Sunday Service: Michael Robbins Poem
I got a tattoo of God. You can’t see it
but it’s everywhere. If I seem out of it,
do the math. I was put on earth.
And then you were, making up your feet
as you went along. New thinspo clanks the spank
bank. New emoticon makes a Holocene.
If you want to get in shape you have to jog
your memory of Euclid. Jesus built
a ship in a ship shape and said
there’s plenty of loaves in the sea.
Some Idaho you turned out to be.
Some money bin I, a rich duck, swim in!
The coins of you in my feathers like water
off my back. I count each red cent of you.
Now the rain with its funny money din.
The rain beats a tattoo of God any day.
Michael Robbins’s first book of poems, Alien vs. Predator, will be published by Penguin in April 2012. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The New Yorker, Poetry, Boston Review, Fence, and elsewhere. He is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Poetry at the University of Southern Mississippi.
His voice reminds me of that of David Lazar, another wonderful prose poet.
I am pretty into this poem, especially the first stanza. Tonally reminds me of Keston Sutherland without any of the formal or linguistic gymnastics.
I can see poets in this poem.
This is great.
But if we’re being honest, that “jog/ your memory of Euclid” break is a little hokey. Good poem, though. I hope the book is an adaptation of the movie.
I did worry that “jog” bit was a bit hokey. Am I allowed to say thanks for the kind comments?
I’m for sure getting this book.
more michael robbins
‘some idaho you turned out to be’ is a great, great line.
I don’t get this poem. What is it that makes this a good poem? I mean the poet is being published by the New Yorker and Penguin so I’m going to just up and say that he’s probably a good poet and I just don’t understand it.
What do you feel, as far as you can tell, when you read the poem? (I mean ‘feeling’ in the sense of emotion, but also in the sense of sensation.)
When you read the poem out loud, what happens in you that’s connected with the sounds and sense/s of the words?
Look at the first two-and-a-half lines: they refer – or I just think they do – to a mystical ‘definition’ of God: ‘a sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere’. (A sphere, considered as a geometrical figure, is the continuum of points (‘circumference’) equally distant from the same point (‘center’) in three dimensions.) Well, you know how people are excited about getting a “tattoo”. Now think of your skin itself being a “tattoo”–a “tattoo of God”, a corporeal inscription (if you’re comfortable with that jargon). –here, the “I” isn’t itself the “tattoo”, but rather, got the “tattoo” – something like ‘existence’, or maybe ‘force’ or ‘will’. Some condition for the possibility of anything else happening. You can’t “see” ‘existence’ (or whatever), but there it is. “[O]ut of it” is a pun: ‘confused’; ‘not in the circumference of that “tattoo”‘. –and you get the assertion and the joke: “do the math” – ‘go ahead and be the geometer; satisfy your need for demonstration’.
Now look at the last line, at how it picks up the language of the first couple of lines. We talk about rhythm – especially drumming – ‘beating a tattoo’, creating an image in sound by thumping repeatedly in some pattern(s). We also talk about the pattering of “rain”, the drumming shaped and sounded by whatever the rain strikes. “[R]ain” ‘tattoos what it strikes with a drumbeat’ generally. But “beats” also means ‘is better than’; the music that “rain” makes by “tattoo[ing]” the volumes it shapes (by immersion) might ‘be preferable’ to the musical sphere of a God-made (and -owned?) creature. –“any day”, meaning both ‘some particular day’ and, colloquially, ‘all the time’.
Now look again at the constitution of the poem by images of liquidity, both in the sense of ‘water’ and in the sense of ‘money’ (and whatever else seems ‘fluent’ in the poem). –remembering, of course, that a “tattoo” is the ‘permanent permeation of the skin by a liquid dye’.
If the poem gets you, in a clever, attractive way, to feel its statement of immersion, of understanding that being in the poem’s world is sensing a kind of immersion, then that’s evidence that it’s an effective poem. That’s one kind of “good”.
Thank you, deadgod. Too many commentors get on here and write “This is the best thing ever!” without a why, especially when it comes to these contemporary poems.
I have a better understanding of the poem now because of your help. Thank you.
