Last time I reviewed something of Steve Roggenbuck’s, it was a smaller sampling. A chapbook called “i am like october when i am dead”. Honestly, I liked and disliked parts of it. This particular one shows off his love of typography, particularly in its exacting font size (80) and type of font (Helvetica, obviously). Being so absolute to its design reminds me a bit of John Barton Wolgamot’s precise standards. Compared to Steve’s previous stuff, there appears to be a great deal more personal detail. That works to his benefit.
It’s the personal detail which warms me to each poem. Perhaps this was the crucial detail which made me a little cold towards his chapbook. According to his notes on in the book, these are poems from MSN messenger history from High School. Remembering what I was like in High School, I kind of wish I had kept more of those conversations. Going through these, I’m sort of reminded the same kind of feeling I had as a teenager, writing sweet sayings for people I cared about. Upon finishing these, I immediately went into my ‘notes’ section of my personal email to see if I had saved anything from that period in my life.
Perhaps it is this exploration of his past relationship which gives it soul. Even the more silly or random elements in the book are related. Together it feels unified a complete whole. Having common themes thread themselves around, like the affectionate phrases he shows towards the recipient of these messages, opens him up a little more to the outside world.
His work appears to be obsessed with the consumption of vast amounts of TV, irony, and care for others. The first two are considered the death knolls of creative writing. David Foster Wallace claimed Television destroyed a great many writers, many them lazy or overly ironic. Real, genuine emotion couldn’t be properly expressed anymore; it was as if our brains were rewired, unable to cope with human interaction.
Steve deftly avoids this problem and turns it on its head. Using common phrases and transforming them into poetry shows the actual power language still and can have. A simple bold statement of
“HA HA AMAZING WHAT SOME PEOPLE ACCOMPLISH”
in and of itself wouldn’t be anything interesting. It sounds a bit cliche in all honesty. Dispersing this with tender pieces like
“I HOPE THAT WE GET TO STAY TOGETHER AND BE IN LOVE FOR A VERY VERY LONG TIME”
gives the reader some idea of the actual relationship these two people had with one another. It reminds me of looking through old Facebook pages, old wall to wall posts. You’d read all this leftover debris from the internet, of a relationship which might not be around anymore. Rather than focusing on the detrimental aspects of online relationships, he focuses on the positive. People tend to remember the bad after the end of a relationship. But that which is left in computers, in person to person messages, is generally positive. Looking back, you see all the good moments you had. It becomes so easy to remember the bad, what lead to the end of a relationship, that you forget the good. The internet serves as an unbiased storage bin of these odds and ends. Steve celebrates that, even the most mundane and seemingly innocuous details.
I’d strongly suggest reading the whole thing in one sitting. It isn’t very long so it really shouldn’t be a challenge. The language is simple and easy to understand. Why I suggest reading it in one sitting is to get the full impact. Each piece feeds and adds to the other pieces. Everything is connected, nothing is alone. What appear to be tossed-off statements is actually part of the whole, part of the conversation. The face value boring statement:
“FINAL DESTINATION 3 IS OUT ON DVD”
gets followed by:
“I WANT TO PICK YOU DAISES AND KISS YOU WHEN I HAND THEM TO YOU”
Alone, either statement might not have the same impact. The first could be seen as just something ironic or plain pointless. Having it coupled with the next bit allows both to have a greater feeling, a greater emotion. Personally, I felt the sparseness of his chapbook focused more on the former and less on the latter. Each piece in the chapbook felt alone, isolated. Here we have the opposite occurring, and Steve’s language is carefully chosen and placed to have a maximum impact. I consider his approach towards poetry to not be far removed from the Dadaists, who used similar techniques regarding cut-ups. By taking the items out of context, he’s able to reassemble it into something much more interesting. I guess now it is called Flarf poetry with him as one of the better Flarfists.