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Flarf and Conceptual Writing in Poetry Magazine

By Kenneth Goldsmith


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 . . .


Comments (18)

  • On July 1, 2009 at 12:27 pm duane sosseur wrote:

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

    “We were so in love before”

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

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

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

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

    we were so in love before…
    conceptual and romantic
    written by me

  • On July 1, 2009 at 3:55 pm NEG wrote:

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

  • On July 1, 2009 at 4:57 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

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


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


  • On July 2, 2009 at 12:30 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Conversation unfolding at Dale Smith’s blog, link above.

    But where are the F-Con Po poets?

    Exchange is good. Or so the principle used to be…


  • On July 2, 2009 at 1:30 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    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

    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.

    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?

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    “Dear Ms Baroque (If that is your real name)

    Did you know the following?

    a. Noone cares about your opinion.

    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.

    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.”


    Kieran Special – “PLAIN ECES, AIR, K”

    Dear Baroque

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

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

    Sing with the eye alone
    Hear alphabets’ music wooing in ether.

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

  • On July 2, 2009 at 2:41 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    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-“.

    Thank you, and good night.

  • On July 2, 2009 at 2:50 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

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

  • On July 2, 2009 at 7:50 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    Dear World

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

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

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

    I have taught a great many exceptionally brilliant students.

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

    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.

    Look, here’s a sample of one’s every soo posh pooh a tray

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

    My name is Yvor and I am a genius.

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

    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?

    Immeasurable haze:
    The desert valley spreads
    Up golden river-beds
    As if in other days.
    Trees rise and thin away,
    And past the trees, the hills,
    Pure line and shade of dust,
    Bear witness to our wills:
    We see them, for we must;
    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.

    These are thy fallen sons,
    Thou whom I try to reach.
    Thou whom the quick eye shuns,
    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.

    But when I go from sense
    And trace thee down in thought,
    I meet thee, then, intense
    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..

  • On July 2, 2009 at 11:43 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    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.

    And what exactly does Winters have to do with flarf?

  • On July 3, 2009 at 12:48 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Ebony Summers

  • On July 3, 2009 at 12:49 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    typo: Ebon

  • On July 3, 2009 at 12:52 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    Britney Swords, Desmond Spears

  • On July 3, 2009 at 2:04 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    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:

    “…a new low-water mark in the publication of Poetry?”

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

    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.

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

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

    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.

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

    but what you can give the mohn
    who give you blud clop ‘n git-stab

    …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.

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

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

    and turn the feet of mother earth

    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.

    Revolutionary as a Bosch CBS 520
    Interrogating oranges in Cuba
    at full torque – ask yourself, what’s

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

    “My first marriage took place in the Rothko chapel
    …we don’t like what’s playing on one channel

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

    …contemporary mall directory poems fail because they’re too “mallish”, not because there’s something inherently un-poetic about malls

    ..Ruth Lilly, what hath thou wrought?

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

    didn’t say that “everything” was bad

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

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

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

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

    the slush pile, I’m putting a dollar on
    Mallarmé, Apollinaire, newspapers

    and billboard posters, Alien vs. Predator
    reading the product’s “blurb”
    the context and commentary for Duchamp’s urinal

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

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

    With a hey, and a ho, and a hey-nonny-no,
    ‘real poetry’

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

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

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

  • On July 3, 2009 at 10:26 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Thanks for the knighthood Des.

  • On July 4, 2009 at 1:23 pm M. John C. wrote:

    Dichotomy is scaffolding.

  • On July 4, 2009 at 2:09 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

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

    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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • On July 7, 2009 at 12:11 am M. John C. wrote:

    Self-promotion is commentary.

  • On July 9, 2009 at 5:21 pm Lily wrote:

    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.

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Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, July 1st, 2009 by Kenneth Goldsmith.