A Forsley Feuilleton: If Richard Yates Wrote A Novel Called Tao Lin. . . – Act Two

Lil B is Miley Cyrus, Ellen DeGeneres, and Dr. Phil. But he’s also ‘Alt- Lit’. . . at least that’s what I’ve been told. But I’ve been told a lot of things. Andrew Marantz, in a New Yorker essay on Lil B, told me that “His songs about celebrities are, like Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe prints, a comment on the mechanization of celebrity.”  And Kittie Tourniquet, in reaction to Act One of this Forsley Feuilleton, told me this: “Don’t you dare put my sweet baby’s name in your dirty dirty cunt-whore blog ever again.”  Her “sweet baby,” I assume, is Marie Calloway, who I unfairly used to dismiss all the writers of ‘Alt-Lit.’ But most of the writers involved in this new literary movement, if asked to name their ‘sweet baby,’ would name Lil B, who I- unfairly?- used to renew my interest in their work.

I don’t know why Lil B is their sweet baby. But, because of all the research I so thoroughly conducted on ‘Alt- Lit,’ I can use, by way of the scientific method, my findings- which includes the discovery of a temperamental feline internet persona that isn’t a writer- to make a blogfessional calculation: Lil B is their sweet baby because of his skinny pants, his exploitation of social media, his manic productivity, his refreshing positivity, his cultural consciousness, his ironic playfulness, his unashamed self-promotion, and his. . . dumb writing.

If you don’t believe me that Lil B’s writing is dumb, just read these lyrics to “I’m Miley Cyrus,” one of his biggest hits: “I’m Miley Cyrus / Cyrus / Cyrus / I’m Miley Cyrus.”  If those lyrics aren’t dumb, than Bob Dylan is Robert Zimmerman. But Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan, and dumb isn’t dumb. Here in the Bay Area, where Hip-Hop culture has a history so long and storied that it has evolved into Hyphy culture, dumb is dope. . . and dope, at least in my 90s molded mind, is praise reserved for only the most respected and relevant rapping writers.

Steve Roggenbuck, who the New York Times recently called “The Prophet” of ‘Alt- Lit,’ is to poetry what Lil B is to hip-hop. They’re both dumb fucking writers. . . no, Roggenbuck is a dumb fricking writer. That’s how dumb Roggenbuck is: he spells fucking- ‘fricking.’  He also spells life – ‘lief,’ and misplaces so many commas and forgets to capitalize so many words that soon, if they haven’t already, every English Literature teacher in every high school across this country will ban his writing just as they ban all writing that offends their sensibilities.

Roggenbuck is so dumb that if he was a rapper in the Bay Area, he would be the dopest rapper with the most swag. The East Oakland ‘Sideshow’ girls would all hail the Hyphy halo that would hover over his head. And he would do more fricking than Don Juan in a female frat-house. But Roggenbuck isn’t a rapper, and he’s not from the Bay Area. He’s a poet from the internet. He might even be, according to Jacob Brown of the New York Times, “the first 21st-century poet.”

But I’m not so sure. I’m not sure if he’s a poet at all, let alone the first 21st-century poet. Is he dope dumb, or just dumb dumb? He’s not a rapper from the Bay Area, so should I applaud or bombard him and his dumbness? I don’t know. I don’t know if he can spell correctly but doesn’t want to because he’s trying to revolutionize language, or if he can’t spell correctly but doesn’t have to because he’s writing for an audience- today’s youth whom learned to text before they could talk- that all spell fucker and life, ‘fricker’ and ‘lief.’ In his spoken-word videos, he talks like an idiot, walks like an idiot, and looks like an idiot, so he could be just that: an idiot, the idiot. . . the idiot of the village known as the internet.

