Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Flarf Question

Greetings from Minersville PA, home of Grandpa and Grandma Zurawski. Today's breakfast: Apple Pancakes made with "high gluten flour." Really! Take that, all you Celiac Poets!

So a few weeks ago Mike Magee read out here at David Buuck's house and ever since then there has been casual conversation about the reading, mostly about one piece in particular. I wish I had a better memory or a copy of the book out here in Minersville with me, but it was a piece whose main character was something like "Teenage Asian Girl" or "Asian Chick" or some such slick epithet. I keep thinking about this piece, not because I'm an uptight white liberal, though maybe I am, but, well, I keep thinking about the point of using this character. I keep wondering about the piece's intentions. Was it 1) "Oh I'll use this Asian Chick as the main character in my poem so that all the white people in the room will get uptight and freak out about race and think I'm offensive and blog about it", or 2) "Asian Chicks are hot, but silly, so I'll write this poem about a silly, hip Asian chick." I guess I anticipated a third option, but I can't think of one right now. And in my opinion, I think it's number one, not number two. Which I guess would kind of be a Bruce Andrew's way of doing things, except Bruce doesn't rest on one note as long, and would move on through twelve other possible social offensives in a single piece, which has a completely different effect. Just a general feeling of all social taboos being messed with. But with this particular poem tracking the character of this silly Asian chick, my feeling is that the audience reaction is rather obvious, and so why do it? There's a whole room of more or less smart people, so why is it productive to ruffle feathers in this particular way, I mean why not flarf us in more unexpected ways, make us uncomfortable in ways that are more socially productive, in ways conducive to new thoughts about the political world around us? The piece felt as if it were written for a campus audience at the height of identity politics. And it has me considering a bunch of questions I thought were already answeres. Is authorial responsibility something I'm supposed to think is washed away by the method of composition? But flarfs are hardly accidents. They are highly aestheticized objects. So it can't be that Magee is trying to get me to believe that a flarfist is controlled by the search engine and not the search engine controlled by the flarfist? I am really puzzled by all of this and keep returning to the predicament in my bedtime thoughts, and yet am annoyed that I am returning to these thoughts at bedtime. Is that maybe the point? If you know, or think you know, please respond. If anyone posts a comment, I would love to paste it on the blog proper. I would like very much for this to be a real discussion. Thanks, Maggie


minor american ii said...

look at you...

eating "high gluten" and questioning Flarf in my absence...

just wait 'til you get home baby....

myshkin2 said...

Magda, Instead of flarfing up jablkowe nalesniki in the Poconos, why not try this: (Sorry the format's so screwed up.)


for Brenda W.

I’d come, even if I wasn’t invited,
to dance polkas, obereks, czardaszes with her.
I’d ping beyond recovery my last-legs-Datsun,
bucking it up into the mountains—turnpike,
tunnel, Minersville, Slabtown, the Ashland
Coal Breaker, flexed like a great bullying arm
to fling gravel into the doglegs of these patches.

Where gold church domes bubble up on the surface
from sizzling underground veins, and tropical
blooms of unmowed Byzantine blue rash
across towns abandoned. Her dad would already be
downing pitchers of the liquefied amber his Baltic
ancestors traded, convinced that enough of it
flushing his system might purge the coal dust.

By the time I’d arrive, he’d be at the urinal,
among others, groaning black piss.
And her mom, terrified that her son, back,
from the city and the sex life there
that all here suspect but don’t mention, might drag
some young guy from the line at Mack Truck
into the Chicken Dance or Fire, Fire.

Such unequivocal joy--a squeezbox resting
on gut, fueled by sixpacks and old ladies
shaking devils’ fiddles, all so she can hop
and twirl, and thread through dancers thickening
from heat and age like roux. So she can sweat
herself slippery, too slick to hold on to,
changing her outfit, her partner with each new set.

(appeared in Crab Orchard Review)

Mike Magee said...

Hi Maggie, it was great to see you at David's. I think the questions you raise about my poem are good ones. Perhaps they are better answered by the book MAINSTREAM as a whole. It's now available for purchase at

and soon at SPD as well. The poem. "Their Guys,Their Asian Glittering Guys, Are Gay," is now up on the Mainstream Poetry website:

It may be helpful to your readers to know that the title is a pun on the famous line from Yeats' "Lapis Lazuli" and directly engages with the Orientalism at work in that poem; and that in addition to the "Asian chick" as you say, there are many "characters" (if we can even call them that) in the poem.

Thanks, if this generates any conversation at all I'll be thrilled.

Mike Magee

Michael said...

