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.)
by Vanessa Place
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?
Vanessa 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.
Friday, June 13th, 2008
Thursday, June 5th, 2008
Wednesday, June 4th, 2008
Monday, June 2nd, 2008
Monday, June 2nd, 2008
Sunday, June 1st, 2008
Saturday, May 31st, 2008