In my recent online travels, I met a poet who, when I asked him what kind of writing he did, he exclaimed, “I write Flarf.”
“Flarf?” I asked, thinking it sounded more like a marshmallow spread than a form of poetry.
Flarf, it turns out, is a recent newcomer to the world of poetry since it began in the 21st Century. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flarf_poetry
I got a link to some of his poems, and boy did I have questions. First and foremost, I wasn’t sure what the poem “meant.” I read his most recent poem Body at War with Work (it’s really long!) and then re-read sections of it, then re-read them again, and my head was spinning.
When I asked Rick what his poem meant, he said he couldn’t summarize his poem or its meaning.
So Flarf is a kind of anti-meaning poetry, where random bits of information (from internet searches, snips from emails, or other data detritus) are used to riff the flarf-poem.
To quote Rick here, (for a guy who ascribes no specific meaning to his work, he sure is eloquent when it comes to describing the experience he is creating):
Rub any two words together and anyone who reads them, including the author, is gonna impose some meaning on them, sure. That doesn’t require that there be intentional, specific meaning encoded in the work. Not at all. No road maps for sale here. I have no idea what Chopin meant when he strung those specifically selected, meticulously arranged notes together buI I know how it makes me feel when I hear it. Jackson Pollock slung paint with a stick. What do those strafed canvases “mean”? Who knows? Same thing. In conventional poetry the words are slaves to the narrative, they’re just utilitarian signifiers telling you ANOTHER story. Language Poetry showed us that the words, like musical notes or splashes of nonreferential paint, should or could BE the experience rather than tell you a story about some other experience.
Rick has inspired me to explore Flarf – from a reading standpoint – not writing. But as writers are always influencing one another (or at least that’s how it’s worked for me) it makes me think about the deeper meanings we attempt to convey in our work.
Each of my stories has an intent behind it, some more lofty than others. Whether or not the reader receives the intended message(s) or not is a matter of speculation. And if they don’t receive the full message I intended, does that make their reading any less pleasurable, or meaningful for them? I don’t think so.
What do you think about the meaning of your work? Would you be content if no one understood what you intended to write, but enjoyed whatever meaning they brought to the text?
Everything is a matter of interpretation, after all, isn’t it?
And if it is all a matter of interpretation, where does precision in language fit into that concept?
The comments section is open and ready for your thoughts, diatribes, missionary zeal, and flarf-ist flarfings, friends……..