    About your words\r
    And love you for your\r
    Face, your name, reality\r
    And poetical opinion;\r

    Sensuous sage who honey mouths\r
    The art of hope,\r
    A truth torc loose around your neck;\r

    Sing with the eye alone\r
    Hear alphabets' music wooing in ether.\r

    Your tongue scripts star-light,\r
    Its naked truth shoving asunder\r
    Chasms of doubt, out past new\r
    Moon-strips opposite sun rings\r
    Pouring down his wing-shook\r
    Privacy, a huff on jute\r
    You own, \r
    chop to us \r

  6. July 2, 2009
     Henry Gould

    All the current research points in this direction, and I believe I can say, on balance, that we've concluded, fairly conclusively - and I say "we" advisedly - that nothing can truly be termed "conceptual", unless it includes the term "post-".\r

    Thank you, and good night.

  7. July 2, 2009
     John Oliver Simon

    You might try write-thru on Pierre Menard's version of Don Quixote.

  8. July 2, 2009
     Desmond Swords

    Dear World\r

    I am an expert in judging and teaching this kind of student.\r

    I am one of the best-known poets and critics now living.\r

    I have a pretty high reputation for this kind of teaching. \r

    I have taught a great many exceptionally brilliant students.

    My name is Bosty Rovy Sretniw, backwards champ of me me me Winters\r

    I can teach more about the art of writing in verse and about the history of this art than anyone in the country save perhaps Cunningham.\r

    Look, here's a sample of one's every soo posh pooh a tray\r

    Where am I now? And what\r
    Am I to say portends?\r
    Death is but death, and not\r
    The most obtuse of ends.

    My name is Yvor and I am a genius.\r

    I talk daily with learned and brilliant men, most of whom have seen a lot. \r

    You may have heard of how fantstic i am from myself and those i tell how superbly clever and great and fab and...do you feel inferior yet? - hark, i speak to God direct, make the rhymes of my poems connect exact, whacked down now with the intelliegence of who is probably the greatest man in American letters, do you get it yet said bed fed blah blah oh you're so effin clever int yer Winty lah?\r
    Immeasurable haze:\r
    The desert valley spreads\r
    Up golden river-beds\r
    As if in other days.\r
    Trees rise and thin away,\r
    And past the trees, the hills,\r
    Pure line and shade of dust,\r
    Bear witness to our wills:\r
    We see them, for we must;\r
    Calm in deceit, they stay.

    Snooze, snooze, yous a right teflon head with a brain so big all bow before you, God's gift Winters.\r

    These are thy fallen sons,\r
    Thou whom I try to reach.\r
    Thou whom the quick eye shuns,\r
    Thou dost elude my speech.

    You really like rhymink in a very precise way, it's a vice innit Winters, that you've got there Homer pal.\r

    But when I go from sense\r
    And trace thee down in thought,\r
    I meet thee, then, intense\r
    And know thee as I ought.

    Bought, taught, caught, fought, sought naught phwoar wharra boring git Winters you wuz not a genius but an over-inflated ego, innit hey Winters, flarf's finest you wuz mate, gate, bate wait trait straight straight straight inflation of yerself..

  9. July 2, 2009
     John Oliver Simon

    Yvor Winters, for all that he seems to have written poetry with a ramrod permanently implanted in his posterior, taught Thom Gunn, Philip Levine, N. Scott Momaday and Robert Pinsky, which ain't a bad drumroll. I think he tried hard to be a baleful influence on American poetry but the seitgeist was flowing in another direction, toward the Allen anthology.\r

    And what exactly does Winters have to do with flarf?

