Alien vs. Predator: Michael Robbins's poetry collection chestbursts and facehugs the poetry scene


Michael Robbins' first poetry collection, Alien vs. Predator, shares only a passing reference with Ridley Scott's Alien universe (the last 30 years of which we recap here). Still, Robbins' verse has latched onto audiences, sales charts, and contemporary American poetry at large like a facehugger - and it shows no sign of letting go any time soon. Since it was published just over two months ago, Alien vs. Predator has since shot to the top of Amazon's sales charts for American poetry, where it currently reigns over works by the likes of Maya Angelou, Charles Bukowski, and Allen Ginsberg. In a recent profile, the Chicago Tribune's Christopher Borrelli  declared Robbins a "poetry world phenom," while Dwight Garner of the New York Times offered: "This man can write."

Robbins seems pretty cool and normal. In his Poetry Foundation headshot, the bespectacled, balding, stubbled face of a 40-year old sits atop a black Slayer t-shirt and neck-rested audiophile headphones. Sometimes, he says, he watches too many episodes of Justified in one sitting, and his apartment features a poster that asks "What Would Neil Young Do?"

The effortless interlacing of artistic references - past and present, high and low - is Robbins' greatest weapon, but it's not just a neat trick. From Joyce to Jay-Z, Robbins moves in and out of literature and pop culture, combining both in his lines so as to provide little hierarchical distinction between two often disparate worlds. In "Sway", Robbins puts 16th-century metaphysical poetry and Brit rock riffs into one unbroken perspective: "Mick Taylor's solos and Prefab Sprout / taught me more than John Donne did about / how to do within and do without."

And yet, like NBC's criminally-underrated-yet-brilliant comedy Community, the importance and value of Robbins' work is not merely directly proportional to how many references fit in each serving of content. Rather, such allusions serve to bring the audience closer into Robbins' mind by drawing upon points of correspondence that make the true feeling of his poetry all the stronger. The bleak "Use Your Illusion" engages with what the Boston Globe's (and former Phoenix editor) Michael Brodeur calls the "spirituality of branding" as Robbins shares his cutting and sardonic vision: "It's a gorgeous day, not a bat in the sky. / The topography's square with the recon. / Contents may have shifted during rapture. / Let's put the Christ back in Xbox."

Robbins' work is awash with unconventional accessibility that perhaps finds its origin in the desolate locales of his Kansas-Colorado upbringing. As Michael H. Miller of the New York Observer writes, "The settings of his poems are towns that could be off any highway exit in America, populated by Pizza Huts and American Apparel catalogs and lit by the glow of television sets playing CSI: Miami. The poems are haunted by these banal images even as they poke fun at them." By filling his verses with signs of contemporary normalcy, Robbins simultaneously fills a void with  shared meaning and notes its existence. In this light, the critical acclaim and explosive popularity of Michael Robbins' poetry derives from a unique form of horror found only in the American suburbs - a horror perhaps far more terrifying than anything Ridley Scott can dream for the journey of his Prometheus.

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