Brian Spears

Poet, Editor, Teacher, Blogger.

A Quiz: Vogon Poetry or Flarf

My last post talked about the Vogon Poetry app for the iPhone. Vogon poetry, if you’re familiar with The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is considered the third-worst poetry in the universe. Flarf has come to be known–by one definition anyway–as intentionally bad poetry.

Flarf got the main(stream) stage this month with its inclusion in Poetry alongside conceptual writing and Poetry‘s regular fare, and when reading it, I saw what I thought were some similarities between Flarf and Vogon poetry. The idea of this post is to put some bits of flarf next to some bits of Vogon and see if people (the eight or so who wander by here) can tell which is which. After all, I’ve paid for both the app and the subscription–I ought to try to get something out of it. Answers will be at the end of the post.

1. And down by the crying orchid
I impregnated death’s brain
Under the hut of the horn:
a candor has no chugging.

2. An apple on my ninja.
Alas! Yet I destructed. I vowed.
If a towel is harmless, can a gravy be extinct?
It was only reading from soy to soup.

3. Glitter is the Swiss Army knife
of the most bedazzlingly ridiculous
emotions: the part just before
the paranoid cheese-maker says,

“Whatever you do in Palm Springs,
don’t yodel”

4. Thanks, puncture, for tumbling the reason,
I get to win for another look.
Who was more not particularly good
on that moist mistake?
You who is slurping, or me who ponders you?

5. April 22 is a nice day. I really like it.
I mean it’s not as fantastic as that Hitler
unicorn ass but it’s pretty special to me.
CREAMING bald eagle there is a tiny Abe
Lincoln boxing a tiny Hitler. MAGIC UNICORNS

6. The 4th quarter gets pretty intense and the announcers are usually trying to figure out who is going to become overwhelmed by their own arrogant nightmares. It would upset the stomach of the balance of nature. I always go red over the stupidest things and I have no clue why. Whether it’s speaking in front of the class or someone asking me why I think I have the right to say anything.

7. O limp steam,
my creative Mainframes to me, and to all sofas–
Are as an informational
Upon positive hermits; turned, moistly.

And scantily and snootily the filth constructed
Evervate where the hermits restrain
Round an asteroid there tortuously,
The knuckle of candor.

The Vogon poems are constructed by the app, which claims that no two poems are alike. I don’t know what algorithms are being used to ensure that, though in some of the examples I didn’t include, the program uses nonsense words similar to the kind Douglas Adams used in The Hitchiker’s Guide. A linguist could probably give you details about the way those words are built–all I can tell you is that they sound similar. My point is that those words are undoubtedly part of the process to ensure difference in the poems. But overall, the poems tend to read like a Mad Lib combined with a random word generator.

So there’s certainly some difference in the construction of the Vogon poems as opposed to Flarf, but what about the finished product? Both are intentionally bad. Does that make Vogon poetry a machine-built Flarf? Does the generator get recognition as the poet or does the programmer? I’m not a Flarfist so I’m not going to speak for them, but it does seem like it’s a question worth discussing.

By the way, the answers, for those of you who haven’t seen the very limited selection of Flarf that Poetry published, are 1,2,4, and 7 are Vogon and 3,5 and 6 are Flarf.

June 30, 2009 Posted by | flarf, Vogon Poetry | 1 Comment

Vogon Poetry

I dare say I’m not the only iPhone owner who’s also a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–the book, not the film. Smartphones in general seem to be turning into the technology Douglas Adams envisioned all those years ago, and while they may not (yet) provide you with an introduction to Eccentrica Gallumbits of Eroticon Six, they can provide something infinitely more bothersome. Vogon Poetry.

I dropped the three bucks for this app last night, mainly because I saw it and figured, “eh, three bucks.” That’s a coffee in a lot of places. And it gave me this in return.

Eternity, spark, and morass — the code of the oracle:
To ruefully plummet, or at least salivate enormously with SUGARS,
Don’t suppress my lagoon!
Don’t get my leviathan dreamed of!

The tyrant’s asteroids are hard,
And mucus is like the yellow liquor;
The mainsheets are become ascended, the vow is impersonated by a pickings:
May’st it yet theorize the cold eye-patch.

