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Alien vs. Predator (Poets, Penguin) Paperback – March 27, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"Mr. Robbins's heart is not lovely but beating a bit arrhythmically; not dark but lighted by a dangling disco ball; not deep but as shallow and alert as a tidal buoy facing down a tsunami. Yet it's a heart crammed full, like a goose's liver, with pagan grace. This man can write.... What puts his poems over is their sheer joy and dizzy command.... Reading Mr. Robbins's best stuff makes you feel something new is being flogged into existence.... He has a sky-blue originality of utterance." -- Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"It's in his rhymes -- polysyllabic, serial, audacious -- that Robbins most resembles an M.C., and most distinguishes himself from other poets. He seems at least as interested in arranging sequences of identical vowel sounds as he is in getting consonants to agree. When he pairs 'Beckett' with 'cricket,' he sounds like Paul Muldoon, but when he rhymes 'Parkinson's,' 'Arkansas,' and 'dark clicks on,' he's channeling Jay-Z." -- The New York Times Book Review

"Robbins is abrupt, conversational, surreal, and sarcastic - a wiseguy with vulnerability. Many of his poems end on a note of sadness or despair in a way that suggests what preceded it was an attempt by the speaker to put on a brave front, to man up or gut it out. But it's a measure of how well-crafted Robbins' poems are that he does a good job of conveying just what's a put-on and what's meant to be taken seriously." -- Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly

"Robbins's poetry is quick as thought, as Constance Rourke might have put it ... it might be more true to say Robbins's poetry is thought, or rather a mind alive but not thinking at all, a jumble of memory and stimuli and distractions and it's-on-the-tip-of-my-tongue, never mind, a roaring in the head of someone talking to someone else while what he's really doing is talking to himself, but barely listening, and having the time of his life."--Greil Marcus, The Believer

From the Back Cover

"These poems are viciously inventive. Faster than you can rhyme stegosaur/megastore, Robbins code-switches between the English Canon and Top Forty: Nirvana and Blake, The Clash and Yeats, creating a political and social commentary that will make the hair stand on your head." -- Ange Mlinko

"You may notice the cultural references first -- Guns N' Roses, Eric B. & Rakim, Fleetwood Mac, M*A*S*H, Star Wars -- and be tempted to tie Robbins to these anchors. But there are as many contemporary references in Eliot and Pound and Horace as there are in Robbins: carbon-dating isn't what distinguishes these poems. Robbins works in traditional and nontraditional forms that pivot on the beat, which he turns around, seamlessly and ruthlessly. The thread here is a long-distance conversation crammed into the available enjambment, as charged as the pop songs that play beneath the words." -- Sasha Frere-Jones

"From the wild mixture of pop-culture and the English poetic tradition arises the voice -- brave, direct, brilliant, arrogant, unforgettable voice -- of a poet whom Catullus would recognize, whom Mayakovsky would welcome. This is a poetics that whips up the tradition and lashes 'a slap in the face of public taste.' Robbins is unafraid to bring back vulgarity -- that saving, generous, musical vulgarity which abruptly awakens us from our longish sleep-time in America. Yes, Michael Robbins is a rascal. The sort of rascal Francois Villon used to be. He takes no prisoners. His music is brutal -- and also intricate, rigorous, unpredictable. Mothers of America! let your kids read some of this wild, brave, real verse." -- Ilya Kaminsky

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Product Details

  • Series: Poets, Penguin
  • Paperback: 88 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143120352
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143120353
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #536,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 62 people found the following review helpful By J. Cohen on August 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
Michael Robbins has lots of fun with words in this collection. His cut and paste writing style mixes lines from famous poets with pop culture idioms, twisting them with ironic glee. He also likes to fill his poems with bucket loads of consumer culture and pop culture references.

His use of language is playful and inventive, but it's also pretty nonsensical. If it wasn't for his frequent use of irregular rhyme, reminiscent of poems by Frederick Seidel (and the rhyme-happy influence of hip-hop), one might label him a "Language" poet. He has a similar raison d'etre. But he's much less serious than your average Language poet.

