"Patrick Herron, incidentally, along with Alan Sondheim, is the real originator of Flarf, though they seem to have been written out of the recent proto-histories. Just to mention that in passing."
- Kent Johnson, on K. Silem's {lime tree},
link: http://limetree.ksilem.com/archives/2006_01.html#000726

"As for Patrick Herron and Alan Sondheim being the originators of Flarf, that's a bizarre claim if I ever heard one, and I'm sure they would be the first ones to refute it. Gary Sullivan is the originator of Flarf, plain and simple. If Kent means that the work Patrick and Alan did prior to Flarf anticipated many of its elements and concerns, certainly. They're both artists I admire a great deal. There are lots of other poets that I (and Gary too, I'm sure) would acknowledge as Flarf influences in this regard as well, many of them dead for centuries."
- K. Silem Mohammad, {lime tree},
link: http://limetree.ksilem.com/archives/2006_01.html#000726

Patrick responds to the idea that the origins of Flarf are not so clearly or bizarrely absent from his past:

In a response to a post on Kasey Mohammad's blog "limetree" Kent Johnson
yesterday apparently raised an alarm about the origins of Flarf, giving
credit to me and Alan Sondheim thus subverting the official history of

Kasey responded to Kent, calling the claim absurd.

So I responded in the following lengthy way:

"As for Patrick Herron and Alan Sondheim being the originators of Flarf,
that's a bizarre claim if I ever heard one, and I'm sure they would be
the first ones to refute it. Gary Sullivan is the originator of Flarf,
plain and simple. If Kent means that the work Patrick and Alan did prior
to Flarf anticipated many of its elements and concerns, certainly.
They're both artists I admire a great deal. There are lots of other
poets that I (and Gary too, I'm sure) would acknowledge as Flarf
influences in this regard as well, many of them dead for centuries."

First I want to say that I have great admiration for Kasey and for Gary
Sullivan and how they have bizzarely devolved the found-on-the-internet
poem. That's not a backhanded compliment in any way at all.

Am I the originator of Flarf? Well, if creating Flarf is equivalent to
coining the word "Flarf," clearly I had nothing at all to do with that.

However, what Kent wrote is not quite so bizarre, and Gary's claim to
origins isn't so clear.

The Flarf proto-history claims the origin of the form is with Gary's
dubious posting to the poetry.com website in late 2000. Jordan Davis
wrote in the Village Voice,

"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."

In fact it appears that Kasey agrees with this entirely, as do Charles
Bernstein and Mike Magee (see

If we are to take Jordan's story as a valid description of how an origin
may be ascribed, then my own claim to origination is far from absurd.
My absence from this protohistory feels akin to what it might feel like
if I invented a game only not to be picked to play on a team.

There are in fact two direct precedents to what Gary did in late 2000,
both done in his plain view. I did my homework and found that on the
Wompo list in late 1999, in plain view of Gary who was himself a member
of Wompo, A Janet McCann proposed sending a false poem, a hoaxy-joke of
a poem to poetry.com. To my knowledge no such poem was ever in fact
sent to poetry.com.

The McCann posts:
>Date: Fri, 17 Dec 1999 16:08:54 EST
>Reply-To: Discussion of Women's Poetry List <[log in to unmask]>
>Sender: Discussion of Women's Poetry List <[log in to unmask]>
>From: Janet Mccann <[log in to unmask]>
>Subject: Anyone can play
>Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
>Being bored with these papers I am grading, I propose a game of
>Exquisite Corpse, the results to be sent to that contest. We can make up
>a name for the poet--Wilhelmina Carlos Hemingway? Emily Whitman? and
>have the return address my English Department, where I can retrieve the
>acceptance. Anyone who wants to should send me a line of truly
>horrendous poetry, backchannel. I will assemble these and distribute and
>send. JanetM
>Date: Sat, 18 Dec 1999 10:57:37 EST
>Reply-To: Discussion of Women's Poetry List <[log in to unmask]>
>Sender: Discussion of Women's Poetry List <[log in to unmask]>
>From: Janet Mccann <[log in to unmask]>
>Subject: You can be the new Lauriate!
>Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
>OK, unless I get a few more lines by tomorrow, this goes off to
>poetry.com -- any winnings will be donated to literacy causes! JanetM
>The Most Exquisite Corpse by Wilhelmina Carlos Hemingway Darling,
>dimpled, explosive posterior! It was a thumb I saw floating on the
>slick. There are no metaphors in heaven. (I've measured it from side to
>side. 'Tis three feet long and two feet wide.) There was a girl standing
>by a lake, her luminous form shadowed by a nimbus of moon, Those purple
>bruises, your love bites on my neck, a good puke lessens the heart's

If the origin of Flarf comes from the *idea* of sending a crappy junk
poem to poetry.com, then Janet McCann in fact deserves the credit as

