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posted on 06.16.09

On April 17, at the Whitney Museum, two contemporary poetry movements went head to head. The Flarf Collective and Conceptual Poets competed to see who dealt with the flux of the digital age most compellingly. Eight poets, four from each movement, read insouciant, disarming, and sometimes pervers verse. Rumor has it that Flarf won, but I wasn't there to witness the action.

The Flarf movement began as the world transitioned into the technology-rich 21st century. It's the poetic equivalent of appropriation art: authorial originality is passe while borrowing, remixing, and lightening-up preixistent ideas has become empowering.

According to poet Gary Sullivan, Flarf grew out of email exchanges in 2001. As poets responded to and expanded upon one another's texts, the Flarflist Collective developed digitally. Their work acknowledged the technological, media saturated climate it was being produced in and seemed more timely than much of the mainstream poetry. Rather suddenly, Flarf became known as the 21st Century avant guard. 

In 2006, Gary Sullivan wrote about the hype in Jacket Magazine: "The act of writing flarf has been described as collaborating with the culture via the Web, as an imperialist or colonialist gesture, as an unexamined projection of self into others, as the conscious erasure of self or ego. Individual members have been described as brilliant, lazy, and smug, as satirists, fakes, and late-blooming Dadaists. . . . Very little of the discussion has dealt in any significant way with the work itself." Sullivan recommended readings that could introduce audience's to Flarf's actual output. I've included links to Sullivan's 2006 recommendations below, as well as more current resources.

The Flarf Files gives a brief introduction to Flarf and includes some early poetry from the group. 

Jacket Magazine's Flarf Feature (you'll have to scroll half way down the linked page to find it) includes work by Nada Gordon, Anne Boyer, K. Silem Mohammad, and Michael Magee, among others.

The Flarf Collective blogspot hasn't been updated in a while, but it still gives a rich, multimedia glimpse into the group.

On his own blog, K. Silem Mohammad lightheartedly responds to criticisms leveled against Flarf.

WNYC radio offers a podcast of the Flarf vs. Conceptual showdown at the Whitney.






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