I think that this is definitely true to an extent. DRUNK was a small group of people writing poems while drunk. It was started by myself and Kendra Grant Malone. Initially, we were just emailing each other the DRUNK poems with plans of making a chapbook. We put together a manuscript but never did anything with it (the picture at the top of the DRUNK blog is what it would’ve looked like). Instead, we started the blog. I don’t remember how we got others involved. It was originally just going to be for mine and Kendra’s poems. I think maybe Justin Rands asked to join or something. Honestly, I have no idea how it expanded but it did and it became somewhat popular, at least by the 2008 indie lit scene’s standards. We got some bigger names involved (Chris Killen, Tao Lin [though I suspect that Tao Lin was never actually drunk when posting to the DRUNK blog], Sam Pink [and Mike Young was added to blog but never posted, same goes for Chelsea Martin, I think]) which brought more readers. Eventually it was just myself, Bryan Coffelt, Justin Rands, and occasionally Kendra blogging. I wrote the DRUNK SONNETS and eventually it died out. There hasn’t been a new post since October 26th, 2010.
What I feel like made DRUNK something different is that this was like a side project for all of us. We were all working on our writing outside of DRUNK. You could probably tell who wrote what DRUNK poem based on voice. While DRUNK was happening, Chris Killen put out The Bird Room. Kendra had several ebooks published. Bryan Coffelt put out a few chapbooks. Sam Pink wrote Yum Yum I Can’t Wait to Die and I Am Going to Clone… I put out an ebook and was busy writing other poems and stories. The point is, the shittiness and haphazard quality of the DRUNK poems was secondary to every DRUNK writer’s main writing.
We were not attempting to start any kind of movement or anything. We used DRUNK as a diversion. We were simply writing in a mental state that led to more “sincere” poems (whatever that means)(and trust me, this New Sincerity thing is not new) and a more direct style that probably often resulted in spelling errors and other idiosyncrasies. Maybe that made an impression. Although, it is my belief that all art is sincere, as I have also seen many others express recently in this whole Alt Lit/New Sincerity discussion that seems to have invaded every internet literature outlet.
I think that maybe having Tao’s name on the contributors list makes it seem like we were part of that pre alt lit thing, but at the same time, Tao had probably already started his intern thing and his voice had already been copied a lot at this point. Alt Lit just seems like noise that has continued to grow since the days of Tao’s interns (back when everyone still used blogspot and communicated with one another via blogspot comment sections rather than facebook, twitter, tumblr [which I hadn’t even heard of at this point]).
I think Alt Lit is mostly posturing. It’s attaching one’s self to something larger and riding along. Alt Lit is a great white shark and the myriad Alt Lit writers are remoras along for the ride. The only thing is that Alt Lit is not yet a large great white shark. It’s still small. Aside from Tao Lin, who predates Alt Lit and, imho is not Alt Lit because he has his own vision, and Steve Roggenbuck, no Alt Lit writer has created anything that will last beyond Alt Lit’s moment. The shark is not big enough to carry the weight of so many remoras. Steve Roggenbuck, at this point, IS Alt Lit. All others are simply followers. Steve Roggenbuck is to Alt Lit as Nirvana was to grunge.
And maybe this is all a natural byproduct of the internet and how easy it is to be in communication with artists and how easy it is to organize. The gratification of writing a poem and immediately posting it to tumblr and getting a bunch of likes from others who “like” to be noticed and getting a reblog from popserial or whoever else is probably a nice feeling. I’m sure it is. But what’s missing is discretion and self-criticism and maybe even self-awareness. Although I get the impression that many Alt Litters are so self-aware as to just not give a fuck about how immediate or ethereal what they post is. What’s missing is the discipline to not immediately post something, but to take some time, really let a piece of writing sink in, ask yourself, “Is this new?”, work on said piece of writing until it adds something new to the conversation, or - fuck, it doesn’t even have to be new - but it had better be as perfect as you can make it. Even Roggenbuck’s Download Helvetica… must have taken him several years to write, cull from instant messenger convo’s, edit, typeset, etc.
There is a fire that’s burning too fast and not enough log.
Maybe these young writers are also writing outside of their Alt Lit output. Maybe they’re building their own voices. Maybe their all constructing masterpieces. Who knows? All I know is it feels very superficial, like indie or internet poetry (I hate both of those terms) have arrived at this place that feels very much like the Warped Tour replacing smaller punk rock shows where there would be a community of young, angry minds with something to say. I hate to use a comparison like that, but have you seen the Alt Lit wikipedia page?
I will leave you with this, from the remora wikipedia page: “There is controversy whether a remora’s diet is primarily leftover fragments, or the feces of the host. In some species (Echeneis naucrates andE. neucratoides) consumption of host feces is strongly indicated in gut dissections.”