Conceptual Poetry & Flarf: Kenneth Goldsmith explains 2 controversial poetry movements

New in Conceptual Poetry & Flarf : Kenny Goldsmith Strikes Again!

Last June, I attended a Conceptual Poetry Conference at the University of Arizona Tucson. Now, a year later, Kenneth Goldsmith has edited the current issue of Poetry, Flarf and Conceptual Writing in Poetry Magazine : Harriet the Blog published by the Poetry Foundation, much of which is also available on-line at Harriet the Blog (Flarf and Conceptual Writing in Poetry Magazine : Harriet the Blog ) and written the following essay,

Flarf is Dionysus. Conceptual Writing is Apollo.

An introduction to the 21st Century’s most controversial poetry movements.

In this essay, Goldsmith asks,

With so much available language, does anyone really need to write more? Instead, let’s just process what exists. Language as matter; language as material. How much did you say that paragraph weighed?

Our immersive digital environment demands new responses from writers. What does it mean to be a poet in the Internet age?

His answer includes:

These two movements, Flarf and Conceptual Writing, each formed over the past five years, are direct investigations to that end. And as different as they are, they have surprisingly come up with a set of similar solutions.

What is conceptual poetry? Goldsmith offers up a primer in this extensive pdf here. In his Poetry essay, he compares and contrasts Flarf with Conceptual Writing:

Yet for as much as the two movements have in common, they are very different. Unlike Conceptual Writing, where procedure may have as much to do with meaning as the form and content, Flarf is quasi-procedural and improvisatory. Many of the poems are “sculpted” from the results of Internet searches, often using words and phrases that the poet has gleaned from poems posted by other poets to the Flarflist e-mail listserv. By contrast Conceptual Writers try to emulate the workings and processes of the machine, feeling that the results will be good if the concept and execution of the poetic machine are good; there is no tolerance for improvisation or spontaneity.

Flarf plays Dionysus to Conceptual Writing’s Apollo. Flarf uses traditional poetic tropes (“taste” and “subjectivity”) and forms (stanza and verse) to turn these conventions inside out. Conceptual Writing rarely “looks” like poetry and uses its own subjectivity to construct a linguistic machine that words may be poured into; it cares little for the outcome. Flarf is hilarious. Conceptual Writing is dry.

During my stay in Tucson and after, I wrote a series of posts about my experiences there and my attempts to understand this kind of poetry better which you can find at the end of this post.

In Tucson, I met many of the poets Goldsmith mentions in his essay and pdf or features in this issue, including LA poet, Vanessa Place who wrote the poem below. (Please note: I am struggling to get the stanza breaks to “stick;” you may choose to read and view the poem Miss Scarlett here.)

Miss Scarlett

by Vanessa Place

Miss Scarlett, effen we kain git de doctah
w’en Miss Melly’s time come, doan you bodder
Ah kin manage. Ah knows all ’bout birthin.
Ain’ mah ma a midwife? Ain’ she raise me
ter be a midwife, too? Jes’ you leave it
ter me. She warn’t dar. Well’m, Dey Cookie say
Miss Meade done got wud early dis mawnin’
dat young Mist’ Phil done been shot an’ Miss Meade
she tuck de cah’ige an’ Ole Talbot an’
Besty an’ dey done gone ter fotch him home.
Cookie say he bad hurt an’ Miss Meade ain’
gwin ter be studyin’ ’bout comin’ up
hyah. Dey ain’ dar, Miss Scarlett. Ah drapped in
ter pass time of de day wid Mammy on
mah way home.
Dey’s doen gone. House all locked up.
Spec dey’s at de horsepittle.
Miss Elsing ober at de horsepittle.
Dey Cookie ’lows a whole lot of wounded
sojers come in on de early train. Cookie fixin’
soup ter tek over dar. She say—Yas’m
Gawdlmighty, Miss Scarlett! De Yankees
ain’ at Tara, s dey? Gawdlmighty,
Miss Scarlett! Whut’ll dey do ter Maw?
Dey’s fightin’ at Jonesboro, Miss Scarlett!
Dey say our gempumus is gittin’ beat.
Oh, Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Whut’ll happen ter
Maw an’ Poke? Oh, Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Whut’ll happen
ter us effen de Yankees gits hyah? Oh,
Gawd—Ah ain’ nebber seed him, Miss Scarlett.
No’m, he ain’ at de horsepittle.
Miss Merriwether
an’ Miss Elsing ain’ dar needer.
A man he tole me de doctah down
by de car shed
wid the wounded
sojers jes’ come in frum Jonesboro, but
Miss Scarlett, Ah wuz sceered ter go down dar ter
de shed—dey’s folkses dyin’ down dar. Ah’s
sceered of daid folkses—Miss Scarlett, fo’ Gawd, Ah
couldn’ sceercely git one of dem ter read
yo’ note. Dey wukin’ in de horsepittle
lak dey all done gone crazy. One doctah
he say ter me, “Damn yo’ hide! Doan you come
roun’ hyah bodderi’ me ’bout babies w’en
we got a mess of men dyin’
hyah. Git some woman ter he’p you.” An’ den
Ah went aroun’ an’ about an’ ask fer news
lak you done tole me an’ dey all say “fightin’
at Jonesboro” an’ Ah—
Is her time nigh, Miss Scarlett?
Is de doctah come?
Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Miss Melly bad off!
Fo’ Gawd, Miss Scarlett—
Fo’ Gawd, Miss Scarlett!
We’s got ter have a doctah.
Ah—Ah—
Miss Scarlett,
Ah doan know nutin’ ‘bout bringin’ babies.

NOTES: Taken from Prissy’s famous scene in the movie version of Gone with the Wind, Place phonetically transcribes the “unreliable” slave’s words, which are then set in Miltonic couplets. Through the simple act of transcription, Place inverts our relationship to Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling and beloved American epic by prioritizing the formal aspects of language over Mitchell’s famous narrative. With this deconstructive move, Place illuminates the many subtexts embedded in the text concerning plays of power, gender, race, and authorship. By ventriloquizing the slave’s voice as well as Mitchell’s, Place also sets into motion a nexus of questions regarding authorship, leading one to wonder: who is pulling whose strings?

Source: Poetry (July/August 2009).

POET

Vanessa Place

Vanessa  PlaceVanessa Place is a writer, lawyer, and co-director of Les Figues Press.

Below are links to posts I wrote about the Conceptual Poetry Symposium in Tucson last June.

Conceptual Poetry Conference: now on-line

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Conceptual Poetry Conference: a poem w/constraint pt 1 (Days 1&2)

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

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