Or maybe he’s not just any idiot. Maybe he’s an idiot savant and can couch surf with a talent unheard of among us non-idiots – us non-idiots who spend our lives slaving away at jobs we don’t like so we can pay mortgages on houses we don’t need. Maybe he can count Facebook ‘likes’ with the skill that Dustin Hoffman counts toothpicks. Or maybe he’s neither an idiot nor an idiot savant. Maybe he just comes off as such because, like he told Thought Catalogue‘s Matthew Sherling, he cares “about the community (he’s) building and the impact (he’s) having in peoples lives soooo much more than the craft or technical aspects of (his) work.” It’s hard to say.

It’s also hard to say he’s the first 21st-century poet when every Thursday night at the corner of San Francisco’s 16th & Mission close to a hundred poets- who, unlike Roggenbuck, care deeply for both the community they are building and the technical aspects of their work- gather under the fog to take turns spitting their creations through the crack smoke, over the crazies, and up into the misty ocean air. And, from what I have observed, none of these poets “are afraid to distinguish themselves,” which is why Roggenbuck, in “BE YOURSELF,” says most poetry is boring and why most people don’t read poetry. Are these San Francisco poets, the Charlie Getters and Sam Saxs of the world, not living in the 21st century? And if they are, which they are, why the frick would Jacob Brown of the New York Times even consider crowning Roggenbuck as the first poet of the century?

The only way to answer that question, and the many others I have about this new internet based literary movement in which Roggenbuck is supposedly “The Prophet” of, is through further exploration. And, in Act Three of this Forsley Feuilleton, I will explore another dumb but influential figure of ‘Alt- Lit’ who goes by the name of Tao Lin. Is Tao Lin dope dumb, or just dumb dumb?

To Be Continued. . .


  • I’ve typed twenty different messages here and have deleted each one. This is a difficult topic for me to address, because I prefer writing that is technically interesting, so I must agree that the technical aspects of the community’s writing is for the most part non-existent. But I think that’s the point of the community. They don’t care what you think. They are only interested in like-minded souls. They boost the people who want to be boosted. They don’t give a shit about the rest of you. I like that. I give them my support because I like their message and they are damn good people. They are the kind of people you can call up when you have a flat tire and they’d be on their way to help. That’s what community is all about.

    • Chza

      We write poems cuz we like poems… Good poems… You get a flat tire you can fix it yourself you worthless shit.

  • Even Steve is distancing himself from the word “Poetry”. But, don’t get defensive. You write the way you write for a reason. Be proud of it. I enjoy the writing I find within the community. Let’s get real though, it’s not the kind of poetry that will end up in a text book. It’s the kind of poetry that will stay in the hearts of its readers forever. That’s a damn good thing, IMO.

  • Chris Dankland

    I don’t want to start a fight or hate on anybody- everyone’s entitled to their own opinions and I respect where everybody’s coming from. What I’m most curious about is what you specifically think is dumb about either Roggenbuck or Tao Lin or Calloway or whoever- I’m most interested in specific examples, in citing specific examples. To me it seems like you’re pointing to something offstage and saying “this is dumb”—but the audience can’t see what you’re pointing at. You’re assuming that everyone knows all about Roggenbuck’s work, and that everyone (pro and anti) has agreed ahead of time that his poems are stupid—which means that the pro group is celebrating his stupidity, and the anti group is hating his stupidity. But that’s a totally false choice, not everyone sees his work as stupid.

    I think of Roggenbuck as someone who’s really clever, not stupid: some examples for me are “feels great to be alone but I wish I had someone to share it with” and “If Nobody Else Ever Lived / It Would Be Enough Anyway / Because I Am So Alive That I Make Up / For Anything Else That Happens Or Doesn’t” Also, different lines like “THE MOON IS QUIET I LOVE YOU THE SAME WAY” and “IT FEELS FANTASTIC TO GET FUCKED BY THE RAIN” are examples to me of great poetry and great writing.

