(screenshot from Google Docs to preserve formatting)
For my final project, I decided to make a Flarf poem, because using the results from online seemed like an interesting way to create found poetry without some of the restrictions of found poetry in the real world. In “Search: student loans,” I wanted to keep the process as simple as possible, so I decided that I’d only be using google, I’d only find phrases from the search pages (i.e. I couldn’t click into the articles and websites that popped up), and I’d only use results from one keyword which was “student loans.” I was surprised contrast between the results that advertised student loans, which were very positive, and those that discussed news related them, which were not so positive. I decided to arrange the contrasting messages and enlarge the more positive ones (which seemed more common in my search results) and keep the more negative ones their original size (I’ll get into meanings related to this later on). Making this poem was surprisingly enjoyable, and I found myself arranging phrases much like I would an illustration or collage with respect to size, placement, etc. I think that poetry, especially found and visual poetry shares much more with the visual arts than most would assume.
To me, the persona seems more like a dialogue than a single speaker. The first speaker, who brings up the effects of student loans or talks of them neutrally, uses full sentences and a standard font size. At the start of the poem, the neutral narrator says:
“For many students, the only way to stay atop this rising tide
has been by taking on an increasing amount of student loans
The result has been skyrocketing”
And then, they are enjambed with (or interrupted by) the second speaker, who I will be calling “the advertiser.” This speaker is very different from the neutral narrator in that they use variable font sizes and much shorter, clipped phrases, like “Save your money” and “Free help.” The advertiser seems to be talking over the neutral narrator, with “louder” fonts and shorter, easily digestible phrases. Not only that, but they are extremely positive towards student loans and seem to be advertising for them. They emphasize how easy the process is and how few fees there are, but at the end, in small font, they say “Read rates and terms,” which implies that there is something that they are not revealing to the reader.
As was discussed a bit in the persona section, the poem is an argument of sorts between two speakers. One is very much a fan of student loans and wants people to get them, while the other tries to report on news items related to them, which may not be quite as positive. Through the use of rhetorical devices like irony and repetition, the positive speaker, or “advertiser,” who is a stand in for loan marketers, shows that they do not care for the economic struggles of students in college and that the speaker is not entirely transparent about the nature of the loans.
The poem begins with a few lines on an increase in people seeking student loans (see above), but before we can see the results of this, the neutral narrator is interrupted by “Great Rates & Cash Rewards for Good Grades.” This transition seems quite ironic, since the result of more people going into debt isn’t normally a good thing. Historically, it’s been a predecessor for some of the worst economic downturns like the Great Depression or the 2008 Recession. This speaker continues by saying, “No Payments During School. No Application Fees.” The capitalized letters here are very interesting, since look more like titles or slogans than statements in a poem, as if they are meant to grab your attention. The anaphora of these lines also emphasizes the lack of payments that the borrower has to make and avoiding the potentially massive amounts of debt that the borrower would accrue. It seems as though this speaker is invested in getting the reader to consider getting a loan, since they interrupt the other speaker, use short, slogan-like phrases, and want to downplay any potential pitfalls of the loan industry. Because of the very general nature of the slogans, it’s easy to see the advertiser as an analogy for how loans companies market themselves by trying to make going into debt seem as pleasant as possible.
The first narrator does eventually re-emerge, beginning with “To provide relief to student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 national emergency,” before it is again interrupted by the advertiser with “No Commitment. Compare Multiple Options. Fixed and Variable Rates.” Unlike the first enjambment, this one doesn’t even make grammatical sense, solidifying the image of one speaker talking over the other. The advertiser goes on with these short sentences until they start to repeat themselves, saying “No Commitment” and “Fixed and Variable Rates.” This sticks out to me, though there is some ambiguity as to why it repeats. It could be that the speaker is becoming desperate for the attention of the reader and so begins repeating talking points, or it could be that it is a deliberate marketing strategy to woo customers. Due to what happens later in the poem, I would go with the first option.
The neutral narrator appears for the last time towards the final stanzas, saying “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is denying huge batches of / relief requests from students whose schools defrauded them.” The advertiser immediately disregards this and begins shouting in a much larger font, repeating “Free help./ Free help./ Free help.” Here, we see that the problems of students are disregarded by the advertiser, who actively tries to suppress them with a volley of slogans. There is more than a touch of irony in the specific responses, since the first narrator talked about scamming colleges, while the advertiser blasts the reader with “Save your money” and “Free help,” in spite of the fact that the audience would know that getting a loan is not free, nor does it save money. The juxtaposition of these two voices shows the reader that one wants to keep college students in the dark about what happens with their money. This is made extremely obvious by the last line of the poem, which is written in the smallest font: “Read rates and terms.” The advertiser practically whispers this part, because the terms and conditions are the actual facts of the loans, not the pretty marketing. They are trying to hide the terms and conditions up until they absolutely have to, placing it at the very end of the pitch like true marketers. It’s literally the fine print.