Friday 30 January 2009

"Alien vs. Predator" -- a poem by Michael Robbins

Okay everybody, let's all love poet Michael Robbins....


A couple of weeks ago, Michael Robbin's poem "Alien vs. Predator" appeared in The New Yorker, and all kinds of wonderful hell broke loose. I'm arriving a little late to the dance, and lots of interesting things have already been said about it, but for those who haven't encountered this story yet, I've collected the essentials.

First of all, go to The New Yorker and read the poem. But here's a taste:

Praise this world, Rilke says, the jerk.
We’d stay up all night. Every angel’s
berserk. Hell, if you slit monkeys
for a living, you’d pray to me, too.
I’m not so forgiving. I’m rubber, you’re glue.

That elk is such a dick. He’s a space tree
making a ski and a little foam chiropractor.
I set the controls, I pioneer
the seeding of the ionosphere.
I translate the Bible into velociraptor.

.... The rest is here.

Zach Baron weighs in.

Zach Baron interviews Michael Robbins.

Carl Wilson weighs in.

I can't wait for a full collection of poems by Michael Robbins; I think it's safe to assume he's not the same Michael Robbins who wrote the collection of spiritual/healing poems Love Like This. His biographical note at Columbia College says he's writing his "dissertation on the perseverance of the lyric subject after confessionalism & Language poetry" which means he's a good egg in my book.


Zachariah Wells said...

"I mean, I'm always having this argument with people about whether hip-hop and popular music lyrics are poetry, or not--and in a sense, I think it's a completely useless argument to be having. But you know, like Paul Muldoon says in "Sleeve Notes," writing about Leonard Cohen, "His words have meant far more to me/Than most of the so-called poems I've read.""

Hmmm, this rings a bell for some reason...

Alessandro Porco said...

With all due respect to Robbins, there is much more to the discussion of whether hip-hop is poetry that needs to be considered. It's a useless question and argument, certainly, if it remains in the realm of genre studies or aesthetics; that is to say, if the question remains totally ahistorical. Two key things, however, make the question necessary and interesting -- two things that, significantly, have less to do with Poetry and more to do with hip-hop (the question, as it's usually framed, is the other way around: using hip hop as a way of talking, once more, about poetry and its fate -- who gives a shit). In any event, three things are important to remember: 1) many rappers, historically, have designated themselves as poets -- and this began, in the mid-1980s (1986-7), precisely at the moment when rap became a mainstream, popular phenomena: in other words, the title of "poetry" was used as a means of distinguishing within hip-hop between MCs (people or "poets" in touch with the original spirit of hip-hop) and rappers (not poets). That is, poetry, as a designation, enabled a sort of hip-hop pastoralism. 2) The turn to "poetry" within hip-hop lyrics and discourse also coincided with the rise in complaints that hip-hop simply isn't "Music." A whole bunch of articles and essays and debates appeared all over media in the 80s about this very things: it's not "music." Part of the turn to "poetry," then, was in response to that stuff. Finally, 3) I can list you numerous MCs who identify themselves as poets: from 1986 through present day -- and they all do so in various ways. They think of the term "poet" very differently and they conceive of their "poetry" as serving different purposes (from "education" to idiolectical code in response to surveillance), often in response to historical events/conditions/situations. So, if it's poetry, you need to be very specific in considering what that means from MC to MC. You can't make any simply blanket statement "it's poetry." Furthermore, keeping all this in mind, the apocalyptic discourse around "the end of poetry" (starting with Joseph Epstein's "Who Killed Poetry?") in the 80s and 90s takes on a very different shape.

All that to say, it's a far more complicated thing than just saying it's poetry or not. There's more to it.

MR said...

For the record, Alessandro (& I thought this was clear from the interview), in these arguments I'm the one arguing that hip hop IS poetry. My view: of course it is, duh.

Thanks for the kind words, Paul.

-Michael Robbins

Alessandro Porco said...

Dear Michael,

yes, it was clear from the article, and I assure you much I agree; I was just wanted to suggest, though, that the actual discussion of whether it is or isn't poetry is far more than a matter of "is" or isn't. I've just stopped having that discussion with people who don't think it is. I applaud you for forging on with it -- it just seems impossible, though. I'm just too tired.

By the way, I dug the New Yorker poem. Very wicked

MR said...

Ah, got it - I agree, in fact. & thanks.

Ray said...

Hi, i wondered if I may be allowed to use the "Alien vs Predator" picture that you have on my own blog "Allan v Creditor" Thanks


Paul Vermeersch said...

Allan, if you click on the image, you will note that my blog is not the "source" of this image. I can't grant you license to use this image, because I have nothing to do with it. Welcome to teh interwebs!