Where 23 Poets Float the Amazon

In spite of globalization, there are still places around the globe that hold backpedal Relentlessmystery: kelp forests and cold seeps; K2 and Dante’s View; shopping malls and Amazon. Often, poetry provides a key to these mysteries. We might not visit these places were it not for the pull of poetry. To relent is to unfold, to let the sheep go. A river dissolves stone with patience. Like the rest of nature, poetry must swim upstream against that relentlessness.

“Relentless by Jeff Bezos” is a 29 page, electronic chapbook of 22 poems written by an assortment of poets[1]. Its primary trope is the meme of the startup, a trickle of an idea that with flash flood funding grows to a river that overflows its banks. The ideal business venture is one that makes only money, as the raw material of a river is only snow. But a poem needs more than words if it’s going to rub rocks smooth.

The poems in “Relentless by Jeff Bezos” are satirical, some with a flair for flarf, but some following traditional and referential forms. An example of a lyrical poem that alludes to a different kind of river, and a different kind of poetry, is “Jeff Bezos names Amazon,” by Leontia Flynn. Here, Langston Hughes’s lyrically serious “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” provides a bed for the new, virtual river that will subsume all industrious souls.

An example of flarf technique is illustrated by the poem “My Peculiar Geography,” by Daniel Bosch, in which selected words from a Bezos bio via Wiki are juxtaposed with excerpts from Wiki’s entry for the Amazon River. But Bosch’s poem may not be a perfect example of flarf, because it contains too much meaning.

We find varying kinds and degrees of irony: the speaker is not the author; the reader hears something the speaker does not; a poem takes an unexpected course; the speaker takes the reader by surprise. The river is at flood stage. The language is colloquial, procedural, the poems witty, the forms eclectic, open or shaped with alternative design. The poems seem primarily playful, but purposeful, but if to the proposal the solution is poetry – well, the river is awfully wide.

Both the connotative and denotative meanings of Amazon have changed course: the river as depository; Poem on layaway; “Order by…”

Some flarf may seem gratuitous in a cynical attempt to avoid what Zizek calls “the temptation of meaning.”[2] Flarf is like a heckler at a poetry reading that begins with the warning no laughter aloud allowed. It gets harder and harder to shock anyone in a river full of piranhas. In any case, what effect, for example, from an f word following Lenny Bruce or the Nixon tapes? Water over the damned.

But maybe we don’t know what flarf means. Does flarf turn poetry into theory? Theory is where we learn there is no Santa Sentence Clause. In “There Is Authority In My Frozen Frosty by Jeff Bezos,” Sharon Mesmer repurposes Christopher Smart, avoiding any appearance of conservatism. The river becomes conceptual, flowing toward some future convention.

Tom Daley, in “Advice for My Critics,” rhymes red with bed but agenda with sender in three quatrains wrapping around the theme of business as usual. But the speaker does indeed respond to his critics, and Daley’s poem seems to speak to the other poems’ speakers. It’s a satirical rebuttal. Of course the opposition would use rhyme.

What is convention in a world with one river? Globalization. It’s a perfect day for flarf fish. Where are those flarf bags? But the river is both relentless and patient, and for every stream that flows into it, another branches off, as this June 21st, 2014 Economist article titled “Relentless.com” suggests.

Everybody’s stuff flows into one river. Eiríkur Örn Nordahl in “After Vito Acconi” uses the persuasive means of all caps where click here is the content: Click here to jump in the river and get some stuff.

Track your poem. Out for delivery. These are not the poems your parents purchased.

“Relentless by Jeff Bezos” is a kind of conceptual project around a protest poem idea prompt. Is Amazon a catastrophe, like the asteroid that turned the dinos to oil, or a miracle, where water is delivered by drones to thirsty cities? If poetry is to thrive, it might want to avoid, continuing Zizek’s logic, ideology. Ideology is a river with a monstrous rip that lulls and pulls listeners under.

In Andrea Cohen’s “No End,”

Peddlers are selling
silence in an empty

Come out of the river and read relentlessly for free and the freedom of poetry.

[1] “Relentless by Jeff Bezos.” Version 1.0 published December 2014 by Pendant Publishing, London, UK. Ebook, 29 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9928034-4-5. FREE. Download PDF. Poems by Russell Bennetts, Daniel Bosch, Andrea Cohen, Tom Daley, Katie Degentesh, Leontia Flynn, Benjamin Friedlander, Drew Gardner, Nada Gordon, Kirsten Kaschock, Rauan Klassnik, Daisy Lafarge, DW Lichtenberg, Sharon Mesmer, Teresa K. Miller, K. Silem Mohammad, Jess Mynes, Lance Newman, R.M. O’Brien, Eirikur Örn Norŏdahl, Joseph Spece, Ken Taylor and Laura A. Warman. Multiple choice cover design: Evan Johnston.

[2] Zizek explains how ideology mystifies causality in the “Ecology” segment of Astra Taylor’s “Examined Life.”

Flarf Factorial; or, Epiphany Needed

Flarf La La Laufen hahahaha Fralf
LaLaLaLa 1 Larf 2 Larff 3 Larfff 4 Larph
  BEGIN HERE to liss in n!
Once Onup a Clock Tick
Twice Up Ounce Town Down
Thrice Upoff a When Time
Always alotalotalot Tons Too Much
She Wore a RED Flarf Scarf
Reason rain falls in drops
please prod pre tense BeCase
We called the Epiphany Company
to order a new RING! TONE!
they wanted a they wanted a surcharge they wanted a surcharge for first time push button user for first time push button user surcharge for first time push button user
And No Flarf!
And No Flarf!
The hour of our notthefirst flarf ing
This space deliberately empty: PLEASE DO NOT FILL or loiter here        
Trust YouR Expectations R2 FLARFLY     FAR FLY
Hour glass is miss ing
Enter nananame & posswrd over twhere     Larlff Larflf
F L a R F all
L a a R F  l ing
THIS HAS BEEN A TEST OF THE FLARF SYSTEM HAD THIS BEEN A FALSE flarf, Well! You are advised to get an EPIPHANY. Get a haircute and a shive and empty the moot.        so-me(w)hat!

Back to the Futurism – What’s new in Poetryland: Flarf, Conceptual Writing, and Concrete Poetry

An Anthology of Concrete PoetryWe cross the border into Poetryland. At the crossing the guards confiscate our miner’s helmet and swim fins, and ask the purpose of our visit. On holiday, sightseeing, see what’s new, we reply.

We head to the old haunts, and what do we find? Flarf, a portmanteau word that identifies a poem created from electronic detritus, a collage of bits of the web, a kind of Webarf, and Conceptual Writing, a back to the Futurism replay of Concrete Poetry.

While neither new form appears all that new, the infusion of humor, anti-seriousness, and wordplay are welcome (we wish a Poem Painting or two had been included). But we’re not sure if Flarf is a poetry of the Web, if the Web has found its poetic form, “…poetry that is native to that environment, written with the intention of being read there” (Crain, 17 June 2008).

A fickle subscriber for some years, our renewed subscription just arrived, and we were delighted to learn of Flarf and Conceptual poetry (July/August 2009).

Welcome back! Where have you been? the waitress at the Refugio Café asks. At the point the tide is out and the waves shoulder into the cove.

Williams, E. (Ed.). (1967). An Anthology of Concrete Poetry. Something Else Press: New York.