During the launch show for the prototype of its web application, TourKidd had a chat in a basement of the Icehouse with Steve Roggenbuck, a poet based out of Tucson, AZ. This interview was conducted by TourKidd’s Michael Klint, and Roggenbuck had a lot to say about his art, individualism and creating caring, positive environments.
One thing that I particularly appreciate about your live set is the level of comfort that you display in your performances. I’m wondering how that and your poetry style have developed.
Steve: Yeah, well, a lot of practice.… I’ve done a lot of different shows and got to see what people react to and not. So, I guess that’s sort of just like how a comedian learns which of their jokes get the best response or not. The comfort level…. I guess I’ve had a lot of practice and I’ve always had, sort of, a performative mode that I could turn on and have decent charisma when I do that, and I’ve definitely gotten better at it with time.
I speak very much from my heart…. I’ve had a lot of experience doing live streams on the Internet too, where I’m just talking to people over the camera, and I always allow myself to go where my heart is telling me to go, you know? If I feel like bringing up something that I want to talk about, I just sort of pursue that because then I’m always talking about what I’m excited to talk about at the moment. And so…. I feel like people can feel the excitement.
In a similar vein, do you remember any sort of “aha moment” where you realized that the mediums that you express yourself through were the best to convey your messages?
Steve: The moment where I sort of knew what forms I wanted to use…. I was just writing poetry for a long time and…. E.E. Cummings was the first poet that I really liked. Then I found Walt Whitman…Gertrude Stein, and a few others.
But I think I started getting really excited about the Internet stuff when I found…a MFA program for poetry. I turned in this one poem where I compiled, basically, a bunch of jokey internet text that I had found and crammed together, and the teacher said “save this stuff for your blog.” She didn’t like it… she didn’t think it was very good, and she said that in a condescending way, as if blogs aren’t important or something. She was like, “Oh, post this joke stuff on your blog. Bring some more serious stuff to the class.” So, I embraced the Internet from that point (roughly) forward, and I just became more aware of different projects that I would see on Twitter…or video-making people, web-comic people, bloggers…. I would see their forms and be like, “This is kind of like poetry and I could do this too.” So, I’ve experimented a lot with different things and different forms have evolved naturally as my impulses take me.
So, then, where do your intentional misspellings fall into that?
Steve: The misspellings.… Well, Peter Orlovsky was a poet who associated with the beat poets, sort of. He was Allen Ginsberg’s lover for a while, and he wrote beautiful poems with misspellings. They’re, like, the cutest misspellings. So, I like those…I was inspired by those.
Then, in 2011(ish), I started stumbling upon these weird twitter accounts…like wolf pupy, tree_bro, and a few others…. Horse ebooks was in there…around that time. And so, I started seeing the internet versions of these creative misspellings too…. I think it was around that time that I really started doing it hard.
But, again, I was in my MFA program and I was doing these misspellings, and the people in the classes didn’t really get it. They were like, “Why did you misspell kiss, but you spelled giraffe correctly? It’s not realistic. Anybody who would misspell kiss would obviously misspell giraffe too.” And I’m like, “It’s not supposed to be analyzed that specifically per word,” you know? But, the overall effect of it I’m very aware of…. It does affect the tone, the voice…
I liked [intentional misspellings], and I think I needed to cultivate a bravery…. Even though I knew some people didn’t like it, it was important for me to do it because some people did like it and I wanted to connect with those people. You always got to do the things that are different in a way that some people are going to get excited about and some people are going to hate. That’s how you make yourself stand out.
On a similar note, with culture and community, I know establishing those positive environments is very big for your work. What motivates you to keep doing that now as opposed to how you viewed all this a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, etc. Has anything changed in that time?
Steve: I think I’ve become a lot more intentional about the kind of community that I create…like, who I reach out to and stuff. At first, [the community] was very much like anybody who came to my videos or my blog or twitter and was engaging with me, commenting on my stuff, liking my stuff…. I just automatically was like, “I love you back. I want to be your poet. I want to make community with you.” I would spend all day replying to all these comments from anybody because I was like, “I need to build community,” you know?
But, now, I’m a little bit more aware [of] what kind of community I want to build. What kind of following do I want? Which people do I especially want in my community?…. I’ve had a lot of awakening about various political things, learning a lot more about patriarchal masculinity, about capitalism, about different fucked up things in the world, and…I need to be more aware of what my work is doing and what my community is serving in terms of those things…. So that’s been a lot of where my focus has been- intentionally building more community and more connections with the people who seem to care about those issues and who are learning about those things and wanting to create safer communities and more radical communities along those lines.
So, that’s one thing that has changed. But, I feel like having that renewed sense of purpose – a more specific purpose – sort of gives me new energy.
I need to be more aware of what my work is doing and what my community is serving in terms of those things
TourKidd talked with more bands at its launch show that night. Click here to check out the other interviews.