RABBITS are brawny, hooks are red.
On either delight the pillar breaks cleverly;
monastic pilots of field and of spatter
That endures the cutter and maroons the scallywag;
And through the narwhal the sailor goes by
To ruefully-gaff rigginged document;

Ostensibly and wickedly went the treasure,
risible galaxies and depressed ropes for to pull,
fomenting me with me a most pink captain, well!
Hard, sane mirage!!! That’s what a liquid’s life is about! Phooey!

And haltingly and surreptitiously the driftwood ambled.
Pull where the destructors keelhaul
Round a donation there externally,
The mongrel of faith.

Or that the limes, the supernovae of old
Could but follow their cuttlefishes;
And peculiar in the drunk-CONSTRUCTED cuttlefish
They remain as they were, breathtaking and sadistic.

The app gives you eight different modes to choose from, and promises no two poems will ever be the same. They could be lying, I guess–after all, who could read enough Vogon poetry to challenge the claim?

Crossposted to The Rumpus

June 20, 2009 Posted by | smartphones, The Rumpus, Vogon Poetry | Leave a comment

On Poetry Reviews

I like Don Share’s take on the issue of poetry reviews mostly because he doesn’t try to stake out a “my way is the only way to look at this” position. That appeals to me populist side.

I’m not advocating weeding out the bad from the good in poetry or in anything else; my good is your bad, and vice versa. But one has to know the physiology nonetheless. That’s my point, and in fact I’ve argued elsewhere for the great and enduring value of very bad poetry (which I read in enormous quantities). But I think there’s much to assent to in Joel’s remarks, particularly with regard to “civil society,” which does seem to be vanishing (like sherry-drinking and dressing gowns)… assuming it ever existed, that is.

As I’ve written here before, I try to stay away from “good” and “bad” when it comes to poetry. I talk more about what I like and what I dislike, what moves me and what doesn’t, what I’m able to communicate with and what I feel sealed off from, but I don’t like making value judgments about poetry in general because tastes vary, and what I find cold and hermetic may seem vibrant and inclusive to another reader.

When it comes to reviews, I approach the matter from two very different perspectives. When I’m writing a review, I stick with stuff I appreciate. I’m one of those people who will pass on doing a review before writing a negative one. I understand the criticism of taking such a stand, and I’ll take the hit, I guess, but I’m not willing to hit another poet for doing something with language that doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather spend my time and effort pointing out poets who are doing stuff I find interesting, who appeal to my aesthetic, who I can communicate with in new and interesting ways. I’m just not a basher when it comes to artistic matters–the number of people who read poetry is already small enough without turning more people off by being dicks to each other.

As Poetry Editor of The Rumpus, though, I have a different approach. For starters, I’m willing to talk to anyone who wants to write a review for me. I won’t promise publication, but I’ll definitely take a look at your style and see if it fits our mode. If you look at the poetry reviews we’ve published over the last few months, you’ll find that they’re largely positive, and even the ones that are less so point out something positive in the writing. I haven’t published a completely negative review (though I haven’t really been faced with the possibility yet), but I’m not completely opposed to doing it, as long as I feel the review approaches the work honestly and as long as I don’t think the reviewer is looking to settle an old score or make it a hate letter. That’s a fine line, and I’m sure that at some point I’ll publish a review that does just that, and then I’ll feel the need to apologize for it. That’s the editor’s life, though, unless you’re only going to publish love letters.

The big challenge for me so far has been making sure that my reviews reflect the diversity of voices in the poetry world, and while I’ve been trying, I won’t say that I’ve succeeded. I’d like to have more women reviewing for me, as well as people of color, and I’d love to have more books by women and people of color reviewed here. That challenge has made me reach out to communities I’d neglected to in recent years, much to my own loss, and I’ve really enjoyed both the poets I’ve discovered and the communication I’ve had with them as a result.

I’m also trying to get reviews of and by people whose aesthetic I don’t share, because the last thing I want The Rumpus to be known for is a single, limited set of voices. I’d love to publish advocates for poetry I don’t get, because I’d like to get what they’re doing, and I work from the assumption that the problem is mine, and not the poet’s.

June 6, 2009 Posted by | Don Share, Harriet, poetry reviews, The Rumpus | Leave a comment