Jordan Davis, author of the protohistory quoted above, ran an active
poetics discussion list called subsubpoetics. Gary, Kasey, Kent,
Jordan, Mike, and I were all very active members of this relatively
small but dynamic discussion list. I was a rather unknown quantity at
the time I joined the list in '98 or '99, but I regularly posted poems
to the list as well as explanations of my approach, hoping to generate
discussion about ideas for poetic production. I got to know, in a
virtual sense, everyone involved on the list. At the time I had a
number of methods for writing the texts I regularly posted to subsub,
but there were two methods that dominated the writing I sent to the
subsub list, disparate methods I married during 2000 in the form of the
puppet Lester Oracle and his still-unpublished volume, _Be Somebody_
(see Ron Silliman's blog for a review:
The one approach of mine was more of the engastromuthoi sort, high on vapors
and writing in a sort of fugue state, a sort of self/no-self manic
state. I was after all suffering from hypomania at the time. The other
approach was a rather complicated cutup methodology that used the
internet aggressively. I regularly used spam, strange web group
letters, and even web text-munging tools to create these weird
assemblages. The texts I was using regularly came from the use of
search engines, whether they be Alta Vista, later Google, or even
specialized search engines like rhymezone or dictionary.com.

One of the desires I had behind working on thse sorts of cut-ups was to
exploit the vast repository that the internet was. I also believed
strongly that *stealing* was the way to good poetry, and rewriting other
words was central to that stealing. I wanted to undermine the very
notions of poetic identity and poetic voice, and aggressively attack
notions of copyright with respect to language. I also was quite
concerned that the internet was providing a new means for separating
people and making people abstractions. I thought the approach to these
problems was through fake-hoaxy internet cut-ups of things like old
poems, nonsense babbly, poorly written posts to newsgroups, etc. And to
some extent--here's where Alan comes in--I was parodying the work of
Alan Sondheim, another active member of subsubpoetics, who was
aggressively employing tools on the internet to create texts. He was
more optimistic about things than I was, but I respected him highly, and
hence the parodies. They stopped being parodic quickly. You can find
some of these texts in proximate.org or later in Lester's work. Consider
the whole project a radical assault on (1) hypertext poetics;
(2) confessional poetry; and (3) the ubiquitous phenomenon of poet's
name-as-brand. Best of all, the project had immense generative
capacity as well as immediate relevance.

I first wrote about some of these intents and desires, about a website I
created in 1999 called proximate.org, in an essay published by Gary
Sullivan and Nada Gordon during the summer of 2000 in their seminal web
journal README (http://home.jps.net/~nada/proximate.htm). Since then
I've written extensively about these subjects in other places, such as
in VeRT ("Poetic Radicalism in the Internet Age" which you can read here
http://www.proximate.org/internetage.htm as the VeRT link is broken)
and later in Jacket on the subject of the fake fake, the deliberately
obvious poetic hoax (http://jacketmagazine.com/17/herron.html).

During Summer 2000 on subsub I entered a flame war with Doug Rothschild
whose talk at the Boston Poetry Conference centered on the subject of how
poets should be poets. I thought that looking for some essential poet-
profile was pretty much equivalent to supporting a commercial-grade
confessional poetics. Doug and Gary Sullivan were backchanneling each
other and one of them accidentally let one of their private
mails slip to me. In the slipped email they called me an idiot for what
I was trying to argue. No doubt Gary had something at stake with
confession-forms, in particular with his publication of _Swoon_, a book
constructed confessionally: personal love emails. At the time it seemed
that Gary, as well as most subsub members, had little interest in Personism,
in critiquing solipsism, in questioning the name-dependent industry that poetry
had pathetically become. Those of us on sub sub who were interested and
writing on the subject were small in number (Kent Johnson, Gabe Gudding,
Alan Sondheim, and I); those of us writing poetry to match this
self-ambiguous poetic were even fewer (Kent, Alan, and I), only two of
us were contextualizing this and actively creating, using and abusing web tools
and algorithmic processes were even smaller (Alan and I), and I was all alone
in taking this in a critical-satirical way.

If the origin is not influence, well, OK fine, I'm just an influence.
That's cool. But that sort of rhetoric feels like a cruel trick on me.
Hey, I want a little credit just like everyone else. That's all. I think
I have a better-than-trivial claim to something more than influence. I
don't want to crash anyone's party. I just don't want to feel cheated
either. The story sounds to me like something more than "influence."

What we're talking about here with respect to Flarf is the use of web
tools (search engines, email clients, text mungers) to create fake-ish
junk-ish satirical poems, I was doing this in plain view of everyone party
to the creation of Flarf. I used babelfish extensively and in plain view
of the Poetics list in 1998 to rewrite a James Tate poem a dozen times!
I wasn't allowed on the team, but I think I had and continue to have a
decent claim to an integral part of the formation of this form. And I
have a decent and well-documented claim to show that Kasey, Gary,
Jordan, Alan, and Kent were all present and seeing my related work on a
daily basis well before late 2001. I was creating manual
algorithms for text manupulations, algorithms whose rules I regularly
broke, well before this time. (This sort of work has led me to my
present occupation, which is the study of advanced text analysis and
manipulation techniques--text mining--in graduate school and beyond.)
Not only did I do this, but I would send intermediate drafts that showed
the procedures in action, and I would also regularly describe both my formal
and philosophical intents. These folks weren't interested, at least not until
they did it themselves and called it their own, naming themselves founders
and inventors, when instead it seemed more like a rip-off.

