May 17, 2006

Flarf Poetry

Flarf Poetry

“Flarf” is a collage-based method which employs Google searches, specifically the partial quotes which Google “captures” from websites. In its early manifestations it was VERY whimsical and went something like this: you search Google for 2 disparate terms, like “anarchy + tuna melt” – using only the quotes captured by Google (never the actual websites themselves) you stitch words, phrases, clauses, sentences together to create poems. To me, it’s interesting for a number of reasons — its collaborative texture, its anthropological implications (the sampling of an enormous variety of public speech based on a single word or phrase shared in common), its comic (not to say unserious) frame.

Mike Magee, Flarf, The Flarf Files

Here’s Flarf poet Chickee Chickston pulling from Google hits to roast mainstream poet Mary Oliver.

My Mary Oliver

My Mary Oliver has three stomachs:

greater omentum, peritoneum, and kitty cat tummy.

My Mary Oliver dines in plaid.

Shiny misgivings notwithstanding, her words are even more true in French.

My Mary Oliver loves the smell of barf.

It’s true—barf!

My Mary Oliver doesn’t want to be bartered with.

She’s seen The Price is Right.

My Mary Oliver resists verbage.

She knows where it leads

My Mary Oliver knows who black people are.

Chickee Chickston, as published in Jacket 30, Jacket Magazine, July 2006

My reaction to the flarf collective was both subtle and surprising…I have not deleted wholesale my email spam collection, but weeded through to save the most interesting: “She wants a better sex???; from Rosalyn Roach: “Her face was darkening. bong salesgirl confucianism frayed aseptic???; from Donn Jewell: “She had locked it, but he believed he might be able to unlock it. collagen???…Other examples of collage… like Joseph Cornell’s boxes, inspire no magpie tendencies in me. Why, then, does the spam and google “debased language??? experiment of the flarf collective seem more accessible as a copiable model?

Krista Ingebretson, in an email to Open Source, 5/16/06

Fridge Flarf [tess s. / Flickr]

Flarf uses the Internet — our Internet — as palette and paint, and its base, scattered sentiments reflect our own. Poets in the Flarf Collective take a random core sample of the Internet strata and work it into poetry. You can do it too: unlock your spam filters for fifteen minutes or Google any phrase. As Flarf forerunner Mike Magee says, “the poems can seem positively juvenile and silly. But this to me is not at all to its detriment — sometimes it’s a scorchingly ironic silliness, sometimes a frantic post-9/11 silliness or a wonderful gender-bending silliness, like Carla Harryman meets Bugs Bunny.”

Reading the history and context of Flarf immediately reminded me of Dada and Dadaist Poetry. Dada poets during public performances of their poetry would sometimes draw words from a hat and read them as poetry in that random order. Dada was concerned with randomness as a window to the subconscious…Flarf, then, uses Google as the hat from which they draw the words, as a window to the collective subconscious, if there is such a thing.

Natalie Stanchfield, Flarf, Flarfy Dada, 4/18/06

Related Content

  • I did a little piece on flarf on my blog and I still don’t understand it, but I’m totally facinated by it. But here’s my question: how can you recognize good flarf? Is good flarf in the eye of the beholder?

    One of my favorite flarf poems is Tarzan Workshop, featured in Jacket magazine.

    Flarf is junk food for the poetry soul. It’s my guilty pleasure.

  • CrackWilding

    This might be a bit off-topic, but here’s something I found recently that lies at the intersection of poetry and technology (and God knows there isn’t much there) — there’s a website called QuickMuse ( that invites poets to improvise on a topic for fifteen minutes. The results are stored and can be played back as they originally unfolded. You have to take a look to fully understand, but it’s pretty neat, and the poets are top-notch — Paul Muldoon and Thylias Moss were recent participants, and rumor has it that Robert Pinsky is due up at the end of the month.

  • thomas

    This is a test: