Flarf: Poetry Meme-Surfs With Kanye West and the LOLCats

You could feel buried in irony, here, if it weren't for the fact that we are surrounded by these shifting "moods" daily.* The traditionally Romantic goals of the poem are abandoned--or diverted--in the context of a media-culture that undergirds continual war-making. The poem relies instead on the language of advertisement and youtube comment and bro-speak ("Chicks like a nice war"); redundancy ("Oh, and you can really get an awesome war on"). But it's in no way, I would argue, unmagical. Rather, poems like Gardner's are like double agents, infiltrating the potions we're fed (or slipped) to try to unrender them (and hijack their powers!). Instead of doing this from some vast and insulated moral distance, they are instead a kind of jewelweed, treatments growing near the (more ubiquitous) ivy. **

For another, albeit very different example of meme-surfing, listen to K. Silem Mohammed surf memes through his "Sonnograms"—anagrams of Shakespeare's sonnets, and some of my absolute favorite poems to come out recently.

Amazing, right? With "Sonnograms," as with much of this work, it's the wacky premise that grabs you, too. Ditto for Justin Katko's "opera," "Death of Pringle" ... in which our poet is a kind of demented Homer (and the Pringle his Odysseus).

"Death of Pringle" is as much script-to-early-90's-video-game as it is epic, as much music video as "contemporary poetry." For both it and the "Sonnograms," it's the daringness (and absurdity) of the frame itself (exact anagrams of all of Shakespeare's sonnets? a one-man opera chronicling the life and death of a Pringle?) that grabs us and sucks us in. This game of WTF one-upsmanship--long familiar in the art world since Duchamps' original "potty joke"--is quickly becoming a recognizable phenomena in everywhere from YouTube to advertising to mainstream news coverage. Sometimes we call it lowest common denominator--but other times, it's something different. Poems, and poets, can learn from it. To quote the opening of "Death of Pringle":

It is thus that the Fate of the Commons and Autonomy itself is an Imperative Function of the Efficacy of the Poets' Song. Will their Lyrics be well enough Advanced to Hijack the Technoitopian Scheming of the Imperial Regime? Can a Pringle really DIE?

What next? So, "meme-surfing" and "WTF one-upmanship"--these are ways I'm suggesting poetry can mimic, and stay relevant within, the cultural logic of global capitalism. Can they compete with a Kanye West twitter explosion? Maybe not. But I'm not sure those aren't "flarf" too--all it would take is a respected-figure-of-the-poetry-world copy-and-pasting some of them into a word document. Or wait--not even? Flarf itself, as a decade-old movement in the art world, is probably already opening onto newer conceptions of what gets, and should get, called poetry. Are celebrity tweeting, blogging, and the like--armed to both succeed within and complicate the economy of attention--the new frontiers of poetry?

Maybe. (Really--I'm not sure I'd lament this.) But it seems, also, not enough for us all on its lonesome. What if we also read poetry to help us opt out of this funhouse-mirror world of accelerating (capital-flooded) cultural production? Are there alternate networks (read: economies of attention) that we can help build? What are their Lyric technologies?

This is where slow poetry comes in.

Next week: Adam discusses the "slow poetry" movement.

* See Ryan Trecartin's video art here for another example of this. I think also of Ginsberg's "America": "America, how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?"

** From Wikipedia: "An oft-repeated folk saying, "Wherever poison ivy is found, jewelweed grows close by", is not true. Poison ivy grows in a wide variety of habitats, while jewelweeds are restricted to moist bottomlands and valleys with rich soil. The reverse is often true on the other hand: wherever jewelweed is found, poison ivy is usually close by." The analogy only grows stronger...

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Adam Roberts is a poet, educator, and post-graduate fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. More

Adam Roberts is a poet, educator, and post-graduate fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He encourages you to check out 350 Poems, part of 350.org's 2009 day of climate action. More of his writing can be found online at The Beagle, The Bee, And The Sea.
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