Saturday, February 28, 2009

Flarf Reading #6

Tarzan. 2006. "Tarzan Workshop". Jacket 30.

I'm going to respect the pseudononymous publication of this poem. It is one example I have been able to find of a "mocking" or "satirical" piece of Flarf. Or rather, it is at least alleged to be Flarf, published as such in Jacket 30. But I don't really get anything distinctively "flarfy" out of it. I don't see how it accomplishes itself as a poem.

Yes, I do feel silly using the phrase "accomplishes itself as a poem"; it is so much like saying it does not "feel earned". But my enjoyment of Flarf lies in watching a poem just barely accomplish itself. This one seems to me to fail and its failure is not interesting. That's because it is also, I would argue, trying to do something else. Watch Tim Peterson perform it:

If poetry workshops were a more mainstream part of popular culture, this could be an SNL sketch (if done in costume and with a bit more rehearsal). Even if workshops were as straighforwardly ridiculous as this poem suggests (and I am not at all sure that they are, though I have never participated in one), making fun of them in this way is hardly poetry. I don't see this poem doing anything else.

This reading is important, at least to me, because there is the view that Flarf is intended to fail largely as this poem fails. On this view, I am as ridiculous as Tarzan and what he represents. I think a good poem is a real accomplishment and I think Flarf has produced many good poems. This is one of the few pieces I'm going to read in this series that I don't think is one of them.


Tim Peterson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Peterson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas Basbøll said...

I've never understood the argument that Flarf has "moved on". Like I say in this post, I suspect there are some deathless poems among those produced by the Flarf List. I'm just reading the available poetry trying to find them, Tim. I'm not trying to keep up with developments in New York or anywhere else. I'm trying to keep up with developments in my own aesthetics.

Tim Peterson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirby Olson said...

Comedy is a much less sloppy art form than this presentation suggests. Think of the wonderful clarity of Carlin. Even the relatively sloppy comics like Sam Kinison are just towering over this amateur hour stuff.

I do agree that this is not on the same level at all as the Degentesh work.

Comedy has to have very serious insights into contemporary life. The writers have to be very sharp and thoughtful.

This isn't terrible. Many poets are even worse than this. This guy appears to be able to feed himself.

I think it reveals the sloppiness of those who are living in the cities now.

I think a redneck on a riff in a rural bar would be more interesting to hear on just about any topic.

Thomas Basbøll said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas Basbøll said...

Tim: I associate the Tarzan piece with the Flarf movement because the piece was performed at the festival and published in Gary's Flarf feature in Jacket. I only associate you with the piece because you performed it. Like I say, I'm going to respect the pseudonym as far as "authorship" goes.

I'm not sure Flarf was ever where New York was "at", but it's good to know it's moved on, I guess. Are you saying that "Tarzan Workshop" is no longer worth talking about?

Thomas Basbøll said...

I think poets and comics have a lot to learn from each other. Comics often have great timing but, ultimately, very trivial material. Poets often have better "material" (from at least one point of view) but terrible delivery.

I've said this before, but I'd like to see someone with a comic's sureness of delivery perform Ben Lerner's "Twenty-One Gun Salute for Roland Reagan", which doesn't (last I checked) have one straightforward joke in it. Mairead Byrne has suggested that sort of thing before me. (I'm not sure whether she was kidding.)

I've also said this before: Sharon Mesmer's performing "Annoying Diabetic Bitch" approaches exactly what I'm talking about.

Kirby Olson said...

Jokes in poetry often have to do with the history of poetry, and without that context, wouldn't be funny. Peterson's piece, for instance, requires a fairly good understanding of poetic history.

Flarf in general is playing off an almost unknown form.

So I think a popular audience would be bewildered.

Comedians have to play off what's going on in the news or off of common issues that everybody easily understands.

I think even Degetesh's poem plays off of personality testing, as well as poetry, and most people don't know about either.

Even Magee's poem, the one poem I've really looked at in Flarf circles (he published Degentesh's book, it seems) -- you had to be aware of sophisticated argumentation about race and gender, and see how he was pressing at those perimeters, or parameters.

Outside that circle of awareness, I don't think the poems would make any sense.

Steve Wright's pieces -- on the other hand -- make immediate sense to an audience.

Again, Aram Saroyan's, which are technically similar, wouldn't make sense to any audience but one of poets.

You could also say that Andrew Wiles' solution to Fermat's Last Theorem could have been done by a comedian, and would make an audience laugh heartily, but it would have to be an audience of mathematicians, and very very good ones at that. Most college-level math instructors wouldn't be able to follow the math to the solution I'm told.

But for those who did know the math, the presentation might have been heightened if the theorems and equations had been said by Martin Short or Robert DeLong, or even Malcolm Middle.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I don't think Degentesh's poems actually "play off" the personality tests. I don't think there is a reference or allusion to the test in the individual poems.

I'm tempted even to say that the book's title is not an allusion (though the COVER obviously is). The words "anger scale" have a poetic meaning that the work recovers (or perhaps simply constructs). I'm not as sure about this last part as I am about the poems being free of allusion.

Kirby Olson said...

There's a review in Jacket that says they do.

I think they do.

But I've only read one of them, and haven't read the important test.

In general, would you say that Flarf acts by tearing down anything we believe, and creating a swirl of nonsense around it?

I think the generation coming up doesn't have any clear moral standards, and no framework for making value judgements.

You, Thomas, are part of that.

The only thing your generation does is to put up various taboos against making any kinds of judgement (don't be racist, don't be sexist, don't require normality, etc.).

The thing you can't do is to say why you're for something. I find Flarf therefore to be particularly interesting as an insight into the crumbling values of your generation.

But the problem with this is that it can't really stand for anything.

Therefore, you can have neither lyric intensity, tragedy, true comedy, or anything but a kind of decentered parody.

What I like about is that the last taboos erected by the communists around race, gender, and class, you're even tearing down those in your urge toward chaos.

That's how I see it.

It's not that you're bad. It's that you're beyond good and evil, in a wasteland without any landmarks.

Good sex, perhaps, might be one last remaining landmark, except that you can't have it without landmarks of some other kind (religious, or cultural).

I think you have had all meaning erased, and that Flarf is very similar to a kind of poetry of the absurd, but this is somewhere beyond that.

Ha ha.

If that's not true, then tell me what Degentesh or any Flarf poem is actually standing for, what it's clearly saying, what values it stands for.

Good poems articulate good values.

Flarf doesn't have the guts to do that, which is why it's fun, but insufficiently countercultural. Whereas Lutheranism is truly countercultural, and wherever it is still ascendent, the cultural milieu is beatific (drive into the deep countryside of Denmark and spend a day going to church, and talking with real Danes).

You can count on those people. You know what they stand for.

By contrast, Flarf is fluff. It should have just been called Fluff.

It has no truth to it, and therefore it isn't really very good, or very funny.

Again, based on the now three or four poems I've read.

Anonymous said...

If you think Tarzan is disappointing, you should read Tim's "real" poetry.

Tim Peterson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Peterson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.