Adam Robinson - I ran from the laundry machine to the bathroom Yelling Adopted! and You have a hole in your heart!

Adam Robinson, Adam Robison and Other Poems (Narrow House, 2010)

"Not only my favorite title of the year, but this is also a book I have been waiting to hold in my hands with great anticipation for quite some time - as a friend, yes, but more so in language glee. Adam can truly speak it in a way I have never heard anyone else speak. This is going to be one to drink milk in bed with" - Blake Butler

"From trompe l'oeil title to anomalous index, this is a book of pristine openings and closings, preoccupied with structure, literary convention, popular and intellectual culture, biography, genre and identity. Somewhat skeptically, it marks out a testing ground for poetry. And poetry, confident in those sparkling titles and last lines, jumps into the ring" - Mairead Byrne

"Adam Robinson’s accessible and erudite first book of poetry, Adam Robison and Other Poems, nimbly plays with the mutability of identity and naming.
Slightly more than half the poems are short biographical gems focusing on obscure angles of each subject’s life. “Frederick Law Olmstead” starts “He didn’t go to college because sumac poisoning messed up his eyes!” and mentions the park systems of Buffalo and Milwaukee before Manhattan’s Central Park. ”Codename: Ruby Blade” is about an East Timor activist orginally from Australia, born Kirsty Sword, now married to the first President of East Timor, nicknamed Xanana. Different identities and actions are connected to the different names she uses: Ruby Blade, her codename as an insurgent, “schooled the rebel in English and they fell in love and horsed around”, and “Kirsty Sword has a jawbone that could slay a thousand men” a la Helen of Troy.
Robinson also touches on names and the fragility of identity in “Some Men in My Family” about his two brothers, one adopted and one not; his father; and his grandfather, paralyzed and living in their basement: “That man down there would yell his own name which was Albert”. The narrator in “Some Men in My Family” screams at his adopted brother “You have a hole in your heart!” physically “A ventricular septale defect” but also an indirect reference to his brother’s being given up by his biological family. The latter phrase is a medical diagnosis, but the former is hurtful enough for the brother to kick the locked bathroom door off its hinges. The drama and depth make “Some Men in My Family” one of the most powerful works in the collection.
Robinson’s rhythm and skill with language reflect wide-ranging sources. “Joe Louis” has the staccato rhythm of a boxing match. “The Skeptic” recalls the childhood jump rope rhyme “Rockin’ Robin” with “all the little birds/on Jaybird Street”, while “More” echoes James Joyce: “Swim I said yes she said I’d go swimming”.
Robinson strays from the biographical works with mixed success. “Puke Nut 3000″ is one of the weaker poems. “It’s Down to MOM or CLAUDIIIIIINE,” however, perfectly captures a recovery from deep grief, “You will be so spitsoul sad/Then you will be okay/Then you will be sad that you are okay/Then mostly okay again and well this will continue”.
The index to the book, a complete list of even the most subtle references in the poems, is not to be missed.
Within Adam Robison and Other Poems are two poems about “Adam Robison,” the pseudonym the author uses when writing about himself. They’re among the less strong works in the collection, but there’s also a poem titled “Adam Robinson,” with the “n,” which starts:
Because I’m in charge, I’m in charge
Come on
(In charge–really, really in charge)
You know I’m in charge, I’m in charge
You know it
A triumphant, accurate battle cry for a poet writing about other people
." -

"One of the first things I noticed while reading Adam Robinson's poems was that he was either a really bright guy, or a very inquisitive one with access to Google or Wikipedia. Frederick Law Olmstead, Erma Ruth Rogers Tyner, Max Schmeling, Joe Louis, Glenn Tipton, Bas Jan Adler, Soren Kierkegaard, Curtis Ebbesmeyer, Elisabeth Elliot, Brahms, Martin Luther, and many more people from real life draw Adam's interest and words. The next thing I noticed was the seeming lack of form, in general, in the collection. Not reading enough poetry myself, I'm not fully sure there really is a lack of form in this work, but the seeming lack of form was something that drew me into the work. What is did for me, after a couple of reads, was come to the conclusion that he was writing exactly what he intended to, and not being forced into tacking on extra words, or chopping off excessive words, in order to fit to a three lines per stanza type of poetry.
Glenn Tipton

