The Pleasures of Frustration in Poetry

The Big YinI had the pleasure of seeing Billy Connolly perform stand-up live in Los Angeles last night. Throughout the show, I kept noticing how he would continually branch from anecdote to anecdote, snaring our attention with unresolved themes, then finally resolving them (for the most part) to hilarious effect. More and more it occurs to me that in many ways poetry and comedy are very similar. Frustration itself has been a theme in poetry, especially love poetry, since Petrarch (and no doubt before). Yet poetry itself, by its very nature, is pleasurably frustrating in much the same manner as comedy.
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Freedom in Flarf

“The Flag of Flarf,”
in all its clashing-color glory
(cyan, hot pink, and caca d’oie)

I never quite understood flarf. For awhile, I thought people were writing it to send in to vanity contests to prove the contest standards were laughably low (a kind of analogue to 419-baiting). I thought it was purely a ruse. Having a go amidst some lively banter over on Amy King’s blog has convinced me otherwise. I think flarf can be good for so-called serious poets who are dedicated to other modes — and even liberating.

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal (scroll down), that Abraham Lincoln encouraged at least one member of his staff on one occasion to write an angry letter and burn it, and that he did so himself as a therapeutic exercise. I have certainly done something similar (akin to Cameron’s “morning pages”) and found great benefit. It occurs to me that if being free to write a diatribe full of unsavory and inappropriate comments can actually make you a better diplomat, perhaps being free to write really bad poetry complete with similar trappings can actually make you a better poet.

Poetry can become so serious.
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