Which is a good thing. Unlike the Language poets I've read, Robbins is actually kind of funny. But his humor is not funny in any conventional sense. It's more absurdist humor, sometimes veering towards the juvenile (for instance, Robbins likes to throw in the word "penis" whenever at all possible). So if that's the kind of humor you like, you'll probably like this book.

But if you go to poetry looking for a communication of the poet's emotional life, you won't find it here (though I suppose you get some sense of Robbins' worldview). "Alien Vs. Predator" doesn't contain an ounce of genuine feeling. Instead, the poems are all hipster irony, all the time. And for me, that's not substantive enough to warrant serious attention.

That might be an uncool thing to admit, but that's the way I see it. And while it's probably true that these poems would fit your average hipster's definition of cool, I say, so what? Great poetry is not about artificial posturing, and while these poems are sometimes amusing, they're all style and no real substance.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Reader in Virginia on September 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
Peter Kreeft has observed that what terrifies postmodern man is not meaninglessness but Meaning. Postmodern man will invent a thousand ways to avoid any encounter with Meaning even as he pretends to engage. That's what's going on with `Alien vs. Predator.'

I actually liked the title, and I love how the poet's eager to play on pop-cultural memes, etc. But he's not doing anything here James Tate and Mary Ruefle didn't do better twenty years ago, and, what's more, they did it with FEELING (as the maestros say).

Robbins' poems lack any emotional or intellectual sense of purpose or reason for being. What you can get away with in abstract painting you cannot get away with in writing. No fun, but it's true. As Flannery O'Connor said, "A writer can do anything he can get away with, but no writer has ever gotten away with much." These poems aren't getting away with anything at all. "Where's the beef?", as Robbins might say, but not exactly ask.

What we're seeing here is the oldest trick in the postmodern book, forced beyond the point of exhaustion.

Every poet is entitled to write some nonsense verse (Lewis!), but if the poet wants to do important work (that is, work that will outlast him) this nonsense must serve an artful purpose within the larger pattern of the poet's body of writing. What we have here is just cutesy filler material.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso' on October 2, 2013
Format: Paperback
Never thought I'd say that. But aside from rhyme, this is all attitude, wearisomely hip and flip and oddly alienating, sterile even, despite (or maybe because of?) the profusion of penises. (Count 'em. I don't like to.) Two or three of these pieces would dazzle, and no doubt have done, in the pages of Poetry; en masse they simply aren't joined-up and yield not a single memorable or even quotable line between them, let alone anything as outlandish as an emotion. If one sly referential dig in the ribs is cute, and five are, well, pretty cool, above a dozen are - whatever. Old pond, frog jumps in, so what. (Your words, Michael.)
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By K. S. Marchetto on July 21, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am fully aware that I am one of the only critics of contemporary poetry who feel this way about Michael Robbins, but: I. Hate. This. Book.

First of all, Robbins as a person is abrasive, unkind, and frankly downright rude. He doesn't care about that, either--his opinion is that if you think he's a jerk, you're an idiot. (Watch any interview with him anywhere online, or check out his Twitter. So rude.)

Secondly, this book shows obvious lyrical prowess. His scansion and rhyming are pristine, his knowledge of classical works and writers is evident, and the presence of classical forms is marked.

Thirdly, he puts that knowledge and ability to horrible use. The poems are trite and pathetic. A thorough investment in pop culture doesn't automatically make one a smart person; in fact, quite the opposite--too much pop culture and not enough thinking (of which--invested thought--the poems are entirely devoid) makes one a perfect idiot. Any vapid teenager can rattle off a string of pop culture icons, and thus I am saying that any vapid teenager could write the bulk of these poems.

This book is a waste of cultural space.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jason Bachand on July 9, 2014
Format: Paperback
X.J. Kennedy wrote the best review of self-indulgent pap like this:

"Ars Poetica"

The goose that laid the golden egg
Died looking up its crotch
To find out how its sphincter worked.

Would you lay well? Don't watch.
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