To write this poem I listened to two songs by Judas Priest.
Holy cow.
When I was a boy Judas Priest was forbidden.
In Sunday School we laughed at their name and played with it like it was something hot. We did this with Metal Church and Black Sabbath too. We dared each other to utter these names
And so begins, 'Glenn Tipton', one of the poems in the 2nd of 4 sections the poems are broken into. This section, while seemingly concentrating on biographical poems about different individuals, frequently lead to Robinson determining something that has more to do with his current life than with the life being discussed. For instance, discussing Judas Priest and other bands of this nature, Robinson slowly works to the conclusive line of the poem: "I feel like I wasn't raised to appreciate other perspectives".
There's a lot of death in Robinson's poems:
"We're going to die in four years" from 'Curtis Ebbesmeyer, Leading Authority on Flotsam'
"Brahms died in 1897" from 'Brahms'
"And my worst thing that died was a dog" from 'It's Down to Mom of CLAUDIIIIIINE'
And lines like these tend to end the poems. That's not to say that everything in Robinson's work is of a negative viewpoint. Not at all. He has the ability to write things like the above, that upon quick examination might seem like downer material, without having the reader feel crushed as each poem ends. There is something somewhat uplifting earlier within each work that these lines are just drawing the reader back down to level ground from.
I'm going to close out my review with what, at least of this last reading, is my favorite of the collection:
The Skeptic

I'm looking for a balance
between not God and God
like fruit
or feet
or all the little birds
on Jaybird Street
I enjoy this one, like many of Robinson's poems, because I like images and thoughts he suggests, without fully understanding them; they make me think a bit. I'm not fully sure he expects me to understand exactly what he's written - after all, these words come from inside his own head, not mine. They do make me think though, and typically with a smile." - Emerging Writers Network

"Regarding Adam Robinson’s poetry, the Baltimore City Paper said:
a mix of classical and mundane references imbues lines like “There would be a pronounced lack/Of throwing Nerf balls to paralytics/In the basement” with more meaning than they have any right to have.
That’s debatable. How do the poems in Adam Robison and Other Poems, which read like bad Wikipedia entries, become meaningful? I mean, some read as if they were written by that poet’s nosy neighbor from Pale Fire—as in they’re all self-involved, even when they’re about other people.
And many of them are about other people. For instance, these: Kierkegaard, Mike Schmidt, Black Diamond, Xanana Gusmao, Hélène Cixous, and Robinson’s grandmother. There is one poem called, “Two Poems, Neither About Bas Jan Ader.”
Bas Jan Ader was pretty cool. He died of sailing art. The poem that is not about him covers that.
There is a Danish term, “Hiin Enkelte.” It means, “That One.” “That singular individual.” “That solitary person alive in – what the eff is this? – the World.” I’m not saying that Adam Robinson locates such a concept in the amalgam of these diverse identities. What does seem to happen, however, is that through Robinson’s ecstatic syntax, it becomes fun to care about people and their junk. By “junk” I mean error, like the young professional who sits next to the smelly old woman on the bus in “I’m Going to Have SEX with These People.” Because it was Calvin who wrote the Institutes, not Aquinas as Robinson says in “Martin Luther,” and Brahms always had both of his hands.
By getting so much wrong, Robinson releases poetry’s pressure valve. Mistakes provoke the reader, make them winners with all their knowledge, make the book interesting, make them care about things. Perhaps that’s how it’s possible to learn about pollution based on a poem that uses the words “boy howdy,” “holy wow” and “broham.”
Overheard: “I didn’t like poetry until I realized that I was in charge of deciding what was ‘good’ and what was ‘bad’, based on what I liked.” Adam Robinson said that.
I, too, like it— all the genuine fiddle." - Adam Robinson

