Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Spam, Poetry ... and Flarf

The Spam Poet has been quite for a few days, probably dreaming up a new algorithm. This is the most recent of the messages I've received:

Get Back to Me Please

Would body seven finish, she his. Let crop, arm allow, or all,
earth. Main type have. Car yard high car laugh spell, but. Go
loud, colony town. Are work house. Out I create. Type deep mind
baby rock think possible. Hope some heat.

"Hope some heat", indeed; it's in the 20s tonight.

Ron Silliman pointed out in a comment to the original post that
"Canadian poet Rob Read is publishing (via email of course, tho a print volume is now available as well) a poem each day composed from, as he puts it, 'treated spam'." The book is O Spam Poams, and Ron had a nice post up on it back in December.

Here's one of the poems, er, poams from the book, as Ron quotes it:

subject: DISCOUNT BRAND CIGARETTES

DISCOUNT BRAND CIGARETTES
is the way out

Fleeing:
Harim catanzaro bemyfriend:
Navas lupus adelphi eatathome graftFriction:
Passover robgeider sap campervan

SSince I hhad no moonney,,
and I didnn’t ffeeell liikke scrounging in garbage
I wwiished the sunn
would set sso I could ffalll asleep aand forget
hunger.. And maybe
wheen I woke upp,
I’d be outt of this crazy dream.

Now that I've dug a little further (ah, the doldrums of winter), I've come across an article by Jordan Davis published in the Village Voice way back in August, 2004, that discusses the poetry of spam, and flarf as well. Flarf? Go read the article. Davis discusses it after he cites the procedure K. Silem Mohammad developed for his 2003 collection Deer Head Nation :

You've heard of (and maybe even achieved) Googlewhack, the game where you come up with a two-word Google search query yielding exactly one result. In Deer Head Nation, Mohammad's game is to put together a string of words that will yield socially stupefying results; he succeeds time after time. His secret? Just add "deer head":

if the deer are all armored like that

you may of hit the nail on the head

giant oil companies behind this

Bush scared me, because he always

sniffs at the air like a deer

("Not a War Blog")

The deer heads keep coming, sometimes accompanied by Guns N' Roses T-shirts, always unnerving. As they inventory his trophies, Mohammad's poems recall Allen Ginsberg's noun-and-adjective clusters in "Howl" and "Wichita Vortex Sutra," which, come to think of it, anticipate spam subject lines. Given that the head of the NEA is reputed to be the man behind the legendary Kool-Aid Man campaign, these may turn out to be the poems the age is seeking.

Mohammad hasn't been Googling his poems in a vortex. With Sullivan, Gordon, Drew Gardner, Katie Degentesh, Michael Magee, and others, he's a prominent member of the Flarf collective, an informal e-mail alliance the motto of which might be "Worst thought, best thought." Flarf is defined by Sullivan as "a kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying, awfulness. Wrong. Un-P.C. Out of control. 'Not okay.' "

Flarf began in 2000 or 2001 when Sullivan entered a deliberately offensive poem in a scam poetry contest. ("I got fire inside/my "huppa"-chimp(TM)" is, possibly, the only quotable passage.) From id-stoked overhearings more than a little derivative of Bruce Andrews's "I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up" ("If pods could talk—so, how/about a sperm-a-thon?"), the movement made the switch from finding to seeking when Gardner (Sugar Pill) went to Google to see what the deliberately misspelled "Rogain bunny" search would yield. Gardner explains: "If you have a Googled/cut up poem that still has most of its social filters set too high, it may be interesting poetry but it's probably not flarfy."

Magee's small-press magazine Combo broke the flarf story first, in early 2003. A significant finding in that issue, currently required reading for Charles Bernstein's literature students at the University of Pennsylvania, is that Google searches on the phrase "aw yeah" yield more socially acceptable results as the number of w's in "aw" increases.

So ... perhaps our spam Poet is a refugee from the Flarf collective. Or a fugitive. Clearly, futher investigations (and some Googling) are in order.

Developing ...

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