You're risking open war with the celiacs. Beware: we are scrappy via our deprivation and high-protein diets.

I think I have something to say regarding the Flarf questions, but more thought is needed.

Michael said...

Okay, re: Flarf questions. I don't want to rehash stuff that's already been said and debated in places like Chris Daniels' blog, but from where I stand I run into similar problems when it comes to how to make sense of Flarfy work like the poem you're talking about. First, I'll be frank, here: I'm not crazy about this poem (though that shouldn't be read as my take on MM's work in general in My Angie Dickinson and elsewhere, because I think he’s produced a lot of excellent stuff), so I’m not really in an ambivalent situation of feeling interested in some parts of it and put off by others. To me, the particular way in which “Their Guys...” uses “bad” writing makes the poem not very interesting on the level of its linguistic surface, and the very disjunctive nature of the writing means that the fucked-up Orientalist element isn’t going to proceed very easily to some “deeper” idea in the way that the prototypical prose-fiction satire might. So what are we left with, exactly? In the context in which Flarf, as I understand it, was initially used—sending purposefully “wrong” poems into those scam poetry anthology contests to see if they’d win, which they did—then I can make sense of it more, because it becomes something akin to a conceptual art project in which the content of a particular poem becomes less important than its general “wrongness.” And moving from that initial context I can understand the ways in which people on the Flarflist found it interesting to explore/write with/discuss this kind of language in the semi-private space that listserv was/is. In both of these arenas, I can get on board with “Their Guys...” a lot more, but once it gets divorced from those spaces and goes beyond the in-group and into the broader (poetry) world and has to stand solo as a poem, it starts to just feel like a rather thin piece of writing that’s trying to get by on irony and so-bad-it’s-good cleverness and, yeah, approaches a kind of minstrelsy, albeit one in which the object of that minstrelsy is unclear.

That paragraph reads really harsh to me, which isn’t what I was going for (sorry), but I’ll keep going I guess. Okay—when Flarf work gets really interesting to me is when it enters into that “post-Flarf” space that KSM mentioned a while ago, when it takes the techniques and general modus operandi of Flarf and moves them to the proverbial next level, which to me includes a next level of thinking about authorial responsibility. Don’t get me wrong: I like fucked-up, I like disjunctive, Bruce Andrews is a huge touchstone for me, but to me there are kinds of fucked-up that I personally don’t particularly want to go near, both because they’re, you know, fucked-up and because they’re not fucked-up in an interesting way, a way that simultaneously disturbs and engages and provokes new thought and not just sheer horror at the state of the world. What Andrews, to me and I think to Maggie too, is doing is hopping so quickly from one subject position to the next that it becomes an kind of unending barrage of often contradictory language, language that is much less straight-appropriation and more activated, and therefore, between that and the quick hops, doesn’t fall into a kind of ironic aping of an often disenfranchised subject in the way that Flarf frequently is said to. And also—and this goes back to that essay of Dodie Bellamy’s in Fascicle that I’m obsessed with—Bruce often shoots straight past irony into full-on sarcastic assaults, and his attacks almost always seem to be on the powerful or at least the ominous “they” (I’m not saying he doesn’t cross the line, sometimes, though—gender stuff is what I’m thinking here, specifically). So I don’t want to try to de-fang Flarf of its inappropriateness here, but I do need to take issue with the potentially careless appropriation such work might perform. There’s a kind of Flarf that seems to be about engaging with the subject and all the interesting/disturbing/contradictory language our I’s produce, but too often the appropriation of idiosyncratic language and the subjects they drag along with them ends up making for a kind of quasi-persona poem that, when coupled with the patented Flarf irony and snark, ends up mocking some really easy targets—most frequently, it seems, a kind of stereotypically lower class racist redneck-type who’s had little access to education—that lack of education being the particularly highlighted point. Or simply being transgressive for transgression’s sake by appropriating some of the racist bile floating around on the interwebs for ends that are unclear. (I want to be clear—I’m talking about a kind of Flarf that I’ve read, certainly not all of it.) So to me the question ends up being not so much whether or not one appropriates language, but what kinds to appropriate and when/where to use it so as to make the irony really sting those who deserve it. I think that “Chicks Dig War” is a really well-executed example of this, and a lot of that has to do with what flows out of that title itself—for most folks there’s no getting around the fact that that shit is deeply ironic (though I think Drew has run into some people who missed that) and on the attack against a particular brand of powerful macho that’s running the country at the moment.

Anyway, there are gaps here for sure. Please tell me where they might be.

Anonymous said...

great ..thanks for sharing.....

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