“Poets: The Internet and Us” by Shawn King

Virtually everyone I know under the age of eighty is now online. My grandmother uses Facebook better than some Twenty somethings. Poets I know fall in every possible range of tech savvy. Some forgo books of any sort and just self publish through various social media outlets. While others try and avoid the screen, and technology in general, as much as possible. These are sort of the extreme ends of the spectrum, but I have only been involved in the poetry scene as a whole for a year now, and I know several people that fit each of these descriptions.

Recently an article was published in the New Yorker about internet poetry as a sub genre of Alt Lit. The main focus of the article was on Steve Roggenbuck. He is an internet poet who mainly publishes his work through YouTube.


“What does it mean to be an Internet poet? Since 2010, Steve Roggenbuck, a twenty-six-year-old who lives in rural Maine, has been producing poetry that is made, distributed, and viewed almost exclusively on the Web, taking the form of tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, and image macros. He became best known for a series of videos that are a mix of Walt Whitman and Ryan Trecartin, showing Roggenbuck either in bare apartments or out in the forest, manically improvising poems that celebrate the cosmos and our place in it. In one video, he screams at a gray sky, “Make something beautiful before you are dead.… Maybe you should stand in the rain! You’re alive right now!” But this ain’t no tree-hugger or Iron John. There’s an intensity and an edge to his work, verging on violence, which is at once terrifying, hypnotic, and completely moving.”  (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2014/05/if-walt-whitman-vlogged.html)


I take umbrage with much of what is said right here. I will give them intense, but edgy, terrifying, hypnotic, and moving I am not okay with. Anybody can act intense for 3-5 seconds at a time. I find the general feeling for me to be nauseating and disorienting. Nauseating is simply a matter of all the jump cuts, but what disorients me is partially due to the pacing, but mostly the fact that at the end of an eight minute video all I can remember are the last few lines. Large portions of these videos are nonsensical and obviously doing nothing more than trying to get a rise out of the viewer. I also don’t think anybody would make it through even a single page of a poem written in this style. I realize this is most certainly of little importance to Steven Roggenbuck, but he has entire videos where it is trying to stake his claim as a poet, or at least explain why he is a poet. If you want to be known as the modern day Walt Whitman you might want to try writing.


Whether or not you are a fan of poetry, it holds a place among the sacred facets of humanity. There is a reason that the texts of all the major religions are written in verse. I have had poets say to me that nobody has the right to decide what is good or what is bad poetry. I don’t walk around with different colored stickers placing them on other poets work, but if you are an artist and you hear something that is sublimely beautiful it hits you harder than a freight train. I have never pondered my decision, it should be something that just kind of is.

“A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is to wish to hold on to it, to possess it and give weight in one’s life…There is an urge to say, ‘I was here, I saw this, and it mattered to me.” -Alain de Botton


To me what Alain de Botton says right there is the core of why poetry exists. If your goal is to scream about your grandfathers cock then I don’t begrudge you that right, but it to me is not poetry. This is all I have to say on this matter. I think Steve is doing some wonderful things with his vlogs, and I will explain myself now.


That is the end of my criticism of Steve Roggenbuck. I could probably keep blabbing about whether or not I think he is a poet, but I do want to cover the very positive things I see here. Technology is an extension of humanity not the end of it. The work that he is producing is inevitable in my opinion. “their is a feedback loop we script intention into our designs and those designs in turn script our subjective experience. our ability to create virtual future possibilites, to inform future thoughts, to build a creative playground for the mind. ” Jason Silva, shots of awe.

The experience of delving headlong into social media is very much like watching one of Steven’s vlogs, but it is spread out over a longer time period with no jump cuts. The very framework of experiencing the internet is the catalyst for the Internet Poetry scene. As our lives become more digital you are going to continue to see this kind of scatter brained psychedelically paced art. Futurist Timothy leary has stated that the pc is the lsd of the 90’s. The definition of the word psychedelic is to make manifest the mind. This blog is going a tad long now, so I will end with this. Until our own experience as humans catches up to the internet, I believe much of what we see is going to be in this vein, but poetry has a chance to take back its own future. The internet is that chance, and I believe in this regard all poets can learn from Steve Roggenbuck. There is going to be a part two to this blog in a few days.


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