Maybe your hyper-pithy Facebook and Twitter friends have already alerted you to the fact that the way we all talk to each other on the internet has certain qualities in common with poetry. Both make use of made-up words (hashtag, tweet) and textbook irony (#blessed, #sorrynotsorry). Both are interested in finding profundity in the mundane (“16 Things Every Twentysomething Should Know”) and eloquence in nostalgia (“Throwback Thursday”). But maybe you didn’t realize that some internet poetry is more than just an incidental byproduct of the blogosphere – it’s part of a big ole movement called Alt Lit.
Alt Lit is loosely defined as poetry or fiction whose works are often cobbled from online materials, for an online audience. Writers like Tao Lin, Marie Calloway and internet poet Steve Roggenbuck are considered forerunners of the scene today – and the emphasis on “scene” is significant here, as most of these writers congregate and coexist on the internet. It’s kind of as if the coffee house of the fifties has been replaced by Tumblr. To give you an idea, here are some snippets of the form:
While pastiching is an art form that goes way, way back (see also: collage, The Beats, flaring, our own in-house poets…), Alt Lit is a deliberately post-modern creature. According to a recent New Yorker profile on the subject, “the poems and stories, published on blogs and Twitter feeds, are usually written in the Internet vernacular of lowercase letters, inverted punctuation, abundant typos, and bad grammar.” Alt Lit is applying the boldness of Dadaism and Beat poetry, while thriving in the context of our internet-driven age. As a result, the content of most Alt Lit concerns the millennial, and the various cultural issues we grapple with in the present day.
A lot of great examples of this nifty new poetry form can be found for free online, because the movement is also interested in inclusivity and a hearty rejection of the bourgeois. Noah Cicero, an Alt Lit-er, put this a simpler way in a Vol I. Brooklyn interview: “I think Alt Lit is a rejection of the ’90s and early part of the past decade.” Food for thought.
As with all movements in progress, defining the genre clearly is still pretty difficult. But Alt Lit is certainly about immediacy, movement, re-appropriation and a curious fusion of the ironic and the sincere. Roggenbuck best distilled the feeling behind the genre in a manifesto for his website, when he wrote:
So for all my poet gigglers out there in search of a new writer’s community, a strange summer read, or a place to submit that series of eloquent Tweets – you might try rummaging through the Internet. Sites like HTMLGiant, MuuMuu House, Internet Poetry and Alt Lit Gossip are good places to start. We spend so much of our time caught up in the world wide web anyways. Why not bask in some art while we’re here?