It’s the last day of Poetry Month! Which poem should you read?
When it comes to poetry, timelessness is a red herring, or a white elephant, or some other distractingly burdensome creature. When I read poems, I’m not looking for verse that stands for the ages, whatever that might mean. I want unsettling rhythms, alien sounds, a sharp (and hopefully damned-weird) eye on the now.
So I’ve found Alien vs. Predator, a recent book of poetry by Michael Robbins, entirely thrilling.Robbins writes poems that draw on a rich literary past, sure. (“John Milton jumps out of my birthday cake;” “I’m not with you in Rockland, a fortiori.”) But also and even more, his poetry is fantastically, ecstatically of the present, our present of shiny brands and celebrity gossip. Like Jell-O molds studded with carrot and cabbage, Robbins’ poems are speckled with words and names and sounds both intensely familiar and pleasurably alien. Words that surround us all the time (on billboards, in magazines, on screens, in whispers) but pull you up short, a bit smilingly stunned, in the context of a poem.
Words like these, all of which you can find in the disorienting, orgiastic, just-plain-peculiar Alien vs. Predator:
- Best Buy
- Camel Light
- Britney Spears
- Fruit Stripe gum
- Ghostface Killah
- Pizza Hut (“tell me, Ghostface, if you know, / why Bagdhad wears a black hood / and the Green Zone’s Pizza Hut has power.”)
- erectile dysfuction
- Paxil (“The nation’s pets are high on Paxil.”)
- Meerkat Manor (“I get my news from Meerkat Manor“)
- Al Jazeera
- American Apparel
- Auto-Tune (“I wake to Auto-Tune, and take my waking / out into a orchard, where I traipse.”)
- ATM (“I make love to an ATM. I enrich uranium.”)
- Mr. Peanut
- Wu-Tang Clan
- Shark Week (“I turn on Shark Week, plan a killing spree.”)
- Doritos (“Your tribe’s Doritos are infested with a stegosaur.”)
- Forever 21
- Red Lobster
- Snapple (“O brave new world / that has such Snapple in it!”)
- AMBER Alerts
- Xbox (“Let’s put Christ back in Xbox.”)
- Care Bears
- Whole Foods
- Red Bull
- CSI: Miami
- Ramada (“at the Ramada, where it’s always Ramadan”)
- Sharper Image
- Tootsie Pop (“by that wise old Zen master, the Tootsie Pop owl,”)
- Fruit of the Loom (“by the horrible man-grapes of Fruit of the Loom”)
Thebook, in other words, is like an obstacle course riddled with the wreckage of American capitalism. (Or maybe like reading Howl while watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians.) And if that doesn’t scare you, then Alien v. Predator is definitely for you.
My favorite poetry anthology is The Oxford Book of American Poetry. It has a diverse and representative selection of poets that includes familiar names and fresh voices. The poetry itself is of course the star of the show, but an added pleasure are the snappy, succinct biographies for each poet. And, boy, can American poets find ways to off themselves.
Below are the deaths and names of 10 minor American poets, pulled from the bios in The Oxford Book. Your task…..match them up.
A. Hit by a dune buggy.
B. Heart attack in friend’s swimming pool.
C. Hit by car while walking to hospital to receive treatment for injuries suffered during a suicide
D. Psoriosis (Last words: “My vocabulary did this to me.”)
E. Drank whiskey poisoned by bartender
G. Died in a snowstorm while walking home from a tavern.
H. Jumped off the Washington Avenue Bridge between St. Paul and Minneapolis.
I. Walked off with rifle. Never seen again.
J. Tuberculosis of the brain lining
1. Theodore Roethke
2. Robert Johnson
3. Philip Freneau
4. Weldon Kees
5. Randall Jarrell
6. Adelaide Crapsey
7. Lew Welch
8. Frank O’Hara
9. Jack Spicer
10. John Berryman
Get the answers at Book Riot
It’s Emily Dickinson’s birthday! Didja know you can sing her poems to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme song? Here’s the music, and a poem:
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.
We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.
Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.
We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.
Since then ‘tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.
Walt Whitman wrote this in 1884, which was incidentally the first year a Democrat was elected President (Grover Cleveland):
If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
‘Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing
Nor Oregon’s white cones—nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes—nor Mississippi’s stream:
—This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name—the still small voice vibrating—America’s
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d—sea-board and inland—Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:) the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.