"Adam Robinson has lived in a bunch of different cities, but that probably doesn’t matter. His childhood was not notable except for all of the God stuff that he grew up with. He went to a Christian college, but only because his brother, his Irish twin, did. The Christian college was awesome for Adam (though it must be noted that this word often accompanies descriptions of religious experiences) and it was there that he learned that life is really terrible unless everybody forgives each other. Adam continues to be a Christian in spite of the fact that Martin Luther consummated his marriage to Katherine von Bora in front of his friends (or, possibly, because of this fact; it isn’t clear). Said another way, Adam is a dark and sad Christian like St. Paul. Now Adam works as a technology buyer for an asset management company, but that doesn’t really describe him. It isn’t who he is. He is a guitar player for Sweatpants and the publisher of Publishing Genius and a writer of poems and stories and songs, but he cannot be fully understood in these terms either. It is better to think of Adam in terms of the time he jumped out of a speeding boat (that he was driving) and crashed it. The boat didn’t sink and Adam didn’t drown. The boat got stuck in some seaweed and Adam swam back to shore. Adam made a similar jump when he left behind his life in Milwaukee and ran away to Baltimore with Stephanie Barber, who is awesome (like Christianity, but in a different way). The experience was panicked and great. It should also be noted that the farthest Adam has walked at one time is 28 miles and 
the farthest he has ridden a bicycle is 34 miles. He could go farther, though. He will go farther. In fact, there he goes now." - Michael Kimball

