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Story Avoidance or Tell Me Another One?

How can we remake the narrative of a poem and poet so that it isn’t a case of structurally “subject acts on an object?”

Subject Verb Object is pervasive. Even in languages with different or flexible word order, our thought structure says in life and meaning and poem
a) there must be agency in the form of subject
b) there must be action or a state of being which is action of living
c) there’s an object wherein that action must have an outcome large or small.

What if one of these things is not necessary? How would we get ourselves out of the dramatic frame of mind that project constellations onto stars?


Can vispo be a route hermetically seal us away from culture and the habit of narrative arc?

Letter forms or phonemes in isolation like specimens studied under glass, scientific isolation apart from behavior or context.

  • What is the form saying?
  • What is the botany of a serif?
  • What is the natural range and co-species in the ecology of the non-seriffed h?
  • Is the non-finial nature of j indicative of anything?
  • If we alter that, does anything significant and unexpected change in the natural selection of syllables available to hunt?


I don’t know what I’m doing but that’s no prevention nor cure. Not knowing what you’re doing on a sub-text level, doesn’t prevent the sub-text from being spread thru your words and doesn’t take away culpability and excuse agency in the bigger system you are building.

Todd Swift’s essay on poetry and world politics goes 23 pages deep into response and responsibility of a poet to news. He surveys what poets have said, Auden, Wallace Stevens, and Adrienne Rich. He relates how Tom Paulin feels, that poetry is never about the ostensible subject anyway so there’s no need to sully a poem for being about contemporary news on the basis of subject. Rich says

I know I learned two things from [Yeats‟] poetry, and those two things were
at war with each other. One was that poetry can be “about”, can root itself in, politics.

Even if it is a defence of privilege, even if it deplores political rebellion and
revolution, it can, may have to, account for itself politically, consciously situate
itself amid political conditions, without sacrificing intensity of language.
– Adrienne Rich, Blood, Bread and Poetry: The Location of the Poet (1986)

[More by Swift at AngelHouse Press Essays]

If poetry is by nature moving and potent, why should it be proven against petals rather than for social change? The Peace Rally last month brought poets forward with protests against weaponry. (Vids there of speeches and poems.)

Knowing what you want to do on a sub-text level doesn’t mean you can direct it.

Can silence or speech be a good deed for a day? Preventing one meaning isn’t so much a finger in a dike as pressing your finger to prevent water from moving against a submerged shell.


Can anti-meaning really be meaning-avoidant? What does it signify it to write only about dew drops on a flower? To use humour or never stray from earnest? Or to make patterns with letters with no intended meanings?

What effect does it have on the writer to choose a path of asserting what is right and model healthy world-forming word behavior versus to call out damaging behavior?

If you want uptake is it better to be subtle or blunt, oblique or talk thru parable?

If silence is brutality, what is compassion when somewhere there’s a death, a bomb, a protester, an injustice?

Are poets to be storm chasers? Wouldn’t that say that the only thing worth attending to is big picture or big picture thru small picture? Does it matter what any individual thinks, says or does? It all matters.


What is it to not tell a story? Reactionary, away from the media and mind’s relentless insistence on their narrative heroic story arc. It’s a rebellion form the propaganda and a refusal to engage in the construction of myths of the moment. Can you step outside of construction?


Can art and self and culture be separated? Some take automatic writing to machine macros generating flarf or spam as being poetry. It is towards the clockmaker view of creator where it is wound up and goes. Some works and generates more of the same, and some fails. There is no intention to make the success but it happens. Sometimes what should work, by chance, is obstructed from generating more. This poetry made of shape and sound rather than story still might ride the roller coaster the way music can, setting up tension and release, suspense and surprise but it disrupt the cliche expectations.

Rather than a model of poet as god of close micromanager or small things, every gnat on the sparrow’s feather attended to, the clockmaker just tinkers and that’s enough.

The lyrical poetry makes a romantic personal universe where things connect. Objects and animals are there to used to tell about self, anthropomorphize into models of self. The bottom line becomes self-serving, a sort of sycophant planted chorus. This is tiring. All things get directed thru therapy or lesson.

An alt reality of randomness says it is ok for things to not connect. Disjuncture is not as bitter stab at revolution, or to annoy the reader, but a gesture of acceptance of observing some things with an equal hand.

Some give a nod to dadaism as nonsense out and out as the only logical response to political social nonsense. Others are just admiring the purity of form the way painters would. Creating symmetry is an act of meaning. Refusing to create symmetry is a meaningful act as well for creator and viewer. Refusal to use all the oratorial gambits for good propaganda is to lay a different set of choices out for self and audience. It doesn’t coyly bait the reader/viewer listener. It can be a conversation without the sales pitch for ideology incoming. No right-cross punchline. So it’s flat sometimes. Ironic, jaded, absurd, comic, or noise pattern with nothing presented and nothing to pull from it. Why should everything serve story?


Hugh Waterhouse said, “my opinion, subject to all of my prejudices and ignorance, and may be safely discarded without damaging the writing ecosystem.”