  10. July 3, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Ebony Summers

  11. July 3, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    typo: Ebon

  12. July 3, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Britney Swords, Desmond Spears

  13. July 3, 2009
     Desmond Swords

    I am just trying to lure the bard of Armagh into yielding more of his finely wrought consciousness Sir John, knowing Winters is on his hit list and on reading Yvor in the latest issue of Poetry, which has horrified many a poster on that radically subversive poetry board ablemuse-eratosphere, appalled flarf poetry had reached:\r

    "...a new low-water mark in the publication of Poetry?"\r

    There are many outraged and unhappy posters, close to the edge mohn, yah, rip Jah up dem sigheed:\r

    This is why one of these days I'll probably take a hiatus from poetry for several years (again) and return to my musical proclivities.\r

    Oh hear ye fools in verbal trade\r
    what is shoddy and not well made \r
    in a country where knaves teach \r
    less and less literature each day \r

    where ignorance reigns supreme\r
    and fewer people read, but steal\r
    that which is written, to write ten \r
    and more flarf poems at one sitting - \r

    I guess the long and the short of it is that..you just have to focus on your own craft, and not worry about what others are doing and/or publishing...I sometimes wonder if maybe the Dickinson approach is the best. Just file them all away somewhere and hope they'll be discovered post mortem to a much more sensible audience.\r

    ask yourself, not what s/he can give \r
    you, what gift of the mind invisibly \r
    got gets you to the top, \r

    but what you can give the mohn\r
    who give you blud clop 'n git-stab\r

    ...it has seemed to me that the last year or two of Poetry has been pretty good...Wiman is consciously trying to represent a wide range of styles and schools, while trying to maintain a high standard -- a tough task.\r

    up shady back lanes where scangers\r
    drink, sniff and shoot from the lip\r
    vile accursed oaths to a pissing\r
    down sky. Bent over double, scumbag\r

    dort bords who'll jigger in real \r
    live evil warm and nice, backwards \r
    mirror every thought you ever had\r

    and turn the feet of mother earth\r

    I stopped my subscription to Poetry when I could no longer stomach their self-styled image as a barometer of contemporary poetry, when in fact their attitude is parochial, elitist and narrow-minded in the extreme...with some exceptions, has a sameness that makes you feel it might have been written by a few of the same people (which a lot of it is)...much if not most...utter incomprehensible gibberish...puts people off poetry because...makes them feel dumb..perplexed..bored..brought down the wrath of the Universe...I consider myself an open-minded, intelligent person...I have tried, really tried, but fail to understand the prestigious reputation Poetry continues to enjoy.\r

    Revolutionary as a Bosch CBS 520\r
    Interrogating oranges in Cuba\r
    at full torque - ask yourself, what's\r

    surreal as a lemon in outer space,\r
    ducks quack in a vacuum and Welsh\r
    tragedy played straight on the face \r
    of a red dwarf in the Virgo \r
    Supercluster - buster.\r

    "My first marriage took place in the Rothko chapel\r
    ...we don't like what's playing on one channel\r

    exactly explain what it is that's 'new' or 'conceptual' Whitman: did the list a hundred and fifty years ago\r
    invoke the imitative fallacy\r

    ...contemporary mall directory poems fail because they're too "mallish", not because there's something inherently un-poetic about malls\r

    ..Ruth Lilly, what hath thou wrought?\r

    a formalist poet, give me hope for our art, \r
    for the rest of its oy vey.\r

    didn't say that "everything" was bad\r

    fans, and neo-beatniks getting all the way \r
    through any given issue \r

    too divided into schools\r
    Sudoku? Armantrout put it in its place \r
    last month's issue\r

    often seems like a lot of wank\r
    writing a play about dull lives \r
    Trying to put things back\r

    serves up Videlock, Stallings, Goldbarth, \r
    et al elsewhere\r
    Apples, schnapples, want that analogy\r

    the slush pile, I'm putting a dollar on\r
    Mallarmé, Apollinaire, newspapers \r

    and billboard posters, Alien vs. Predator\r
    reading the product's "blurb" \r
    the context and commentary for Duchamp's urinal \r

    Guy Debord and Jean-Luc Godard, détournement\r
    the best example, Ducasse's Poésies of course\r
    is what pop art is all about also\r

    bored with a narcissistic wank job, \r
    designing a tire-girded goat, or a flower\r

    With a hey, and a ho, and a hey-nonny-no,\r
    'real poetry' \r

    fusing the avant-garde impulse\r
    explaining a shattered yo-yo, shit in boxes\r
    Bananas not apples, and yet a wrecking bar\r

    smashes your yo-yo, \r
    come to you in sheep's clothing, the great poet \r
    11 per year and most only relating\r
    a kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness\r

    intentionally bad, frivolous, or wacky, formed \r
    by a collage of quasi-random stand-up comedienne"

  14. July 3, 2009
     John Oliver Simon

    Thanks for the knighthood Des.

