Alt WTF (The Yolo Pages)

yolo book coverThe Yolo Pages
Boost House, April 2014
206 pages / $15.00  Buy from Boost House









“Just between the time when one could use one’s age as a power and one uses one’s age as a crutch.” – Jack Spicer (paraphrasing Arthur Rimbaud) from “Homage to Creeley/Explanatory Notes” in My Vocabulary Did This To Me


“Alt Crit” is a term I’m pretty confident I just invented… or at any rate, hope to make some money off of for my own altruistic (see also: poetic) purposes. Everybody knows Poetry with a capital “P” is a negative economy, and that anyone who has nevertheless found a way to sell his or herself as a poet must be a genius at something. Maybe not the actual writing itself, but self-promotion, for example. By editing and publishing this anthology of poems, Steve Roggenbuck, “the first poet to be cataloged as a meme” is finally profiting somewhat from his 18,000 Twitter followers and his slew of YouTube video-monologues about poetry. When I switch on a Roggenbuck video, I feel like I’m watching dust collect on an empty stage; or someone bombing an audition for the high school play over and over again. I can’t ignore it because this is my generation, but then eventually I feel the need to switch it off, so I do.

While attempting to read The Yolo Pages anyway (I did flip through a lot of it, my friend has one…), I got the feeling it could only have been written by one person, most likely our aforementioned “Alt Lit” vlogger maestro. I say this because everything in the book has the same flat, naïve air about it… half-hearted altruism, with a hyper-moralistic identity politics foregrounded at all times. This gets old fast. There is no articulate political stance here (beyond this claim that being Vegan and straight-edge is going to somehow save the world) and no formal invention on the page whatsoever. These are mostly un-ironic lyrical poems with titles like “Accept Me.” There are some cute typos intentionally thrown in every once in a while too, as ornament.

Contributors like Andrew W.K. are in the book clearly for their fame-generating potential. K. Silem Mohammed is in it because he’s a venerable older poet and seems like a nice, charitable person. Ditto Sharon Mesmer. I happen to like Patricia Lockwood’s poetry as well, but she’s poorly represented by this selection of her Tweets… why not print excerpts from that poem of hers that went über-viral last year? Has that poem ever even appeared in print before? As his influences, Roggenbuck has cited e.e. cummings, Flarf, Walt Whitman, Jenny Holzer, Roland Barthes, Miranda July, Dada, William Blake, Surrealism, The Beat Generation, The Lost Generation, Generation X, Generation Y, The X-Files and Punk. Whatever it is, his youth is supposed to make it fashionable again. But when someone is being compared to, and/or makes a habit of comparing themselves to pretty much everything that has happened before in their medium, it becomes impossible to take an objective look and make any decision as to whether you even like it or not. You have to like it, or else you run the risk of being called out as a h8r.

Like Nardwuar, Roggenbuck is basically a hype man…another fan boy for contemporary poetry, the perfect gadabout and Web 2.0 chameleon. The videos are amazingly solipsistic for a guy who claims to be starting a morally righteous collective (privately funded by Kickstarter, of course). The bookstore of the future is opening its doors, and he’s determined to make a job for himself there. Like Pharrel, he’s probably much better off producing other people’s work than making any of his own, and he’s all about being avant-happy. I would like his videos more if he interviewed people like Nardwuar does. He could interview poets, or strangers on farms in rural Michigan, and ask them what they think about poetry. That might be a little more compelling. The strangest thing about the videos is the chintzy music in the background, which makes the work eerily reminiscent of the corporate advertisements for those expensive iDevices that allow it to happen and be distributed so widely.

If this is supposed to be an alternative, why even do a print book in the first place? On the inside cover, there’s just a bunch of social media addresses for where to send a letter, if you care to know where Boost House printed this book. There is also a very peculiar ellipsis in the middle of that James Baldwin epigram at the front, which makes me wonder if the quote is correct. They don’t even note where it comes from, because of course it comes from the Internet. Roggenbuck is a clever opportunist who knows there is a vacuum outside the walls of the MFA debt factory that needs to be filled with something… but you can’t fight vacuity with even more vacuity and paper wasting. Where are the ecologically minded poets of yesteryear? Are they seeing this? It’s enough to make a young poet run scared back to the classroom to grip that MFA degree pronto. Some maniacal workshop teacher right now is probably screening Roggenbuck videos for their students as an object lesson: “Thinking of dropping out? Well, you might end up like this…” So in that way, he has (ironically) already allowed himself to be assimilated as a booster for the very system he would have us believe he is railing against.

