Steve Roggenbuck, Live my Lief

Reviewed by Patrick Gaughan

[Review Guidelines]

In the title sequence of Friday Night Lights, longhorns graze in west Texas. Young actors smile catching footballs, embracing each other to notes on a lone electric guitar. Then a swelling of reverb, a drumroll as players thrust helmets to the sky, fans leap off aluminum bleachers. High notes quiver then fall away as the coach and his wife embrace and look across an empty field at the sunset.

Steve Roggenbuck uses the same song, "Your Hand in Mine" by Explosions in the Sky, in one of his video poems. He says, "I listen to post-rock because it amplifies my emotions."

In a letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde accuses his lover of being "a typical
sentimentalist...one who wants to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it."

Roggenbuck has self-published three books of poetry and shared countless video poems and image macros via his website, Live My Lief.

A review of Roggenbuck's If U Don't Love the Moon Your an Ass Hole on HTML Giant says the book functions best in "short reading bursts," suggesting I "bust it out for little boosts" throughout my day. Roggenbuck wants his poems to act as alarm clocks, text messages reminding me to "look at the sunset."

The content of Roggenbuck's video poem "we're alive at the same time :)": he stands in a suburban bathroom, speaking his flarfed lines into a handheld camera. "My dog is the Houdini of dogs—the Hou-doggy" Cut to him in the same bathroom, now wearing a leopard hat. "We're dads, we're on Pinterest, and we want justice." He reads the Preface of Leaves of Grass: "This is what you shall do. Love the earth and sun and animals" over clips from the show Planet Earth: a desert moon rising,
Earth's surface from space. Cut to cathartic release, post-rock crescendo. Roggenbuck leaps and screams, "We're both alive!" Cut to footage of the DIY show "Let's Paint! TV." Back to Roggenbuck in the bathroom, yawping, "I'm going to try to make other people feel happy! Woooo!"

Roggenbuck's flarfing aims to echo Whitman's cataloging of the masses, a litany of inclusion. Whereas Walt's source material was IRL, Roggenbuck's "mechanics, southerners, new arrivals, sailors, mano'warsmen" are on Twitter.

He tweets to me and over 12,000 others: "GOOD MORNEING TWITER I AM HAPPY :) :) !!!!!!!"

Regarding The Strip in Las Vegas at twilight, Dave Hickey says, "One either prefers the honest fakery of the neon or the fake honesty of the sunset."

In the videos of artist Ryan Trecartin, no shot holds the screen longer than two seconds, an onslaught of quippy teen life in close-up, jumpcut, tacky swipes and fades. Ryan and his friends shriek in falsetto ADHD cacophony: "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! You get that cash! You get it! I love tinted windows...ew ew ew!" An Art in America article calls his protagonists "young, sexuallyambiguous...chatterboxes" who "deliver compu-poetry about their chronic over-existence."

Roggenbuck yells at traffic going by on the highway. "People of earth, you are more beautiful than you think you are!"

One Direction sings, "You don't know you're beautiful / oh oh / That's what makes you beautiful."

The Levi's Go Forth! ad campaign weds poems by Whitman and Bukowski with more post-rock and visuals of young models sprinting, striving, living their lief. A man with a Native American accent reads Bukowski: "Your life is your life / don't let it be clubbed into dank submission." I remember a debate with friends about these ads, which ran during the London riots and the peak of the Occupy movement. I felt Levi's had appropriated political activism as a way to sell jeans, to which they replied: would you rather have a capitalist ad making activism look cool, or more
models pouting and strutting?

At 14, I stumbled on the movie Dead Poets Society in my grandparents' basement on TNT or TBS. An English teacher, played by Robin Williams, instructs the boys at a boarding school to "huddle up" for a secret: "That you are here, that life exists...that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse." Literature, in the form of Hollywood inspirational sentimentality, conquered me for the first time. Armed with "Carpe Diem," my shrimpy self set out to "suck the marrow out of life." I asked my parents for the VHS for Christmas. I asked for Leaves of Grass.

Shelia Heti says, "Maybe teenagers are the ideal audience...they're so honest, their love for something is so pure."

Researching the Levi's ads, I find The Inspiration Room, an internet hub for "the latest creative inspirations," an archive of countless ads and music videos meant to motivate and inspire. I watch the Nike "Possibilities" ad. "Find your line and go beyond it. The only limit is the one you set yourself," says the Red Bull commercial.


Jacques Rancière says, "Art is emancipated and emancipating when it stops wanting to emancipate us."

In a recent video, Roggenbuck turns down the sentiment, even parodying his older videos. It begins, "I just have one thing to say, 'Can we use olive oil during sex?'" He cackles wildly. The video scraps the post-rock for a Chief Keef beat and recreates the same 'yelling at traffic' shot, this time shouting, "Your stunning good looks impress me!"

Roggenbuck looks into the camera. "Sometimes the stuff I do approaches straight-up humor, sometimes the stuff I do approaches straight-up spirituality or self-help, and yet the label 'poet' is what speaks to me."

I bike down to The Oxbow, a bend in the Connecticut River. The sun sets behind me. I watch speedboats slow their motors and dock for the night.