The Motivational Flarf Of An SEO-Poet : An Interview With Steve Roggenbuck

The SEO-poet-disruptor Steve Roggenbuck combines flarf and motivational speaking techniques to create a unique brand of videos, poems, and image macros to expand poetry into the craziest of realms. Through, he mixes everyday topics into anachronistic phrases that somehow make perfect sense in all manner of status updates. He was a purveyor of madness at the recent AWP conference (or the after-parties at least) and his newest chapbook, Crunk Juice, is recently released.

He answers a few questions below.

It seems like you put out a video almost everyday. Are these scripted? How much footage do you usually take? And how long is your editing process?

I put out videos much less often than every day now. I did every weekday in September 2011, but decided that quality and variety were more important than quantity, so now I aim for 2 videos/week. I usually take between 1 and 2 hours of video and edit it down to 1 to 2 minutes. My editing process takes between 4 and 10 hours usually. The main thing I do is watch it repeatedly and delete everything except what is consistently compelling to me (which is the same as what I do with my writing–draft a lot, delete most of it).

Why do you think these vids work better than say releasing a new poem everyday or new essay everyday?

When I used to focus on posting essays (, I felt like I was talking only to other writers. Now I focus on posting my actual creative content, and I like the shift. I feel like my brand is more directly and broadly about life now and how to live, not just about writing. Especially the videos appeal to a lot of people outside of established literary communities–but the poems do too, more than I thought they would. I really love that; I think it’s awesome if poets can have readers besides other poets.

Download Helvetica For Free, Poetry by Emily Dickinson and using URLs like “‘ really take advantage of SEO  techniques. Did you start doing that in an attempt to gain more traffic or to disrupt the expectations of those visiting the sites? Do you feel like those techniques have been successful? (Disclosure: I have contributed to Poetry By Emily Dickinson)

 I did it for both the reasons you listed, traffic and surprise. The helvetica URL has been pretty successful at getting traffic; I get about 300 people every day who are google searching “download helvetica” or similar phrases. It’s not quality traffic, though. Those people are just trying to download a font; they don’t care about my poetry. I’ve become more and more wary/bored with marketing ideas like SEO, which target “hits” or even “notes” or “followers” in an abstract way. I’ve come to focus much more on building relationships and community. I think interacting with every follower you have is much more valuable than actively seeking out new followers. If you build real relationships and enthusiasm and community, people will spread your work for you. I don’t plan on using SEO very much at all in the future.

 I watched some of your Duke University conference presentation about the use of image macros. Why do you think those have taken off as a way of expression? And why should “poets” use those?

They are fast and fun and easy to make. We live in a very visual culture, it makes sense that a lot of the most effective uses of language will in visual forms or paired with visuals. I’m not saying poets “should” make image macros necessarily, but I think poets have the skills to make very good image macros if they like. We are sensitive to wording things very carefully to achieve a specific effect in the reader. Many poets, especially those working with flarf, are already working with an ironic kind of humor.

 I’ve heard you declare that you may not even be a poet anymore. Why is that label constraining for you? Do you think you would have more “success” abandoning any pretense of ‘literature’ (and its circles/communities,etc.) altogether?

 Yeah “poetry” is not the point for me. Culture is maybe the point for me, or something even broader. I am just sharing my personality and my humor and my energy and how I understand the world. I will do that in basically any form. I will do that in written language, spoken language, video, back-and-forth interaction with people, graphic design, and other things. I am trying to be a complete example of someone doing what I think is beautiful and exciting and good for humans to do in their life. The poetry is just 1 expression of the broader thing.

 Would you ever consider publishing your stuff through a regular publishing house or are you good publishing your own stuff?

I will probably always publish my own stuff. In order to consider publish with someone else, I’d need to retain all the same freedoms (design, content, licensing, distribution) while also reaching a lot more new people.

What are some good videos as Steve Roggenbuck entry points?

 “LIEF IS BEAUTFUL” is the most loved and pretty well balanced in terms of humor and substance. After that, it depends on your own interests. “Dubstep Is My Life” is popular, or my love-poetry video “Somewhere in the bottom of the rain.”

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