The Yolo Pages is not Alt Lit, meta-modernism, emo, homespun, “new sincerity” or “uncreative writing.” It’s all much too aspirational to be any of those; it’s more like some new kind of ineffective self-help poetry. So actually, it’s a lot like America’s once-favorite poncho-wearing poet and translator Robert Bly, with his whole Iron John thing, where men went out together shirtless to the woods so they could help each other bang on drums and recuperate their masculinity. Wasn’t that embarrassing enough? “Young Adult” poetry might be a better, more lucrative fit than Alt Lit. Maybe The Yolo Pages makes people who suffer from extreme logorrhea (online) feel better together. It’s all like this endless rabbit hole you’re being led down, and there’s nothing at the end but a sign that says “thanks for following.”


Ben Tripp is on Facebook.

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  1. Brian McElmurry

      I have to say I own Steve’s Crunk Juice, and it has a lot of artistic merit. I do sometimes get turned-off by overly moralistic, or postive, online pressence, but there is something about Steve that is awesome–he’s actually doing something as a poet, and as a collective. He’s like the .0001% of poets. One issue I take with this ‘alt-crit’ is that if he’ll send ppl back to MFA programs for poetry, is that generally no one cares abt poetry (except a few) and there’s really no money in it–so that he can actually make ppl care abt poetry, at all, is cool. To get an MFA in poetry is essentially to become a teacher, or academic, or just sell a couple hundred poetry books and do readings and work some job. Well written essay though :-)

  2. Brendan

      I have pretty similar issues with the book and Roggenbuck in general, but a lot of the criticisms you raised are things that he’s responded too at one time or another. Not saying they aren’t valid criticisms, but it would be perhaps more useful to look at those responses and construct a critique that takes them into account.

  3. jereme_dean

      i’ve never understood the notion that poetry’s value is somehow validated by its monetary return. even charles bukowski didn’t make much money at poetry itself until the hollywood system’s interest made it profitable. feel like if you’re making any sort of living at poetry, then you’re doing something much different than poetry.

      criticizing steve is sort of futile, i think. he’s quite the manipulator, like an online politician, and won’t answer anything that’s possibly damaging. his ‘fans’ are brainwashed and/or naive and are incapable of realizing how bullshit he is until after the fact.

      regardless, i think the dissenting voice is needed every once in a while–especially when vocalized by one from the generational fold–as therapy for the other people who feel helpless against his disgusting profiteering ways.

      as an aside, i think any stout fan of steve roggenbuck and his ‘movement’ would change their perspective if they spent 3 months without internet/television/media in their life.

  4. June 6, 2014 | Half-Sanity's Under-GodHalf-Sanity's Under-God

      […] The Yolo Pages […]

  5. steveroggenbuck

      jereme, you know from experience that i do often respond to criticism, and i took the time to respond at length to yours last fall

  6. steveroggenbuck

      thank u brendan

  7. steveroggenbuck

      thank u brian

  8. steveroggenbuck

      ben thank u for takin the time to check out my videos, the book, and to write this

  9. jereme_dean

      yeah, i was speaking from experience. i mean, yes, you did respond to the post but not much of what was said had anything to do with the criticism vocalized.

      you’re a good online politician. it’s why i didn’t continue the debate. just felt circuitous and an unneeded expense of energy.

      acknowledging someone’s criticism with a ‘positive’ affirmation–like what you did with ben–isn’t really a response, it’s more of a latent ‘fuck you’.

      you’re fully aware of what you’re doing. it’s obvious.

      to be honest, i actually respect you. i don’t like 99% of what you’re about but it still takes a certain type of will to do what you’re doing; to be a great manipulator. i gotta give props to anyone who does shit like that.

      my real disgust is more towards the american culture/weak minds that you’re crowd surfing on.

      but, it’s like, there’s always been religion and snake oil for sale for a reason, right?

      now it’s in the form of videos and tshirts that will ‘save the world.’