Not trying to be a dick (maybe a bit), but I hate how you just barely suggest there that people who don’t explain their tastes don’t really know what they’re talking about. It’s 100% fair to ask “What’s good about this poem”, but come on, you’re doing something else here. I don’t get this particular type of hate for poetry. It’s factually not true that commenters fawn over everything that gets posted here, so I don’t even know where you’re coming from.
deadgod was generous typing out his take on the poem, but be honest. You didn’t actually read it that carefully, or cared to understand the poem better. I mean, if you did, and his take on the poem truly helped your understanding, how could you “get on here and write” “I have a better understanding of the poem now because of your help. Thank you” “without a why”?
Take care dude.
Not to get in Internet pissing contest with you, but I did read the poem carefully. You assume I didn’t because I didn’t understand it right off the bat. I tried to. I read it multiple times. I read it slow. I read it out loud. I looked up words I didn’t know the meaning of (“thinspo”). I did my due diligence.
Some of us on here that read this site daily don’t have MFAs or are well-schooled in the ways and means of what contemporary poets are doing or trying to achieve. I was praising deadgod for his great work on explaining the poem. Sometimes it takes just one person to point out an element that you’re not seeing because you’re trying too hard. That’s what happened here.
You’re correct; I should have written a why I now understand it. Why do I understand it now? Because deadgod did a great job of bringing to light the immersion aspect that I was totally tuning out. deadgod’s thoughts on the drumming aspect, too, helped me go back and reread it with those thoughts in my head.
Seriously, it shouldn’t be so hard to write, “This poem is great. Think immersion.” Or, “This guy is the second coming of Christ. Look at that rhythm!”
Maybe I just expect a little more from this site, and that’s my fault.
No, I wasn’t saying you didn’t read the poem carefully. I feel bad you took it that way, I probably shouldn’t have posted that at all.
I didn’t mean to be mean-spirited. I sensed sarcasm in your earlier post and took that as suggesting a particular kind of response to poetry I encounter often IRL, which is that poetry has to explain itself or it’s bullshit, and that readers who can’t explain why they like a particular poem drink wine.
Look, it doesn’t even matter. I don’t have an MFA, I’m just sad. I still think it’s fine for people to like a poem without having to explain why (especially if the question is asked in bad faith, which I’m not saying you were in your post, I just took it that way). Fuck. It feels like I’ve ruined this thread. Sorry Jason, sorry everyone.
this has the rhythm of a palindrome
In response to Courtney Chase and deadgod’s comments: I agree with Courtney–I don’t get it. I mean, I think I get what the poem is “trying” to do (yes, Billy Collins, I mean “trying”) here, but I don’t get what people would find interesting or moving about this, and I sure don’t see why Penguin or the New Yorker would want this kind of poetry.
This seems like the kind of stuff my kids come up with when they mess around with magnetic poetry. It doesn’t move me or make me feel anything, as deadgod asks, except for maybe the first four and a half lines–those are quite good. From there, though, the poem becomes something else entirely–I took much of the rest to be cheesy, as some have pointed out about the jog / Euclid thing.
I would actually love to hear more details, specific details, about what is so great about this poem. It’s funny to me that in deadgod’s response, he actually only picks out details from the first four lines (which are very different) and the very end, skipping over much of the rest of the poem.
Don’t get me wrong…I’m not looking for a straightforward poem, or narrative, or confessional, etc. I’m a big fan of the complexity of Wallace Stevens, or Paul Celan, or Garcia Lorca, but this doesn’t seem to have the maturity those do. Not that poems always have to be “mature” in those ways. I love the ways that poets like James Tate, Matthew Rohrer, and Dean Young find complexity and yet also find humor and playfulness.
What am I missing? Seriously, I would love to know.
Maybe you aren’t missing anything. Maybe this poem just isn’t your bag.
As for me, here is what I read/projected onto this poem:
I run to people to get away from silence and the silence is in them. I run to god to get away from people, but the people are god’s. Both god and people can be a big disappointment when I don’t get what I want. I often feel I am unfit to live on the planet. Rain trumps all.
