Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Taking Poetry Seriously

"Decadence" comes from the Latin for "falling apart."


Is "flarf" like the following:

The farmer in the dell
The farmer in the dell
Ox chip gastrology
The farmer in the dell

The farmer takes a wife
The farmer takes a wife
Pupa reconnaissance
The farmer takes a wife

mere gallows humor?

Or have we not progressed in nearly a hundred years beyond Gertrude Stein?

That's right, flarfy folks--what you're doing was tried and tired way back in 1910. Note: it wasn't very interesting then, either.

It seems at least honest to me that many writers of free verse are gladly unlining their work--the current obsession with "prose poetry"--but when your work is (apologies to the Nepotist, for whom I have only the highest regard) best characterized as disjointed or wholly derivative (see the above "Farmer in the Dell" riff), in what way are you a poet?

I would prattle on about how poetry is a craft but that's not the point, actually.

The point is that poetry is not just the sound of words.

Nor is it just the juxtaposition of images.

The former is music and the latter is figurative language. The two by themselves do not create poetry.

Ah, but you say, they dooo--anything artsy is really "a poem."


Our problem is that, inbred like royalty, we've lost all notion of perspective--instead of improving ourselves, we've taken on the affects of our most deformed relations--in the Spanish Court it resulted in the comical and delightfully kooky Cathtillian lithp. In poetry it's given us flarf and prose poetry and a host of other garbled crap.

And the garbled crap would be delightful if it weren't so pervasive--if it weren't lauded as an Emperor of invisible cloth. Admit you don't know what the hell you're doing--that you're just having fun and maybe that twitch in my eye will go away.

But people want to have serious discussions about the merit of reconstructed Shakespearean Sonnets. These things get anthologized and taught to kids who think--this is poetry? Fuck this shit.

And that's why I'm writing--not in a tawdry "won't someone think of the children" way but in a "let's think past our own noses" way.

When you write, imagine a non-poet reading your work. Hell, imagine a beginning reader reading your work--or someone who has never seen a poem. Your poem is the only poem they will ever see.

What message, what history does it transmit?

Or rather,

If your poem had to carry the weight of poetry, could it?


Anonymous said...

Thank God someone has the courage to post this opinion on the internet! And for teaching us the true nature of poetry.

There are so few poets out there willing to say what they really feel about Flarf because Flarfists have all the power now in poetry. Who can stop them?

Don't back down! If the Flarfists get around to discovering Stein (if they ever do- I'm sure they don't really read any poetry- or if they do, not deeply) they're going to be so embarrassed!


G. M. Palmer said...


Thanks for the encouragement. Glad to have you here, even if anonymously.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Anonymous: I just don't get the massive amount of power flarf seems to wield these days ... the FRONT PAGE OF THE WALL STREET JOURNAL?? Profiles in Poets and Writers AND on National Public Radio (& my taxes paid for that)? A reading at the WHITNEY?? What's next: a review in the Times?? If that happens ... well, I just don't know what.

G. M. Palmer said...

If you'll read my old post linked on the right regarding US poetry sales you'll begin to see why.

The money/power in poetry comes not from book sales or even readership but from grants and tenure.

Because these were awarded to the more activist groups beginning in the 1960s (and exploding with the language========= poets) talent in poetry was taken out of the equation.

To some extent this is currently being ameliorated but many of the folks who are "new formalists" write poor poetry because they are too obsessed with metrics--and even then they are tied into the pork money machine because there's no longer any official vehicle for getting poetry to the people.

Kirby Olson said...

I think they get on the boards and just award the monies to their in-group friends. A couple of years ago the New York Foundation for the Arts awarded all the money for poets (7000 dollars to about 14 poets) entirely to a group of poets in Brooklyn.

I think that's the norm.

I'm not sure why that's the norm.

It seems abnormal for a discipline that purports to be about moral norms.

Kirby Olson said...

All the weight of poetry on one poem? Even one poet? One journal?

I recently got a short story in this journal, Ampersand, and wondered what you'd make of it. It's published in florida very near where you live: