Poetry News

Michael Robbins's Critical Work Responds to Taylor-Swift-Like Art

By Harriet Staff
Michael Robbins, Equipment for Living, cover

"Robbins has put the same intellectual and aesthetic care into his critical work as he puts into his verse," writes Justin Taylor, who has been tasked with criticizing a book of criticism—namely, Robbins's Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music (Simon & Schuster, 2017)—for Jacket Copy. Some of it (the review, the work) focuses on Taylor Swift:

Despite the fact that most of these pieces were written for newspapers and first published as book reviews and blog posts, the collection holds together remarkably well as a collection. Certain signal concerns  — Rainer Maria Rilke and John Ashbery, Journey and Taylor Swift — appear and reappear, like motifs, as do a handful of beloved forerunners and fellow travelers: Greil Marcus, Ellen Willis, Pauline Kael, Joshua Clover, Juliana Spahr, Anthony Madrid. Sometimes he’s citing their work and sometimes — especially in Clover’s and Marcus’ case — they’re sending him emails. (Sidebar: If you’re on Twitter, you should follow both Robbins and Clover, so you can tune in when they’re bantering. And in case it bears disclosing, I tweet with Robbins from time to time. We’ve both got super cute cats.)

“[T]he best criticism is always personal,” Robbins writes in an encomium to Kael. “What I want from criticism is that it make me think about art in new ways, or respond to things in it I hadn’t before.” This, he delivers. Here he is on Swift’s 2014 Grammys performance: “I think it was transcendent. Someone forgot to tell her the Grammys are a joke. She got her Stevie Nicks on, banging her locks and singing pretty much in key, hunched over the piano like a velociraptor and tearing the meat off its bones. On record, the song is one of her best, but on that night, on my television screen, for as long as it lasted, it was the best song I’d ever heard.”

Read the full review here.

Originally Published: August 21st, 2017