It is all an interconnected system, writing and life and cultures. Is communicating the subject and angle, omissions and inclusions, innocuous or dangerous or transformative? Is silence complicit and cooperatively promoting or smothering while relegating as best ignored? Is what is talked about creating a telling negative space that is conspicuous, the silence acting like arrows pointing at something else?

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7 Responses

  1. I think everyone actually deals in partial order,
    on a continuum. A nursery rhyme is dull, but
    random words are obviously pointless, too. You
    need surprise to make decent prose, and you
    need a theme to keep anti-sense from seeming
    like a scissor job. Like with art: I could spit
    creamed corn onto paper, but chances are
    only a tiny percentage would do cool things.
    Looking at Pollock from 4 inches away,
    though, there is lively thematic action.
    The material is speaking..I discover the order
    in the disorder. Normal rendering with bizarre
    thematics is ‘surreal’. Flarfing began as
    insets of disorder into intensely ordered
    stuff…as parody. Ashbury is often like a
    series if highly polite and urbane phrases
    that lead you into some bizarre place. The
    contrast, again.
    The order is the straightman of the joke.
    The zone between order and
    chaos seems like where creation happens…

  2. I was surprised by Pollack in person. I should go witness one again.

    for parody we need people who don’t “get it”, the literalists, yes. I suppose the flarfists who don’t realize it is humour then become the straightmen for the traditionalists who then spoof. the problem comes when one gets mad at the other side and stomps off preventing the humour from ever breaking.

    >you need a theme to keep anti-sense from seeming like a scissor job.

    yes, and you need anti-sense to keep a theme from seeming like a scissor job of cliches too.

  3. There are some famous pieces that
    began flarf, like the praying hands
    changed to…well, something else, heh..
    Most of their early history was chasing
    down intensely official documentation
    and doing some whimsy and mayhem
    on it. Good fun. It’s a moving target now
    though…has been compared to
    katamari damancy. There is that
    ‘mad-lib’ core.

    pure thematics = country music

    I was thinking of the ‘story’ need..
    a lot of the ‘list-type’ poems don’t have
    any story. Many of them gravitate to
    an attitude or theme, but it’s generally
    quirk-by-quirk surprises.

  4. You know a lot about this. tell me here or there as much as you know. :)

    >quirk-by-quirk surprises.
    that puts a finger on something. like standup that does one line, pause, non-sequiturs firing on with no shape. the stories are all mini. yet I like haiku which are much the same time-shape.

    PearlJuly 5, 2010 @ 5:01 pm
  5. Amy King was tiffing with a Flarf founder
    about “how come I can’t be qualified as Flarf”..
    I learned a lot there..lemme rummage.
    Actually, why wasn’t Jennifer L. Knox
    (ie, Gringo Like Me, etc: ‘conceit’ poetry that
    satirizes white trash) Flarf:
    Here it is:

    Of course, the core of it was ‘cut ups’,
    almost exactly like ‘mad-libs’,
    as Angels Genusa points out.
    Anegula is a political protest collage
    outrageist (near as I can figure, when I
    can)..amazing stuff (not Flarf, though..).

    But Jennifer is flat-out parody a lot of the time.
    Funnier than most Flarf to me, anyway.
    Ada Limon did a clever riff on a small town
    in a similar vein. Amy is surrealist. That’s actually rare, and more challenging for others
    to follow.

    A Semiotic view sort of locates things…
    You have words, phrases, sentence, scene, POV, theme, story, narratives, etc..
    (my comments on Amy’s blog are
    not well-informed at the time)..

    Flarf (classic more than ‘bandwagon’) is
    riffing on things, but it started out as tearing
    down down “narratives” (the grand collection
    of language around in issue, like the
    “patriarchal narrative” or “feminist narrative”
    or “communist narrative” or “fundamentalist
    narrative” etc..)… at the >>WORD<< level.
    A flarfist demonstrated this to Amy with
    the infamous "Grandma's Labia", which
    slashes into the Fundamentalist
    "Praying Hands" talisman with a quick
    substitution of the lower lips for the hands..
    (riffing off Bill Whither's Grandma's Hands")
    to wit:

    The original lit. that was hacked was a US
    country/western sentimental meme-storm
    piece. Amy was a bit miffed but the sardonics
    get complex if you don't look out.
    Before that, they hacked up corp. policies,
    etc… narratives disrupted by snarky langpo.
    So…the heritage was icconoclastic, and
    used the simplest signalling element
    (a word or two) to cause mayhem at the
    highest semiotic level (the narrative).

    It's probably more muddled now…..
    but that's the interesting bit..
    It will probably become more dire now,
    but the scheme was both simple and
    complex. Finding the right target to lay
    low with a subtle twist of language was a
    challenge. I can't keep track recently..
    now that it's all gloried up, who knows
    how much of the spirit remains.

  6. The part where
    Amy, Gary, Shanna
    get together and get along after:

    There is even a cool little piece where
    Amy’s ‘cheeto hurts’ (in her style)…

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