Alien Vs. Predator

Michael Robbins. Penguin, $18 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-0-14-312035-3
The poems in this debut are formally exact: etched into scrupulous quatrains and quintets, prosodically meticulous, exasperatingly well-rhymed (“Rorschach blots,” for example, is coupled with “Arnold Horshack thoughts”). Yet what makes this collection distinct is a convulsive, almost frenzied use of cultural reference, with vamps on Adorno, Rilke, Berryman, and Wittgenstein, among others. More often, the poems cite pop songs, film dialogue (“Dude, this aggression will not stand” from The Big Lebowski), and American folk culture (“My name is Michael, I’m an alcoholic./Hi, Michael. Row your boat ashore”). Yet this is more than simple allusion. Robbins’s ear is tuned to the caffeinated jabber of digital culture, with its endlessly clickable, synaptic links; the flotsam of poems, megastore names, and childhood rhymes get battered about, and the original language re-emerges transformed. Santa urging his reindeer becomes a call to heavy metal bands: “On Sabbath, on Slayer, on Maiden and Venom!” Robert Frost is unceremoniously pantsed: “I give my skinny prick / a shake, to ask if there is some mistake.” In a clever moment perhaps serving as Robbins’s ars poetica, Auden gets inverted: “Nothing makes poetry happen.” (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/23/2012
Release date: 03/01/2012
Genre: Fiction
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