Hey y’all. On this past Wednesday there was a cool event at Housing Works hosted by Zach Baron to celebrate Michael Robbins’ first book of poetry, Alien vs. Predator, and it was really fun and a bunch of cool people read and attended. The reading itself was cool, but like most readings it was kind of hard to follow the thread of thought sometimes in the wake of great performances. Anyway, that was fun, and I wanted to encourage you to buy Robbins book, which I really like. And if you don’t know if you will like it or not, here is my favorite poem, I think, from it. Even though I’ve never played Dig Dug except really drunk one night at Barcade.
In these United Arab States, Muslims
are elected wearing roller skates.
Erectile dysfunction in the nation’s pets
is just the sort of grievance we petition
to redress. I give my skinny prick
a shake, to ask if there is some mistake.
Hold me closer, tiny reindeer. They saw
Oliver Stone distribute juice boxes.
he counts the headlights on the highway:
one if by reptile, two if by foxes.
Slash is both sad and happy for Axl.
The nation’s pets are high on Paxil.
Memory is the bended grass where deer have lain.
It’s hard to hold a candle to the cold November rain.
Now, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that Dave Berman is my favorite lyricist in all of music. And it might not take one to realize, though I could be wrong, that his poetry is really more emotional but a lot less pleasant than his lyrics. I like Robbins’s poetry because it is very pleasant, and also sometimes emotional or argumentative (in the mode of trying to prove or demonstrate something logically, not in the yelling-at-you mode).
This is a great poem because it lobs a few cognition grenades across the porches of your ears. The “Hold me closer, tiny reindeer” line is exquisite, and never fails to make me laugh. The conceit of pet ownership as a luxury and that of prescription medication reach a sublime confluence of pop-paroxysm with the final four lines. That “Memory is the bended grass where deer have lain” was, I was almost sure, a Silver Jews quotation or at least allusion. But it may be an allusion to a Dave Berman poem, of all things. From “Governors On Sominex”:
Tammy called her caseworker from a closed gas station
to relay ideas unaligned with the world we loved.
The tall grass bent in the wind like tachometer needles
and he told her to hang in there, slowly repeating
the number of the Job Info Line.
She hung up and glared at the Killbuck Sweet Shoppe.
The words that had been running through her head,
“employees must wash hands before returning to work,”
kept repeating and the sky looked dead.
I don’t know? Maybe not. Though you can see where that whereas Robbins’s poetry is funny and only hints at being serious, Berman’s is serious. The only trace of humor in it may be from when Serious had to eat Funny a ways back when all the food ran out. Of course, I don’t have to tell you how brilliant and funny Berman’s song lyrics are. So maybe I was really thinking of this line from “Random Rules” when I thought the bended grass line was cribbed from Berman:
“Broken and smokin’ where the infrared deer plunge in the digital snake.”
I’ve listened to “Random Rules” a million times (literally: look it up), and I still have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, especially in the context of the song. But it’s something I think about pretty (somewhat) frequently.
So anyway, this is a rather quotation-heavy way of saying that I think Robbins’s poetry captures the spirit (though using a different method) of Berman’s lyrics. And they may not have that deeply emotional counterweight that seems to be always weighing Berman down (and which he lets really weigh him down when he’s writing “real verse”), but that’s ok because poetry should be fun and easy to read. Like, seriously. Fuck me sideways with a spiked dick if I have to ever reread “The Prelude”, “Patterson”, or even Eliot’s Four Quartets.
Life is literally too short to slog through unappealing, pedantic bullshit.