    When he quotes someone like Charles Berstein: “Poetry is not important, poetic thinking is very important”—there’s a real depth to what he’s doing, he’s creating a context around language that’s very interesting to me. Tao Lin is the same way—in his books I can find a hundred examples of great writing—very clear and consise and complex…he definitely knows what he’s doing, in terms of how to write…technically, conceptually, or however else you want to say it.

    You mentioned Roggenbuck’s misspellings—it seems like you’re saying you don’t like anything that’s misspelled, and that’s totally your perogative…but I’m 100% sure that Roggenbuck is misspelling things on purpose, and not on accident. Basquiat purposely misspelled things, and so did Joyce in Finnegans Wake, so those might be examples of when misspellings can mean more than just being sloppy or uneducated.

    Finally, I strongly disagree that Lil B is the darling of alt lit. Some people in the community like him, but a lot of other people in the community don’t like him, or are indifferent—I don’t know what Tao Lin thinks about him, but I’d guess that he’s more or less indifferent about Lil B, I don’t think he’s really into rap music. And I seriously doubt that Marie Calloway would cite Lil B as any sort of inspiration. When I said “Lil B invented alt lit” I was just being goofy, I didn’t mean that literally. People like Sam Pink and Tao Lin and Noah Cicero and Blake Butler and Elizabeth Ellen and Scott McClanhan and xTx and Frank Hinton have been writing since way before Lil B was around. I think the “alt lit” community—which for me mostly just means literature + internet, with a healthy dose of self-publishing—is bigger than just Tao Lin and Steve Roggenbuck, I think the octopus has many, many tendrils. You might disagree with me, but I think something like “Bums of the Bay” became alt lit the moment you turned it into a tumblr and released it for free. Stuff like that is revolutionary, and I think those are the type of things that are going to help revitalize literature and help it adapt to the 21st world we’re living in.

    Sorry…I won’t pontificate like this in the future—I just felt like sharing my POV, for whatever it’s worth. I’m looking forward to your next article…

    • Tao Lin is known to like Kitty Pryde, a Lil B fangirl rapper. I’m decently sure he’d like Lil B.

  • I just want to add, because I don’t think I made it clear, that the only reason I feel that alt-lit poetry wouldn’t be included in text books, is because of the establishment would fight against it. I don’t feel that that alt-lit writing has less merit than more traditional forms. Art is beautiful and alt-lit is art.

  • Liv Franchini

    I have only discovered the alt-lit scene about a month ago, and though I am enjoying its presence in my life, and have been intermittently active within it, I am not sure I can considered myself as ‘belonging’ to it as a practitioner. There are things I am still assessing about what is going on and many pieces of work/writers I still haven’t had a chance to read and make up my mind about.

    As a writer and reader, there are certainly stylistic choices in some of the writing that belongs to the ‘scene’ that I identify with more than others, or, simply, like more or less. What baffles me, however, in reading this (series of) articles, is that someone would feel so entitled to jump to conclusions and harshly assess such a multiform movement that has mainly the positive effect of stimulating a number of individuals towards the production of art. (As Chris says, the scene is as varied as there are individual writers in it).

    I truly fail to understand why someone who claims to be interested in art would be so keen on condemning a movement which has mainly the positive effect of connecting and pushing people to the production of artistic objects, making them feel less lonely and isolated across countries. You can dislike the individual poet or writer, but why applying the concept to a movement which is made of many? Why denying a writer the support of a community? Bloody hell, writing is a solitary occupation enough.

    I might feel different about this article if I felt it was backed up by the necessary research to support such a stern attack. But as it stands, I see little or no substance in both of these pieces. Instead, there is a lot of judgemental attitude, and a bunch of repeated questions with no answer that, in my eyes, kind of stand as ironic counterpart to those much hated misspellings.