  15. July 4, 2009
     M. John C.

    Dichotomy is scaffolding.

  16. July 4, 2009
     John Oliver Simon

    Dichotomy is scaffolding... reality is burning. Flarf tastes of ash on the wind.\r

    Peruvian poet Mirko Lauer, my translation, published in New World: New Words (Center for the Art of Translation, 2007). Caveats for long-line overrun in blog format.\r


    All of reality is burning, and you can’t beat that as a sentence.\r
    Complete reality accumulates in a volatile stack\r
    at the limits of loss. What’s yours and what’s his are consumed\r
    leaning against the retina, on the smooth palm of your hand.\r
    Only love’s a grave thing, grave as the world’s universal gravity\r
    which weighs equally burning Isaac Newton and an apple.\r

    Nobody bathes twice in the same river, and you can’t beat that as a sentence either.\r
    The world lacks a shadow, reality’s the oil your heart floats in.\r
    Doors open on boiling water: you get out of one river and get in another;\r
    your bones shiver with ignorance on all thresholds, while your reckless soul\r
    sails on sustained by unknowns and by feathers.\r

    Silence unites eloquence and first–degree dangers,\r
    possibilities of words that are flowerings of the skin,\r
    wounds and multicolors heaped to form a black tower. Your brothers\r
    the corpses are toasting in that silence, and stalagmites\r
    attract dribbling lightning nobody dares to grasp for the sacrifice\r
    of reality that falls all over itself, with flames and crackling.\r

    A rustling beach of dry towels at the shore of the shower reminds you\r
    of the passage of water which comprises all reality and yields\r
    ablution of existence to soiled unmoving in two instants:\r
    alabaster and onyx, onomatopoeia and miracle,\r
    metaphorical life and literal death, the cradle and the bed,\r
    filling your ears with the boxed fru–fru of these combinations.\r

    Birds fly with flaming feathers, perforated by combustible air,\r
    their hexagonal bodies traversing, delayed along the bias.\r
    In the southern desert light pierces the dust, lifting fragile columns\r
    the wind carries away in flames. And even what’s unreal holds your head\r
    against that of a match which explodes in a glance’s fission,\r
    prisoner likewise of an inextinguishable flame.\r

    Forgiven by the unforgivable, your chest boasting wet flowers,\r
    chlorophyll and cadmium bunched: water that you are and grasp,\r
    flow in which you see and are, impeccably adrift, molested.\r
    And you leave the bacchanal engrossed, your hands washed and a sailboat\r
    tacking against the wind of your dream. Sponges which are darts seek your chest,\r
    find your chest, pass through your chest and forget your chest in their flight.\r

    Nobody laughs twice in the same bathtub, nor rubs their body against another\r
    without multiplying it. Banal and tragic conclusion: it’s impossible\r
    to be alone without the aid of a mirror. And you leave your cell perplexed, your temples frozen;\r
    and you leave your study wiped out, with drenched femurs;\r
    and you get out of the river and get in the river and get in the river and get out of the river\r
    through an expiatory abyss of portals and trampolines.\r

    There’s a bonfire in the golden entrails of the guinea pig. All of reality is suffering\r
    the burning stain of that uncaressable mildness. Your house is burning while you sleep,\r
    the world screams while you contemplate, the ovens groan with jaws ajar\r
    exhausted by the ash that lacerates your confused forehead, and floats toward the green ground\r
    where a million blades of grass are consumed to make one meadow.

  17. July 7, 2009
     M. John C.

    Self-promotion is commentary.

  18. July 9, 2009

    Duane. I love you. If you truely respect our Indian ancestors you will respect your elder sister, as our father respected his. I don't want anything from you but the love of my brother. I was just there for a week during which time I witnessed Elisa and her brother Steve. All I ask of you is to admit your love for your sister. Is that so hard? I respect you as a man, you need to find your respect for me, as a woman and as your elder sister.