  10. deadgod

      i feel like that as though this flip-through reaction were or had been written by a pro conceptualizer of public experiences.

      like, #hitpiece amirite.

      or a humorous yet ooberclever apocalyptic thriller that uses zombies as a metaphor for like the shit that’s going down in the world today.

      it’s like, i mean, you know.

  11. mimi


  12. Jeremy Hopkins

      What might be a better metaphor for this shit?

  13. deadgod

      i feel like that as though it isn’t OBV that i’m teasing whatshisname’s fake review and not steev who is clutch. #sadness #feelingblessedtho

      yeah that’s the metaphor, alt lit is ‘clutch’. that’s the part of your ride’s engine that enables the transmission, no longer a ‘tranny’, to go from one gear to another. #teethinyergearhead

  14. Jeremy Hopkins

      What’s yr take on the Miss USA results?

  15. Jeremy Hopkins

      [tried to put a cool pic here, didn’t work]
      [wait, yeah it did]

  16. deadgod

      They seem legit.

      I’m an outsider to–and not a spectator of–the pageant industry. The competitions are all-volunteer, right? –so whatever deep misgivings one has about the show, one might acknowledge the autonomy of the contestants as willing adults taking advantage of an opportunity before them – an opportunity any one of them could reject in favor of another. –this qualification, set against a strong sense that public beauty contests among women increase rather than contest misogyny.

  17. Jeremy Hopkins

      Don’t know about an *increase* in misogyny. I think people’s schadenfreude of seeing them stumble over a speaking part is increased by their “beauty”, although seeing a pro celeb bite it is worse. While if you saw an “average,” unassuming person in real life answer unconfidently, you’d likely not think much of it. In comparing the amateur pageanteers to pro celebs, there I think is the most revealing look into public perceptions, for both realms would surely already be prey to whatever sexism or misogyny yet persist. But I guess many people do see such events as being a part of (or results of) the “system” (patriarchy, misogyny, what-have-you).

  18. deadgod

      You don’t think beauty contests accelerate the sense that a chick’s default position should be compliance? Maybe that’s too condescending to women who reset the switch? idk

      I like that they asked (at least) the Nevada gal what she thought about sexual harassment on college campuses, and she said maybe some colleges feel commercial pressure to, eh, massage their stats. (At least, that’s what was reported in the news I read.)

  19. mimi

      please from now on like just preface all your comments with “i feel like that as though”

  20. Jeremy Hopkins

      Been around a while. They lost their ability to cause said acceleration decades ago, I’d imagine. Unless by “the sense” you mean a particular individual’s sense: that of someone growing up today, looking around, wondering what’s expected of her, etc.; even in that case I think more women today would be comfortable saying ‘Who cares?’ than before, despite pageants’ resilience. (Maybe not?) And, if so, maybe it’s because people spoke out against pageants and such. And such. and SuCH. I(LY)DK.

  21. RM O'Brien

      I find the idea “It’s enough to make a young poet run scared back to the classroom to grip that MFA degree pronto. Some maniacal workshop teacher right now is probably screening Roggenbuck videos for their students as an object lesson…” a strange hypothetical. If it were “enough” wouldn’t that be happening? I mean is anything like that happening? Was the Velvet Underground enough to send young musicians running scared back to their music school? That’s how I see Alt Lit. It’s so wide open that you look at it and think, “I could do that.” And then you go and do it.

      I get that the utopianism can be some heavy baggage for a series of funny tweets, but I guess I’d rather that then a lot of the other available attitudes out there

      Alt Lit — LIKE ALL POETRY IN THE WORLD EVER — is gonna be mostly misses — but the hits are worth it — like (in YP):

      Cayla Lockwood’s “I Sleep in Other People’s Beds When They’re Not There”

      Stephen Michael McDowell: “wow humans are shitty to themselves and each other all over the world and have been for ages ! who knew !! come hug me ! who’r we to judge !”

      @Horse_ebooks: “Ask your dumbass friends if they know of a reputable artist.”

      Alexandra SImone: “I have math equations for bones / I am actually a horse / I am actually an ocean / I am actually the most infinite body of water / which I have ever tasted”

      Adefisayo Adeyeye: “I can’t open my mouth because I will cover you with stars / I can swim in my own amniotic fluid probably”