  • I love the passion that this topic evokes. As is the case with all my writing, this piece isn’t supposed act as a critical examination. It’s more of an op-ed than an academic analysis. Don’t take it too seriously. I write about topics that interest me, and through some humorless humor I try to reveal to myself – and to you – what it is about said topic that I found interesting, and, if I’m lucky, I try to find some conclusions. In the process, I always hope to add something, anything, to the conversation. Mister Dankland, in Act Three – in which I will write about Tao Lin and his novel, Richard Yates – I’ll try to give some specific examples. . . but I can’t make any promises. Also, although nothing is for sure yet, in Act Four, which will probably be the final Act, there’s a good chance I will find similarities – maybe many – between my own work and that of the ‘Alt – Lit’ writers. For instance, as you mentioned, my decision to put Bums of the Bay on Tumblr for anyone to read at no cost was definitely a result of my initial interest in ‘Alt – Lit.’ But, make no mistake about it, because I grew up with a fire crotch and listening to gangster rap and before that grunge, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to relate to the impressive positivity maintained by the likes of Roggenbuck and Lil B. . . but, Liv Franchini, I won’t apologize for that. As always, thanks for reading and responding.

  • spencer madsen

    second installment of lazy, indecisive, uninformed self indulgence

  • theo

    two acts is enough for you
    this shouldnt be continued
    you pushed yourself enough
    now is a good time to stop

  • Liv Franchini

    Personally I grew up with punk rock and I don’t even know who Lil B is but I still like to be friends with people.

  • “If those lyrics aren’t dumb, than Bob Dylan is Robert Zimmerman.”


    Oh, the irony. Maybe I’m ‘Alt-Lit’ after all.

    The editors at PANK have nothing to do with my column. They don’t edit my posts, and I don’t even know if they read them. Like print publications that have Op-ed sections, the posts that appear here on the PANK blog don’t represent, in any way, the views or sensibilities of the magazine itself.

  • I believe it was this submission for their This Modern Writer series that convinced them to offer me my own column. According to most of you, they may have made a mistake. But according to me. . . ahhh, frick it. Have a good day.


  • just read your post and all the comments. i think i get you and i think i get alt lit too, as much as that’s possible from where i stand. looking forward to your take on tao lin whose work i really don’t know (except a cursory look at Shoplifting…). enjoying the debate, any debate really, after 10 hours of dealing with projects and students and grading and exams and with colleagues in a row, kept alive only by masses of very strong italian coffee and swearing under my breath. but that’s my personal battleground. more tomorrow, tonight i feel too young and reckless and i’m afraid i’ll soon beginn to misspel my own neme.

  • Frank Jackson

    I feel the “alt lit” community is a wonderful vehicle for people who love to write, want to share/engage with a writing community, but may feel alienated from their IRL writing community. I know after college I spent a couple years languishing in the freelance world living in the cultural wasteland of Orange County and it sucks feeling isolated from what I got used to in school, like-minded writers offering feedback and support for my efforts. Not everyone can live in NYC or the Bay, but I hope that means I am still able to have a voice in the literary community. Alt Lit has provided me with a community that motivates me to keep writing.

    I don’t think there is anything dumb or lazy about Steve’s writing, and his work is definitely poetry. He does what important artists do, showing us through his art who we are, how we live, all the while incorporating trends in our technology and our culture. I enjoy the depth of his essays and poetry even more so than his videos. I feel his videos are popular because they are a fascinating insight into the process of creating art, and Steve is simply put “entertaining”, “likable” “genuine” which is showcased through his videos. The characteristics of the community I feel are still evolving but that’s whats exciting, we have an opportunity to build a platform through new technology that was never possible before.

    BTW – I feel like Pank is “Alt Lit” or at least share related principles that revolve around the idea of experimental balls on the table writing

    • PANK definitely shares, at least in part, an alt lit aesthetic. We’re part experimental, part dirty realism, part, who knows what.

  • I expect more of PANK

    • As well you should. This is not PANK’s stance on alt lit. We apologize.

  • how do you know what steve roggenbuck’s walk looks like?

