Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins

Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins is a mixture of techno beats, pop culture references, and references to some of the greatest poets, including Robert Frost.  While many readers of poetry would find his flagrant use of lines from songs cheap or as a short-cut, Robbins seems to be saying something more with the lines he chooses.  He wants to comment on the superficiality of society; he wants to rip open the thin veil of complacency that we all hide behind to reveal the stark, dark, and painful reality beneath.

From "Welfare Mothers" (page 7):

Little Bo Mercy in heels and hose,
just under the water she usually goes.
She moves grams and ounces, prays for war.
She's not the droid you're looking for.
From "Appetite for Destruction" (page 10):

I want to watch you bleed.  My tongue
doesn't know its right from wrong.
I'm uninsured.  I ride the bus,
a loaded gun inside my purse.
My mouth's a roadside bomb.

However, not all of these poems are perfect, and read more like performance pieces than poems meant for the page.  In many ways, Robbins’ unconventional style loses something in the translation to the page and would probably benefit from an accompanying audio version.  Although there is a pervasive anger in the collection, the anger is not about violence so much as it is about frustration.  Robbins touches upon hot topics in the news, including the killer whales at Sea World, and the more mundane stories that don’t make the news, like the struggling mothers hit by terrorism or welfare.

Robbins not only showcases his knowledge of music, television, and movies, but also poets and poetry, philosophy, and more.  In many ways, these references and — dare I call them, odes — can be too esoteric.  A cautionary note at best, but readers will enjoy the rhythm, the playfulness, the frustration, and the pain Robbins reveals — a pain and frustration that many of us will turn a blind eye to on a daily basis as we go about work and caring for our families.  It begs the question as to when society became so self-absorbed that societal hardships and decline are ignored even when it is on the doorstep.

Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins is a hip, rhythmic collection that will challenge readers preconceptions of the world around them, pop culture, and even poetry.  Although some poems are more effective than others, Robbins has crafted a collection that screams: “Watch Out!”

About the Author:

Michael Robbins is the author of Alien vs. Predator (Penguin, 2012). His poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry, Harper’s, Boston Review, and elsewhere. He reviews books regularly for the London Review of Books and several other publications, and music for The Daily and the Village Voice. He received his PhD in English from the University of Chicago.

I received this book from Necromancy Never Pays‘ Trivial Pursuit for Bloggers.

Check out these other reviews:

The New York Times
Necromancy Never Pays
Book Chatter

This is my 3rd book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

This is my 2nd book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013

BBAW: Profile of Poetry Blogger Necromancy Never Pays

This year, I’m taking a different perspective with Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW) in that I’ll be profiling some poetry book bloggers this year, in addition to my traditional participation in a blogger interview on Tuesday, Sept. 11.

For today’s post, I’m featuring Jeanne at Necromancy Never Pays, which is the home of Trivial Pursuit for Book Bloggers.  Jeanne has helped judge the inaugural Indie Lit Awards for Poetry winners last year, and I always look forward to her reviews of poetry/poetry collections.  She takes a nuanced approach to these reviews, often pulling out a favorite poem from a collection to discuss in depth.

Without further ado, please check out my interview with her and stop over at her blog for her BBAW posts this week.

When did you first read poetry and what drew you to it? Or if you were initially put off by poetry, what changed your mind?

My parents, especially my mother, read poetry out loud to me. I remember particularly hearing the poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses, Alice in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass out loud. She read Dr. Seuss’ Happy Birthday to You out loud every year (she and my brother and I all still recite it–being tall, I’ve always taken particular delight in “the tallest of all-est”). When I got older, she read me poems by Robert Service. Before I learned to think much about the sense of the words, she taught me to delight in the sound of the rhymes.

About how many books of poems do you review each year on average? Do you have an established goal of how many you will read and/or review each year? Or is the process more organic?

The process is organic. Sometimes I wake up with a certain poem going through my mind. Sometimes I look one up, because I know I’ve “felt” something like this before. Occasionally I look for a poem just because it will give me something to carry around in my head all day.

Recommend some poets for beginners. Recommend some poetry translations or poetry for those who’ve read more poetry than others.

I think narrative poems are great for beginners. Robert Service tells funny stories. C.S. Lewis tells good stories, too. Some of the Romantic and Victorian poets wrote narrative verse–The Lady of Shalott has always been a favorite of mine.

For people who already read poetry and want to branch out, I’d recommend comparing translations of something like Rilke’s Duino Elegies. I’ve done this all my life, searching for the one that first made me love them, and still haven’t found it. But I’ve found a lot of good phrases along the way. Who knows, at this point maybe I wouldn’t be as fond of that original translation as I was at the age of 14 or so.

I also recommend browsing. I have the luck to work in a college library, so each month I go and flip through the new volumes of poetry to see what I might like.

In terms of favorite and perhaps less-read poets, I think everybody should try more poems by Wallace Stevens.

Necromancy Never Pays is not strictly about poetry, but as someone who is in the academic world, how important do you think talking about poetry online is and why?

I am “of” the academic world, but not so much “in.” I think people in a liminal position notice more about their surroundings, and that’s part of what poetry does; it offers new perspectives.

Talking about poetry online is as essential as anything I’ve ever done in my life. Most people need more poetry, but they don’t often know it. Blogging about poems used to be an extension of teaching about them, for me, but now that I’m not teaching poetry in the classroom anymore, I’m re-discovering some of those poems in a more personal way, which I think is the only way to share a love of poetry. It works on emotions, so showing why you love it involves feelings.

What are you reading now? How do you view the world of poetry and its future?

I’m thinking about a way to make a John Donne poem accessible to readers of my blog (probably The Flea), still re-reading Todd Davis, sampling Katrina Vandenberg’s Atlas (this was a recommendation from another blogger), and making my way through Maureen McLane’s My Poets.

The world of poetry and its future? People will always be reading and writing poetry. I hope that my contribution to this world will be to help open it up and remind people of how to experience it for themselves. So many times when poetry is served up at the table, people push back and say, “I’m full already” when what they mean is more like the British sometimes describe their reaction to being offered a French gateau for dessert: “that’s much too rich for me.” A taste for poetry is as basic as a child’s longing for sweets. The trick is to keep developing your tastes, so you can appreciate the more subtle flavors.

Thanks for continuing to keep those of us who love poetry organized a bit, Serena. You’re always creating more community and enthusiasm.

You’re welcome, Jeanne, and thank you for answering these questions at the last minute.