Michael Robbins’ book of poems, Alien vs. Predator, which is based on the by-comparison timeless classic movie of the same name, has somehow managed to gain favor within certain poetry circlejerks. I have not read Mr. Robbins’ book (though I did read this a propos two-star review of it on Amazon) and I never will, but I’ve read enough of his poems to come to the realization that they are, in sum, an utter waste of time.
When he’s not busy trying to steal David Cross’ identity, Robbins spends his time being on permanent standby in case “household face” character actor Brian Huskey ever needs a body double for a particularly dangerous Toyota commercial.
My introduction to Michael Robbins came by way of a retweet of one of his garbage poems on Twitter (the bad kind of garbage poem, not the good kind). Michael’s tweet was a complaint about the poem being rejected by Yahoo! News for containing the word “queef.” Not being one to tolerate such inept censorship, I read the poem in question. Immediately, I came to the realization that the poem should not be broadcast to the 60 people who still use Yahoo! and that it was in fact better left to the unregulated depths of the pre-teen Tumblrverse; in turn, I suggested to Michael that perhaps Yahoo! refused to publish the poem because it was “pretty bad.” Within seconds, I was blocked from his feed, and my comment was taken out of the conversation.
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not the Twitter blocking me that bothers me; Jim Behrle already pioneered that technique ages ago. And it’s not even that Michael reported me and got my profile suspended after I expressed how impressed I was at the speed with which he blocked me; I found the childishness of the action actually pretty funny. What truly bothers me about Michael Robbins’ actions is that they are symptomatic of a dangerous endemic #trend that I’ve been noticing on Twitter and elsewhere on the web for some time: someone shutting down a worthwhile conversation before it could be had, simply because that person is more interested in saving face than openly entering a discourse.
Is this really the type of silencing of discourse we as poets can abide? Had Mr. Predator wanted to know why I thought the poem was bad, I would’ve gladly told him. Now, I’m going to tell you anyway. Here is the poem:
To the Drone Vaguely Realizing Eastward
This is a poem for President Drone.
It was written by a camel.
Can I borrow your phone?
This is for President Mark Hamill.
Newtown sounds a red alert.
Mark Hamill asks is Ernie burnt?
Every camel’s a first-person shooter.
The Prez’s fez is haute couture.
It seems strange that he should be offended.
The same orders are given by him.
Paging Pakistan and Yemen.
Calling all the drone-dead children.
The camel can’t come to the phone.
This is for the drone-in-chief.
Mumbai used to be Bombay.
The bomb bay opens with a queef.
Aside from containing some of the worst lines of poetry ever written by an adult, the poem is stupidly empty of anything but faux-cleverness. I would love to hear his explanation of such utter nonsense as “Mark Hamil asks is Ernie burnt?” and “Every camel’s a first-person shooter.” I think it is fair to acknowledge that the poem is so tongue-in-cheek that it serves no purpose and, more importantly, that it is uninteresting.
In this era, writing a decent rhyming poem is difficult for even the masters to thoroughly pull off. Writing a shitty rhyming poem, on the other hand, is easy for any 12-year-old prepubescent love sponge and hopefully doesn’t take someone with a PhD from UChicago more than 3 minutes. Hopefully. Not to mention, “President Dronebomba” would have been a thousand times more clever. (The president also happens to be a 1000x better poet, ironically.)
Shouldn’t a poet welcome criticism? Is that not why we spend the hundred thousand dollars to get the degree of MFA in Poetry, which is otherwise inherently worthless? Is it not our duty to criticize and be criticized for the betterment of the art form, which is greater than us?
Perhaps, like the Board of Ed. in Texas, Michael wants to deter others from thinking critically. Why? So that he can continue riding the wave that began with the apocryphal pulling of one of his poems from The New Yorker‘s slush pile (I say apocryphal because, as everyone knows, the New Yorker’s slush pile is merely a conveyor belt that leads the submissions of everyone without a recognized name into an ever-burning furnace, which is used to keep the editors’ collective sense of entitlement warm at night). If poets and readers of poetry were to begin opening their eyes to hoaxes such as the one that Michael is perpetrating, they would begin to realize the necessity of poetry again and begin treating it with the urgency that it deserves. We are amidst an Emperor’s New Clothes situation in which good poets feel they must offer the same empty praise to anyone that the vacuous magazines are publishing, simply because those poets believe the magazines control their fate.
Michael’s is a particularly annoying brand of “pop poetry.” Of course, the only reason people write “pop poetry” is the same reason that people make “pop music”: it is the only place the “pop money” is. One major problem with writing this type of poetry to attain a modicum of fame and make the “big poetry dollars” is that it further throws the art form under the proverbial short bus. It is up to all of us as lovers and writers of poetry to denounce such flimflam, for accepting mediocrity simply because good writing is challenging is doing the greatest disservice to art. The problem that we face by rewarding mediocrity is not only its perpetuation, but the establishment of such work as quality.
In all seriousness, though, I do owe Michael an apology. In a moment of weakness, I referred to his poem as “pretty bad.” Michael, if you’re reading this, I am sincerely sorry for saying such a thing. Your poem is, in fact, terrible. It is literally a worse tragedy than the deaths of the 200 innocent child-victims of American drone strikes that the poem purports to be about.
“You shouldn’t drink diarrhea / unless you bring enough for everybody.” *
*(Actual line from one of Michael’s poems.)
Unfortunately for the shriveling world of poetry, Michael seems to have brought enough diarrhea for us all. But nevertheless, I look forward to wiping my ass with his next book, Freddy vs. Jason.