From rural Michigan to Internet fame: CMU graduate Steve Roggenbuck finds success in poetry
"A poem can change somebody's life," Roggenbuck said in a personal video on his YouTube channel. "The point for me is changing people's lives."
The Internet sensation has spread his poetry all over the country, and the world, through his use of various social media, including YouTube, Vine and Twitter and live streaming through Spreecast.
Other than his profession as an Internet poet and blogger, there is another level of uniqueness that comes with Roggenbuck, who identifies himself as a vegan, Buddhist and a firm believer in feminism.
His blog site, “Live My Lief,” is a compilation of videos, images and pages from his print book that are all quirky representations of his unique personality.
His videos are a collection of different scenes that make up a video blog, where he depicts real life in an unusual way, always encouraging people to avoid negativity and enjoy that they are alive and breathing. His occupation on Facebook is even posted as “Boosting the World.”
"'Boost the World' is another way to say 'make the world a better place.' It means boosting individual people by saying nice things to them, and it means helping with social/political efforts that reshape our whole world for good," Roggenbuck said.
Roggenbuck disagrees with the notion that one has to be born with a passion for poetry in order to enjoy it.
“Most poetry bored me until I read E.E. Cummings my senior year of high school. I loved it for how playful, visual, funny and rebellious it was,” he said. “The first weekend I got to CMU, I checked out two E.E. Cummings books from the library. I started writing a lot of poetry influenced by him, and gradually, I found other poets I liked, too.”
Since then, many people have been affected by his work. Roggenbuck has more than 5,000 subscribers on YouTube, 80,000 views on one video and more than 12,000 followers on Twitter.
Day by day, his fan base grows as his poetry travels through cyberspace.
Roggenbuck has been recognized by outlets as influential and large as the New York Times Style Magazine, which praised Roggenbuck as "the first 21st century poet.” When asked how he felt in regards to this recognition, he modestly said it made him happy, because it made his mom proud.
"The (New York Times) article was cool because my mom was proud of me. I feel like before that she maybe didn't believe that I would be successful as an 'Internet poet,'" he said.
As with many successful artists, Roggenbuck pursued a traditional college education, and it didn’t work out as planned. After attending CMU and receiving his undergraduate degree, he attended Columbia College Chicago to pursue an masters degree in poetry. He soon dropped out after stern program requirements restricted his ability to express the creative work he was passionate about.
“I dropped out because the faculty were too rigid in their understanding of poetry. They didn't encourage my video poetry or image poetry. I didn't have enough freedom to create in the forms I'm excited to create in."
So how did a guy from rural Michigan with no contacts, no direction and no guarantees of achievement become so successful?
Commitment. A simple word, a difficult action.
Roggenbuck spent his days interacting on social media, writing, making videos and reaching out to people. His commitment to his work is the reason for his strong and growing fan base.
“I (spent time) friend-requesting, wall-posting, commenting, poking, messaging (and) tweeting,” Roggenbuck said. “I built individual relationships with hundreds of people who came to be my core followers. I didn't get much help from large media for the first few years at all.”
The majority of Roggenbuck's 2012 was spent couch-surfing across the country, touring and doing poetry readings in different places including Brooklyn, San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Philadelphia.
The big cities started to feel like home for this small-town poet.
"I've toured all over the United States and into Canada. I spent an entire year couch-surfing and working full-time on my poetry and blogging," he said. "Now I have great friends and a basic understanding of the public transportation in most major U.S. cities."
As for aspiring poets, Roggenbuck has one important piece of advice: Be who you want to be, and love yourself for it.
“Be a poet exactly how you want to be a poet. Make it exactly what you love,” he said, “If you do that, your passion and enjoyment will shine through, and you'll be willing to work very hard. That kind of constant hard work will take you very, very far.”