  • I could be wrong, but I think that Steve Roggenbuck, whose personality (I only know his online personality) I enjoy and like as much as (if not more) his work, probably grows as a poet with resistance, mis/interpretation and even mockery. I think attracting these things as well as the applause is one of the unavoidable aspects of public attention, which he very much invites. As long as this attention is surrounded by debate and dialogue, new art will spring from it. (You see, I couldn’t have said this so well and so optimistically last night, because I felt to depleted. But in the light of a new day, I think we can all be friends, and I think Steve would agree.)

  • PS. On a personal marketing note: I thought just now on the shower while stroking my skull that I wouldn’t mind if PANK invited me to write a regular column. If that happened, I might even consider pissing some people off too because it’s impossible to see anything of substance without doing that.

  • i have given a lot of thought to this subject. it is certainly a very complex issue and has raised various questions and emotions for many people. however, when it comes down to it, i don’t think writing should be condemned for breaking norms in a significant way. in college workshop classes it seems as though everyone is afraid to break free from some very set rules, e.g. correct spelling, line break rules, ‘cliched’ words (beautiful, sad, etc.). i think the thing that i have come to embrace about this community is the freedom it allows of its members. i can honestly say that i hadn’t been as excited about writing until i discovered this community since my first poetry class. clearly a lot of these writers understand the unwritten rules that they are supposed to be following.. and like the dadaists and modernists before them, they have chosen to ignore or reject some of these rules. i think that good writing evokes emotion, as with good music. technicality can be the illusion of skill. a song by neutral milk hotel can get you equally emotional as a song by don caballero. a song by lil b can get me just as pumped up as a song by the craziest technical metal band on earth. is there not room for both ‘technically proficient’ writing and ‘experimental’ writing? can they not be one in the same? ‘skill’ in writing is being redefined as we speak.

    i don’t fall in love with all of the writing in this community; that would be impossible. however, i want to encourage others and i love reading growing writers, seeing people excited about writing, and building community. thank you for writing this essay, christopher, i’m interested in hearing all perspectives on the subject.

  • Russ Woods

    Sounds like you wrote an article without really thinking very hard about any of this.

  • Russ Woods

    You should listen to Steve’s interview with Brad Listi on Other People. Steve is incredibly well-read and makes the choices he makes very deliberately. The best work of Steve’s has a really strong emotional core. I think this comes through most effectively in some of the videos, which, in my opinion, are where it’s really at when it comes to what he does. If it’s not your thing, that’s one thing, but dig a little deeper, guy. “Dumb” doesn’t have a ton to do with it.

  • This is awesome. I don’t read enough alt lit to understand it all but… The rap game Tao Lin affect-wise is Kool A.D., but formerly, yes Lil B. I hope Lil B reads this and comes out with a song named Adrien Brody.

  • formally, I mean, or maybe I’m dumb.

  • not a good article

  • PANK enjoys Roggenbuck’s work. We’ve run a review of his work: http://www.pankmagazine.com/pankblog/reviews/download-helvetica/. We gravitate to work that is different in form and voice and Roggenbuck’s poetry embodies that. I’d also note that say what you will about him (and I don’t know him), he never comes off as dumb. In the videos I’ve seen and his poetry I’ve read he seems intelligent and interesting. The alt lit discussion is one that comes up quite a lot and it’s actually great that people care enough to talk about new styles of writing. It’s odd, though, that people act unnecessarily dismissive because of arbitrary ideas about what literature is. As someone who is somewhat older, I sometimes find alt lit confusing, for lack of a better word, and I’m absolutely comfortable expressing that confusion and talking about it. That said, the movement cannot be dismissed simply because some people don’t “get it” or don’t like it. I didn’t see this post before it went up because once we’ve accepted a columnist, we trust their judgment and allow them to post. We’ll leave this up but I did let Christopher, whose work we also enjoy, know that the tone here is not what PANK stands for. At all.

  • debbie

    what is Thought Catalogue