Flarf – poetry in the Google age

Recently I attended a conference on search engines where I stumbled across the poetry movement Flarf.

Flarf is poetry made from a cut-up technique using Google search results. Poets search the Internet for random and unusual terms like ”deer head” or ” Jake Gyllenhaal’s Dog”. Flarf poets take today’s society as it presents itself, and give it back to us; abstracted, enlarged and ridiculed.

Poetry magazine dedicated one of their latest issues to flarf. The issues’ editor Kenneth Goldsmith writes the following in his introduction to the 21st Century’s most controversial poetry movements:

”This new poetry wears its sincerity on its sleeve . . . yet no one means a word of it. Come to think of it, no one’s really written a word of it. It’s been grabbed, cut, pasted, processed, machined, honed, flattened, repurposed, regurgitated, and reframed from the great mass of free-floating language out there just begging to be turned into poetry”.

Is Flarf just the inevitable transformation of poetry in the age of user-generated, cut-and-paste and remixed culture of the Internet? Is it poetry for the people by the people? In a world in excess of and overwhelmed with words, maybe recycling these words is just the right strategy.

”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.” In keeping with Goldsmith I searched Google myself and gave Flarf a try. Here is my own Flarf poem for the search term “Existentialism of a Sea Lion”.

The compact skin of a sea lion

Hungry, fierce, lonesome, God-forsaken

At most he tolerates the level sea

Existentialists say that the smallest,

Most absurd, even basic, actions are leading us to our meaning

But the inner lion destroys the values of the dragon

His oily, callous, headstrong look

Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon?

I especially like novels about what I call ‘the existential problem’

Of the hard and compact skin of a sea lion

The body is merely a series of readjustments

It is pointed out that Hemingway has great respect for the lion

As an animal that meets death with dignity

But if you cross over the sea

It looks as if someone’s totally misunderstood the concept of “sea lion”

Two days later another story surfaced, this time of a sea lion

The anxiety of existence

I hope I have given a good overview of the existentialist themes

Of that oily, horny, stubborn look

And the compact skin of a sea lion

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