Monday, March 02, 2009

Flarf Reading #7

Sullivan, Gary. 2006. "Poem". Self-published at Elsewhere, July 9, 2006.

This poem is a good demonstration of the combined effect of Google-sculpting and the Flarf aesthetic. As a critic, Gary Sullivan's work always makes me uneasy because it is always entirely possible that he's having me on in some important way. I feel as though I'm damned if I call it a poem, and damned if I don't. I judged "not poem" in the case of "Tarzan Workshop"; I'm going to judge "poem" in the case of "Poem".

It is stitched together out of a few jokes that can be found in various places on the Internet, a quiz meme and a few other odds and ends. None of it appears to be "written" by Sullivan in the ordinary sense. The poet's contribution is confined to cutting and pasting. One of the jokes has been attributed to Andy Rooney and Sullivan tells it pretty much entire. In one performance (available on YouTube) the audience seems to find it straightforwardly funny. One wonders if they find it "flarfy" too. Properly speaking, of course, it isn't. It's just an ordinary joke.

By stringing the rest of the jokes together in overlapping fragments, each derailing the others' progress, and throwing in some products and prices (not sure from where yet), we get a sort 1980s surrealism effect. Everything changes, however, with the introduction of the list of "dated" objects, which was taken from the meme. The quiz is an exercise in nostalgia. And it has precisely that effect here.

The result is that when we get to the last lines, which a Google search identifies as a verbatim transcription of a what is normally offered as a "groaner", the one-liner actually becomes poignant. Gary captures it masterfully in his performance. "Keep it in the cow," he whispers (after a "pause" that he might very well have written in himself).

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