Longreads 2012: Reviewed and Reviewer — Michael Robbins’s Year

I’d love to know what Majorie Perloff thinks of Michael Robbins (see Marjorie Perloff Takes on the Lyric and More).

Robbin’s first book, Alien vs. Predator, came out from Penguin this year to generally positive reviews, the title poem having appeared in The New Yorker (I recommend you read it), with Poetry magazine publishing several of the poems in the collection in the meantime. One certainly can’t say the establishment has turned its collective back on Robbins’s challengingly unconventional poetry.

In “Poetry Slam of His Own, on Paper ‘Alien vs. Predator,’ a Book of Poetry by Michael Robbins,” (The New York Times), Dwight Garner takes a shot at tangling with Robbins’s work.

Despite at least one flubbed fact (Paul Muldoon did not pull “Alien vs. Predator” from The New Yorker’s slush pile; according to Robbins, Muldoon had already rejected at least one set of poems from, and clearly had an eye on, him) this review gets Robbins right:

When Mr. Robbins’s poems miss, they miss hideously, veering close to nonsense (“My smoothie/comes with GPS”). Non sequiturs are heaped into tottering piles. In bad young poets, knowingness is to knowledge what truthiness is to truth, as Mr. Robbins’s lesser stuff makes plain.

But for anyone who is doubtful about the course of American poetry, reading Mr. Robbins’s best stuff makes you feel something new is being flogged into existence. He’s not confessional; I doubt he has much to confess. He’s not particularly soulful. He doesn’t, as yet, have overly much to say.

But he has a sky-blue originality of utterance.


Frederick Seidel’s Sordid Glory, a review by Michael Robbins (Chicago Tribune)

Robbins begins his review of Seidel’s Nice Weather thus:

The clearest sign that American poetry is in disarray is that the best poet we have is Frederick Seidel. I say this approvingly, for one effect of reading Seidel closely is to realize just how sodden the rest of the poetic field is. In one row we find mealymouthed banalities dressed up as wisdom literature; in the next, the stale avant-gardism of half-wits. No wonder no one reads the stuff.

Fear not, Robbins is serious when he says he approves of Seidel, whom he goes on to praise thus:

For the last two decades, Seidel has been the bull in American poetry’s china shop, penning grotesque paeans to six-figure racing motorcycles and his own aging penis.

New readers may be put off by Seidel’s assaults on their tastes. Of course this is the point: His poetry is shamelessly provocative. But it’s complexly provocative, too.

And thus:

None of this would be worth taking seriously if Seidel weren’t also our most primitively primatial poet, roaring on the savanna with his rival’s brains dripping from his club. He’s a one-man abattoir, masturbating on poetry’s grave in his finest bespoke suit from Savile Row. He demands our attention

Reading Robbins’s praise, I could not help but wonder if he was thinking of his own approach to poetry.


Alien vs. Predator (Paperback), by Michael Robbins

Nice Weather: Poems (Hardcover), by Frederick Seidel


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