Gardner, Drew. 2005. "Control Is a Beautiful Thing". Petroleum Hat. Roof Books. Pages 71-2.
I was going to stay clear of too many polemics. But my first two readings have had a "corrective" bent anyway, and Kirby's comment to my last reading is well worth countering, if only because it is representative, not least because its general claim is based, he notes, on his familiarity with one (1) poem.
The main problem is that [Flarf] is by its very nature an aesthetically challenged movement in that it doesn't permit lyrical intensity, but is content with a certain half-assed wobbling.
When I read it, I was immediately reminded of Dorothy Sayers. In his "Simple Art of Murder", Raymond Chandler quotes from her introduction to the Omnibus of Crime. The detective story, she says, "does not, and by hypothesis never can, attain the loftiest aims of literary achievement". Chandler's reply is terse and precise: "The Maltese Falcon may or may not be a work of genius, but an art which is capable of it is not 'by hypothesis' incapable of anything."
Drew Gardner's "Control Is a Beautiful Thing" may or may not be a work of genius, I want to say, but an art that is capable of it is not "by its very nature" challenged in any way, nor prohited from anything. Something like that. The poem does not wobble, though it perhaps quivers, and while it's theme is arguably a certain kind of equivocality, there is nothing half-assed about the poem.
It has a very definite mood and a very precise emotion in view. Like "I Am Beautiful", "Control" has a single speaking subject that unproblematically (if this time reluctantly) calls itself "I". There is a "liquid inside" it and "the liquid isn't sticky or confused". The trick is just to keep it, or something like it, from "rolling away". The subject seems to move between the office ("I sat at my desk") and the apartment ("I got home") and has spent some time in "training courses" of various kinds (which you get home from just as they begin). The subject has hands (which are sometimes washed) and emotions ("flecks of rage") and appears to have some experience with what William S. Burroughs called "the crime of separate action": "I'm sure my other half/will use its hands for this." What other half? "I just looked in the mirror/and my head was there again."
Two passages represent the concrete and abstract components of the mood that the poem presents—the emotion that the poem "controls" if you will—"the problem":
The liquid isn't sticky or confused
I move several times a day
directly toward the problem
it was no problem
you can pull
this into the new range
that meets the beautiful sounds,
like a silver shaped cylinder
floating outside your bedroom window.
It is not simply incorrect to say that Flarf "doesn't permit lyrical intensity". Flarf arguably makes a lyrical intensity possible, at least within a certain "range" that we might otherwise "never use". Were it not for Flarf, Mesmer's "ballerina with a clown face encased in a big beautiful teardrop", like Gardner's "silver shaped cylinder floating outside your bedroom window", would be well-nigh impossible.
I'm grateful to Tony for his elegant rephrasing of one of my theses: poetry doesn't make us feel better emotions; it makes us feel emotions better. Here, the poem does not make us feel better about control, but better able to feel control.