“DOWNLOAD HELVETICA FOR FREE.COM” . . . and beyond?

My review of Steven Roggenbuck’s DOWNLOAD HELVETICA FOR FREE.COM is now up at Rain Taxi.

I also wanted to link to this new HELVETICA-like poem that Steve posted on his tumblr the other day. I feel like this poem “goes beyond” the ones in DHFF.C and even shows some of their limitations in a way, less because it relaxes the strict minimalism of the book (more text, freer visual composition, lowercase letters) than because it leaves behind any hint of ironic distance or Flarfy mockery. This poem has lots of familiar elements from DHFF.C: kitschy pop culture references, breezy misspellings, deliberate sentimentality. But by tying all those things together in one poem, it creates a richer, more human context that the HELVETICA poems only show when looked at as a group—a sense of lived reality within which kitsch and irony and sentimentality merge with vulnerability and honest affection. (To be clear, I love Flarf and I love irony, but I also love variety, and so I get excited whenever I seem to see a new tone entering the world. Steve often seems to be clearing new ground for innovative poetry, an area that might be tagged something like “niceness” or “positive feelings,” and that’s depressingly alien to so much good art.)

It’s interesting to compare Steve’s approach to appropriated language in these poems with another great contemporary practitioner of the poetic ready-made, Kenneth Goldsmith. Like Goldsmith, Steve documents the “‘nutritionless’ language” that all of us ingest and excrete at alarming rates all the time. But where Goldsmith wants us to look outside our windows and see the blizzard of cold, impersonal public speech swirling every day, Steve seems more interested in the home fires lovingly, thoughtlessly tended within the shelter of the personal. Some of Steve’s best appropriated poems (such as this one) do almost the opposite of a good Flarf poem. They make you conscious of the fact that a real person somewhere wrote this as a piece of actual, nonpoetic communication—but instead of feeling frightened and confused by that fact, as you might at the mercy of a determined satirist like Sharon Mesmer, you feel relieved. You’re reminded that there literally is love and care in the world, after all, that it’s present in ordinary interactions in a lot of people’s lives, constantly, there to be taken for granted.