Michael Robbins Makes Music From Pop Myths

Sasha Frere-Jones at Poetry Magazine:

In “Visible Republic,” his essay on Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, Robbins extracts himself from the pro/con squad and tries to isolate the nature of the songwriter (rather than isolate the most literary thing about Dylan because what would that be?). “That’s it, that’s the thing—Dylan isn’t words,” Robbins writes. “He’s words plus [Robbie] Robertson’s uncanny awk, drummer Levon Helm’s cephalopodic clatter, the thin, wild mercury of his voice.” Meaning, one thinks, that by all means win some prizes, who cares, but don’t make one form do another’s work. This exhibits the generosity in both Robbins’s poems and essays. The glittering trash of the world needs itemizing but not sorting. His essay on Charles Simic, whom Robbins loves, begins free of hagiography: “How to write a Charles Simic poem: Go to a café. Wait for something weird to happen. Record mouse activity. Repeat as necessary. (For ‘mouse,’ feel free to substitute ‘cat,’ ‘roach,’ ‘rat,’ ‘chicken,’ ‘donkey,’ etc.)” He notes the “little astonishments” of early Simic and then maps the older poet’s journey into soft routine, in which Simic writes “banal snapshots bewildering in their literality.”

more here.