In a review of Alien vs. Predator (Penguin, 2012), Dwight Garner of The New York Times compared Michael Robbins’s debut collection to firsts by Elvis Costello and Quentin Tarantino, stating: “This man is not here to improve us. He’s here to turn us on. This is a linguistic booty call.” Garner went on to note that Robbins is “often praised for his ability to whip high and low culture into stiff peaks. He’ll pack allusions to Philip Larkin and reality television into the same razor-blade stanza.”
Amidst the myriad cultural references, which range from Chili’s, Ludacris and Hamlet in ‘The Second Sex’ to Nokia and Elizabeth Bishop in ‘Be Myself,’ are, as noted by The Paris Review, “ready-made phrases from the American vernacular and advertising slogans.” Robbins has stated that this is because his poetry “is partly about how everything is for sale. It seems astonishing to me that we accept that as normal . . . I think the sense that those phrases are completed for me by capitalist vernacular, by advertising, by jargon and cliché is a way of thinking about language and my relationship to it. I want to register my antagonism while also registering my complicity.” This combination of antagonism and complicity is evident in the poem ‘That’s Incredible,’ which begins:
and I will pull an airplane with my hair.
I write about cats. Cats, when you read this,
write about me. Be the change you want to see.
and then ends with references to both “I’m a Little Teapot” and ground zero.
Although Robbins’s work is easily categorized as satiricial, cynical and snarky, his poems can also be solemn, as evidenced by the last stanza of ‘Big County’:
I know it’s last minute but could you put
out my eyes? At the subatomic level,
helmeted gods help themselves to gold.
Up here? The body’s an isolation ward.
Asked by Joel Rice at The Believer blog about the “dark subject matter” of many of his poems, Robbins said, “I don’t know what I believe, but my poems, with which I don’t feel obligated to agree, seem to me to be written in the light of an end-time without end.”
Michael Robbins grew up in Colorado and lives in Chicago. He is the author of Alien vs. Predator (Penguin, 2012). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, Harper's, Boston Review, and elsewhere. His essays and reviews appear in London Review of Books, The New York Observer, the Chicago Tribune, and several other publications; his music reviews in Spin, the Village Voice, and The Daily. He is currently at work on a critical book, Equipment for Living (forthcoming from Simon & Schuster), and his second book of poems. He earned his PhD in English from the University of Chicago.
Alien vs. Predator, Penguin, New York, 2012
Poetry magazine: ‘Perdita: Why cats are better than people’
Poetry magazine: ‘Mimic Motion: Michael Robbins on Algernon Charles Swinburne’
Poetry magazine: ‘The Child That Sucketh Long: Reconsidering Dylan Thomas’
The New York Times: ‘Poetry Slam of His Own, on Paper: Alien vs. Predator, a Book of Poetry by Michael Robbins’
Chicago Reader: ‘People Issue 2012: Michael Robbins, the poet’
The Paris Review: ‘Michael Robbins on Alien vs. Predator’
The Believer Logger: ‘An Interview With Michael Robbins’