‘AN INTERNET BARD AT LAST!!!’: The Positive and Perverse Power of Alt-Lit Poet Steve Roggenbuck

Abstract (in English): 

‘In a strict sense, I don't believe there's any definition of poetry that applies to all poets. Different poets have different goals. Different poets have different things in their hearts that they’re trying to express in different ways that they want to express them. Are my videos where I'm running around in the woods talking about YOLO and dogs and dads – are these really poetry? Why call them poetry?’

These are the words of Steve Roggenbuck (https://www.youtube.com/user/steveroggenbuck), a twenty-something self-proclaimed video artist and poet who released YouTube videos from 2010 to 2017. Roggenbuck’s video poems comprised clips of his stream of consciousness, often filmed while he rolled in the grass or ran through natural scenes, screaming. Amongst random - and, frankly, weird - comments, Roggenbuck inserted motivational moments urging viewers to appreciate nature and follow their dreams. Many videos have been edited to include musical accompaniment, green screen-facilitated backgrounds, and/or additional graphics.

Over seven years, Roggenbuck’s fanbase grew larger and more devoted, with Roggenbuck being established as one of the alt-lit (alternative literature) movement’s most renowned contributors. In October 2018, though, Roggenbuck’s fans turned their backs to him as he confirmed allegations of sexual misconduct: allegations that followed numerous others made against alt-lit contributors.

There are, to be sure, many Internet and alt-lit poets. Roggenbuck makes for a particularly interesting case study because he embodies various facets of Internet culture: visual and aural disjointedness, conscious contempt for grammatical correctness (a poetic license, so to speak), premeditated performance of personality, and – as he has confirmed – sexual harassment brought to light in the #MeToo moment. His online persona embodies the complexities of human connection in an increasingly digital context. Rather ironically, though, most of his videos aim to ignite viewers’ passion for the natural world. ‘Worms! Worms! Worms!’ he excitedly screams as he runs through a desert in one video. ‘Fucking llamas! Llamas! Whales are so big!’

This paper introduces readers to Roggenbuck’s poetry, and explores its place within poetic traditions by highlighting the distinctive stylistic features of his work. It considers how Roggenbuck’s video poetry represents a kind of electronic literature that both reflects and parodies meme culture for young adult viewers less inclined to engage with poetry in printed form. This paper also considers how the allegations against Roggenbuck impact interpretations of his work. It aims to start a conversation about negotiating literary value and socially unacceptable authorial behavior on digital platforms with new expectations and potential issues. To use Roggenbuck’s own words: ‘I am the bard. I am the poet. And to be a poet while the Internet exists. Man, we got an opportunity.’ The ‘opportunity’ offered by the Internet allowed Roggenbuck to rise to fame. It was also his demise.


ELO 2021: Reading, temporality and genres, May 26, 2021

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Record posted by: 
Milosz Waskiewicz