Compare all of this to what Mike Magee wrote:

"One might say that Flarf is a radical elevation of the tendencies
already there in Personism."

But wait--as the TV infomercials go--there's more. Back to the origin
in the posting to poetry.com.

If actually *sending* a crap poem to poetry.com was the origin of Flarf
rather than merely coming up with the idea, then Gary most likely saw me
do exactly what he did, but at least six months before he did--right on
the subsubpoetics list, with fellow list members Kasey, Jordan, Kent, Alan,
Gary and others present.

Here's my post to subsub (part of a very long thread) in March 2000:

>Subsubpoetics Home Page: Archive: Message #3853
>Date: Mar 18 2000 23:20:52 EST
>From: "Patrick Herron"
>Subject: Freunde, nicht diese tone!
>My first submission! under 20 lines! for poetry.com! Oh, What Joy!
>http://poetry.com - please search for Archduke Froshingslosh, the greatest
>living poet of all limited small areas within the Gobshite Region of Lower
>this masterpiece is humbly dedicated to the genius and grandeur of the
>esteemed Professor Eric Blarnes, Blarnufflink Chair of the Veteran Poets
>Senior Citizen Center Health Benefits Institute
>big shrew of goo
>roodely toodely doo
>poo poo er
>et tu shamu and
>to you emu I
>sue n rue the
>choo choo loo
>that did spew
>spent chew
>and said moo
>in kung foo zoo
>with one new shoe too
>i am a poet aren't you
>i am a poet i touch myself
>and think of Family Feud
>when on the boob tube.
>i am cold water cubes
>for noo one but
>a dog named Boo.
>Copyright (c) 2000 Archduke Ridiculophus Froshingslosh, Semi-ruler of
>Flanders and other Highly Ambient Domains & Heir to the Fortune of
>CarbonMonoxidizer, Inc.
>http://poetry.com - Where Everyone is a Poet (TM)
>The home to 1.4 formerly homeless and neglected poets. (TM)
>Come to poetry.com - Where Our Database Will Read It! (TM)
>Where You Can Purchase Your Very Own Poem from Us! (TM)
>Where Moles Make Mountains Of Hirsute Shite! (TM)

Note also the heavy use of (TM)...something you can see in the supposed
origin of Flarf by Gary in the proto-Flarf piece "Mm-hmm":

>Yeah, mm-hmm, it's true
>big birds make
>big doo! I got fire inside
>my "huppa"-chimp(TM)
>gonna be agreessive, greasy aw yeah god
>wanna DOOT! DOOT!
>Pffffffffffffffffffffffffft! hey!
>oooh yeah baby gonna shake & bake then take
>AWWWWWL your monee, honee (tee hee)
>uggah duggah buggah biggah buggah muggah
>hey! hey! you stoopid Mick! get
>off the paddy field and git
>me some chocolate Quik
>put a Q-tip in it and stir it up sick
>pocka-mocka-chocka-locka-DING DONG
>fuck! shit! piss! oh it's so sad that
>syndrome what's it called tourette's
>make me HAI-EE! shout out loud
>Cuz I love thee. Thank you God, for listening!

Notice also the abuseof poetic Personism. I did it in huge flashing
letters, in plain view of Kasey, Mike, Kent, Gary, Alan, Jordan, and so

It's rather uncanny, isn't it, that the piece I dedicated to "Professor
Eric Blarnes," who was Henry Gould, another very active member of
subsub, seems very similar in intent to what I did in early 2000 right
there on subsub? I plucked the rhymes from rhymezone, some of the lines
from discussion lists and web pages, etc.

I am not suggesting that anyone *deliberately* elided me from any
history of Flarf from issues of journals featuring "flarfists," etc..
If anything I sort of take it to mean that I'm entirely forgettable, at
least to these few folks. I'm sure no one intended to neglect me.
Jordan and Gary and Kasey have always been kind to me, and hell, Jordan
and Gary were the first two people to publish my work, and they did so
by soliciting work from me. That was a huge compliment; their efforts
gave my work some legitimacy way back then, legitimacy and acceptance it
didn't quite enjoy at that time.

All I am asking is that these people acknowledge my efforts were done in
plain view and were fundamental to (ironically enough) the later work
of Gary and others performed under the label of "Flarf."

I think I can also singularly lay claim to Flarfing an entire
municipality, which I successfully did in 2003, when my crappy mockery
of "southern poetry" won me the Poet Laureateship of the town in which I
reside, Carrboro, NC. I exposed the joke in a newspaper essay last
year: http://www.chapelhillnews.com/opinion/story/2416845p-8794817c.html

As it turned out, the joke was entirely on me.

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