Jeff Noh – it kind of seems like you combined my question with Jason hensel’s response and then responded as if we were the same people.
Deadgod I like your interpretation but what about the “Idaho” line? The “Rich duck” “emoticons?” The rain seems to no longer be of nature but is itself part of the new “holocene” of emoticons. The rain beats the god in the individual.
I feel like I’m reading a poem that is detached from human emotion and is rather depressing. It feels as if the poem is dressed up in humor but underneath it is a premise of isolation and disconnect from human touch.
I like that you asked this question. I always wonder what makes a good poem.
seems like you have a pretty strong understanding of the poem, Courtney
didn’t have a problem with “If you want to get into shape you have to jog
/ your memory of Euclid” as
much as the others, mostly because I’m not a very critical reader to begin
with, I just like what I like, but probably also because I thought the
“cheapness” of the punchline served what was happening at the poem
level. I think lines 7 and 8 work pretty well considering the rest of the poem,
so guess I’ll talk a bit about that.
“If you want to get into shape you have to jog”. First, I think “Money Bin”
handles the notion of “love-object” in a way I haven’t seen before. There’s the
stuff of Eden (via lines 3 and 4) weighed against “commodified beauty” –
clanking coins, thinspos*, the allusion to
masturbation (via title, “spank / bank”, the rain, etc), etc. Seems like line 7 is funny partly because it resonates with the idea of anorexia. Shock humour, I suppose, and kind of juvenile
once you spell it out, but I think there could be more juvenile humour in
Then there’s the punchline of “… your memory of Euclid”, which
connects the above with the stuff about God and form that
deadgod wrote out above. People seemed uncomfortable with this trick, and maybe
that’s a weakness of the poem. But returning to anorexia – Jesus’ ship-shaped [“if you want to get into shape”] ship keeps us away from the loaves [=carbs?] at sea (line 10). I won’t pretend to
understand that fully, but there’s a complexity there that stays with you after
you walk away. At the associative level, it makes me think of the
Eucharist in conjunction with anorexia, which I guess is unusual and funny.
there, I guess. That explains why I liked the poem in a small way. Though tbh, I think I liked it because I read it to myself at the computer and could see where it was coming from. A funny and irreverent take on the love poem. I don’t know.
I copy-pasted that from word, and it is appearing all fucked up. I’m not trying to respond to you in verse, or anything.
Yeah I thought you were the same person. Not that it explains anything though. I’m going to stop posting in this thread now.
I looked at this poem yesterday and thought something similar, “I don’t get this poem, at all, and yet this guy’s being published by The New Yorker, Poetry, and Penguin books. I’m baffled.” I read a lot of poetry and like all kinds; I hold to no received party lines of taste. I considered posting to ask others who appreciate it what they see in it. Courtney did and deadgod wrote an amazing explication. Really gives one hope for these comment areas. For me, I still don’t get it (not because of any weakness in deadgod’s explanation). The poem seems like part post-Language poetry with cleverness and nifty references thrown in, and a sensibility a little too jazzed by the sound of its own voice. The “god” stuff just seems a deadgivaway to the laughable over-reaching. Add up all the explication and what I’m left with is a mere intellectual construct, a pretty (because of its obvious attention to sound) box containing little else but a momentary reasonably interesting idea and, at worst, too much trying-too-hard cleverness. Nothing in this poem touched my heart, or my genitals, or my throat, or anything else below my pre-frontal lobes–and I sort of require that in a poem, otherwise it becomes a mere clever puzzle, an essay with line breaks, the way people who can’t sing well sing just from the throats while people who can sing do so from the gut. Another way to put it: a great poem to me uses the clearest language possible to express something outside the limits of language–while this poem seems to know precisely what it wants to say (being a mere idea) and instead the poem just couches the thought in evasive language to try to puzzle and dazzle–i.e. it seems a fake. I read the poem in the New Yorker, and was equally baffled at why it was considered great. Having said all that I sure as hell don’t wish to offend the poet. (I know, too late.) Really. I’m just speaking my honest reaction. No harm meant. Perhaps its just a case of differeing taste (and the no accounting for thereof). But the fact that this kind of thing is getting big-time laurels, makes me feel like I need to know why.
