One recent addition to the Links page that’s proving especially useful in expanding my horizons is a Blogspot site from Laura Theobald, a poetry MFA student at Louisiana State University: irreducible: a study on the concept and genre of poetry film. Among other things, she’s led me to take another look at Steve Roggenbuck, who must be one of the most prominent videopoets not to have been featured on Moving Poems so far, for the simple reason that I find him annoying as hell. I realize the annoyingness (which includes intentional misspelling) is all part of his sincerely ironic, internet-savvy schtick; but since most of his videos are hand-held, vlog-style spoken word pieces, they also haven’t held my interest aesthetically. This one, however, incorporates some found video of subjects other than the poet’s face. As Theobald puts it:
This poetry-video, titled “Eventually you will be dead but today you are not,” is a good example of Roggenbuck’s poetry-film aesthetic: a handheld camera is pointed by the poet directly at himself in close-up, often off-centered, partially out-of-frame, walking outdoors, “in nature”; ambient music accompanies the entirety of the film; Roggenbuck speaks directly into the camera; and the film is heavily edited, with short, quick intervals between shots. The overall tone is high-energy, full of impact, intense. In the case of this particular film, shots of the poet speaking into the camera are interlaced with “found” (appropriated) images from popular films and videos (“Independence Day,” “Air Bud,” Rebecca Black’s viral video for “Friday,”) and audio clips of motivational speakers—these images coincide with the poet’s “textual” references to popular culture: “Carlos Mencia,” “The Rock,” “Will Smith,” “Bagel Bites,” etc.
Like most of Roggenbuck’s videos, this one raises a number of questions about its terms. Roggenbuck has published three books/e-books of poetry that themselves push the boundaries of ideas about poetry by making the same sort of moves that we see in this video: by making pop-culture references (Justin Bieber), by using “internet speech,” jokes, and witticisms, and an “internet-y” conversational tone. None of these factors are, alone, groundbreaking, but, together, as we see in the video, they form an end product that somehow breaks from our traditional (or even nontraditional) understanding of poetry. In his videos, the characteristics that define Roggenbuck’s written works are intensified by the fact that Roggenbuck seems to be improvising the lines of the “poems” that he speaks into the camera. Whether or not he does in fact improvise, I don’t know for sure. I suspect (from interviews, blog posts, and the quality of the content) that some time is spent rehearsing or planning the scenes he films. Regardless, the videos seem to challenge collective notions about poetry, as Roggenbuck himself seems to recognize—specifically in his video “am i even a poet anymore?” Explicitly here Roggenbuck seems to raise a number of questions about poetry and literature and to dismiss conventional means of disseminating literature as outdated. He advocates, instead, a broader view of literary activities.
Read the rest of Theobald’s post (which also includes an analysis of a Kate Greenstreet film). Whatever else might be said about Roggenbuck, his work certainly represents a sort of apotheosis of the selfie culture. I’m sure this won’t be the last time I’ll be featuring it here.