Jason, you’re welcome. Jeff wasn’t saying that you didn’t read the poem carefully, but rather, that you didn’t read my little explication “that carefully”, and that, by responding with a thumb’sup/thumb’sdown (and no “why”), you were doing what you say you don’t like done here. But now you’ve been more explicit, and, anyway, you can thumb’sup me anytime, ha ha. –or, if you feel it, of course you’re in the right to be sarcastic and/or insulting, oh well, whatever, never mind. It’s the internet. –but I did feel like opening up a couple of lines in the poem in response to Courtney’s question.
Jeff, the thumb’sup/thumb’sdown drive-bys are okay enough, because it’s the internet, people sometimes fly through for a quick shot, and, maybe and maybe often, a low-content response would be the ticket regardless of how much time/space were provided. (That’s categorically condescending towards the drivers-by, but, you know, it’s an evidence-based inference and needs an evidence-based refutation, ha ha.) I didn’t think Jason was being sarcastic, and he actually made a point.
Explanations are never substitutes for . . . well, anything–that’s not what an explanation actually does when it ‘explains’. (They can sometimes be poetic.) But if someone has an inner experience that they can’t explain or disclose or indicate, in any way, at all – except as to its ineffability–then that inarticulacy is something I’m (perhaps too cynically) suspicious of.
I chose to explicate the first two-and-a-half lines and the final line as a way to begin ‘to read’ the poem (after having read it through two or three times, so that the concinnity, or its absence, of the parts and the whole would begin to be clear). It wasn’t an evasion, but rather, by way of leaving the poem as a whole to another reader–to a conversation with another reader(s). The rest of the poem was not completely “skipp[ed] over”, but rather, was indicated as to patterns (I sense in or, ha ha, project onto the poem) of liquidity and immersion–as one is immersed in one’s own skin’s immersion in the world, like an Ahdeeho tater in a French-fryalator.
Just a guess, but I don’t think you would have been more “interest[ed]” in my explication of every line of the poem.
After reading “Deadgods” interpretation I was able to make more sense of the poem and come away with my own understanding. I at first didn’t get it at all. Not sure if I “get it” but I definitely have pulled or projected some kind of understanding.
deadgod, I wasn’t talking about things connecting unsayably. Don’t think I believe in that either.
There is, though, a common rhetorical pose in poetry discussions that I maybe unfairly ascribed to JH, projecting weird personal shit probably, but I’ve come across it every now and then. People love to say they don’t understand poetry when they really mean they’re not interested. But again, it wasn’t fair to assume that’s where Jason was coming from. So, whatever, damn.
Rather than a surface of humor around a core of disconnect, I’d call it a vision of disconnect through an eye of humor.
–but I think Ben is right: it sounds like the poem has communicated to you before you’ve decoded it thoroughly (which I doubt ever happens for anybody). That’s an Eliot idea: that we get things before – and as a context for – our intellectually controlling them, which (latter) we never do achieve.
I just want to point out: Uncle Scrooge? Anyone?
Totally loving the discussion here—no one is required to like any poem, even one written by someone with my credentials. The New Yorker & Penguin publish stuff that makes me cringe all the time. (And for God’s sake don’t worry about “offending the poet.”) I like what Courtney said in her most recent post. As for the “rich duck,” Carl Barks is turning over in his grave, people! XOXOXO
“What good is Money
Without my Honey.”
– Scrooge McDuck
Is that what you mean?
I am so much smarter now than I was five minutes ago.
–so he’s all tattooed on the top?
Namedropping GOD?! Gotcha, Michael Robbins!
I would like to correct an erratum.
I believe the correct version is:
“What good is Money
Without ME Honey.”
delivered in S. McDuck’s lovely Scottish accent.
i haven’t read all these comments, but wanted to add my own and say i’m reading the book right now, it’s really satisfying in many ways. if people want to see a video of mikey reading, here’s one i took at a train depot in chicago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWFO2vko_ec
When I hear him reading, for some reason I think of MF Doom.