"How long have you been writing poetry? Could you tell us a little bit about your upcoming book, 'Adam Robison and other Poems'?
- I wrote poetry a lot in high school, but then moved to pretty much strictly fiction through college. I started again in 2006, on New Years, when I made a very deliberate decision to start to figure it out. I had been getting turned on by some very abstract stuff, like the work of Stacy Szymaszek, Anne Carson and Mairéad Byrne. Those are three very different poets but all very inspiring and thought-provoking. At the same time (and still) I was mulling over this idea by Helene Cixous (among others) that literature should be unreadable, so I saw poetry as the best way to explore this notion.
I think my favorite of those three is Byrne’s work, because at the same time as it bears out this multifaceted emotionality and often bewildering language game, it’s always really fetching. I mean, I find her play with language to be interesting on a level that asks, “Why is this important, why is this the best way to approach an idea,” because her poems are often rooted in mundane phenomena and they capture meaning on that level, rather than trying to reflect it through something more transcendent or ephemeral. So the parts of her work that I find fetching is what I brought to my book, ADAM ROBISON. I set out to write poems that can capture sadness and seriousness in a way that doesn’t forget about, for one thing, how little “I” matter and for another thing, that the way we process things is really funny.
So there are a lot of colloquialisms in the book.
Yeah, from what I’ve heard you read so far from that book, I dig the colloquialisms and the wordplay. I also like how you can make a poem very funny and very sad at the same time. One of my favorite lines, and please tell me if I’m quoting this wrong, since I’ve only heard you read it and haven’t seen it in print yet, is “I wish there was something between God and not-God.” Did I get that right? Or at least get the sentiment right? It’s really something that’s stuck with me because I understand that yearning. Like maybe we can feel “something beyond” ordinary reality but can’t quite figure out exactly what it is or the all too human Western God just doesn’t feel right. At the same time, atheism leaves us cold. Is there something inherently “spiritual” about literature? Does this somehow tie in to the idea that literature should be unreadable? What does it mean when we consider that what we write doesn’t really exist in any sort of physical reality (words are not the things the represent)?
- You got that line pretty close — it’s “I’m looking for a balance/Between not-God and God/Like fruit/Or feet/Or all the little birds on Jaybird Street.” I haven’t figured out the logic to it yet, but that poem strikes me as very honest, you know? Like, I don’t have to understand something I wrote for it to be honest. And it is a real yearning. So I don’t know if there is something inherently “spiritual,” but if you say that a basis for literature is desire, I would agree with that. I mean, that’s what they say in fiction workshops, right — what does the character want?
I think, probably, everything ties into the notion that literature should be unreadable. When literature is literature it’s unreadable because of the primacy of its multiplicitous signification. It means a lot that the signifier is distinct from the signified — I mean, it means “there is literature,” it makes literature distinct from sculpture — and I think also it means that we don’t have to try for direct representation. It’s not always interesting to try to capture “tree” when there is a more essential experience or observation that can be made, even if that thing, made in language, is nonsensical. But in another way, what we write manifests itself as a presence imagined, imagined therefore real as an immanence, and that being-with can exist in a more real place, and in a series of infinite, irrational, related, linked connections or meanings or narratives, than the chair you’re sitting in when you read — and that’s what is exciting. That’s what excites me about poetry.
When Colin Wilson described an Outsider, he said, “What can be said to characterize the Outsider is a sense of strangeness, of unreality.” So the Outsider Writer is someone who sees the unreality in reality. Which is not to say that she believes that ordinary, everyday reality is a total illusion, but there is “something more” out there or in there somewhere. Do you see this yearning in your poetry, this unreadable quality you just described as coming from a basic distrust of reality itself?
- I would hesitate to say that something “outside” is unreal, because I think it’s important that the otherness we’re discussing is quite real. I’m not sure if it’s a semantic distinction I’m making — it probably is — but to me poetry focuses on the real characteristics of what is commonly perceived to be unreal. I’m not drawing to myself what I don’t understand as a homogenizing act, but I’m going out to that impossible state to allow my thoughts (and thus my poetry) to be changed. It’s primarily a symbolic gesture because my personal life isn’t actually set up to be this ethical, but still it’s important to me and to my writing. I definitely see the “something more” that you’re referring to, or I catch glimpses of it, and I think that is the objective correlative for my work, as well as the starting point and constant motivation. And for me, reality is trustworthy because it’s predictable. You always know reality is going to blow it, is going to be painful. But what I distrust is the notion that our perception of reality is all that is the case. As an artist, that’s kind of a deal stopper for me. As a member of society, however, I can recognize and accept the value in going forward from this “reality is all we have to work with” presupposition — and it is in the tension between these two thoughts that I hang my poetry.
It’s really interesting to think this way. I haven’t done it in a long time, so I’m afraid I’m not being very sensible. I’m glad we’re talking about it though, because I think this is the framework for understanding ADAM ROBISON. Let me ask you a question: what do you think a literature that distrusts reality would be like?
Thanks for that question, Adam. I’ll answer it because it’ll lead straight into the next question I wanted to ask you. And because it’s a good question. I think that, for the most part, a literature that distrusts reality might use what we commonly perceive as reality but manipulate it or it might leave this reality entirely. In the past, I think the best example would be surrealism. To tell the truth, I think the stuff you’re publishing fits this description. It’s a very free, liberated, literature. Like Matthew Simmons’s A Jello Horse. On one level, everything in the book could possibly happen… hypothetically. But the second person point of view takes us directly into another person’s body, something that obviously can’t happen in this reality, and we suddenly feel ourselves becoming this other person. I’d like to believe that there’s a sort of destiny to life, like what happens at the end of the book, and that people can be that open to honest communication with people they don’t know, but I suspect that we were glimpsing reality as it could be. I don’t know, from what I’ve seen, everything you’ve published so far has this “something more.”" - Interview with Pat King

"there seems to be (or maybe i am making this up) a divide on the internet between those who like what is called "realism" and those who like, we'll call it, "surrealism." where do you stand. what are your thought s adam robinson?
- Well, I think I know what you mean. The boner in me wants to straighten out this term “surrealism” and return it to its proper roots in Satanism, and unpack the term “realism” and claim it for literature that calls into question the things we think are real – but I think I know what you mean and I’m okay with keeping things in quotation marks until the brainwaves coming from the ivory tower filter into our popular lexicon.
I read a story by Paula Bomer today called “An Important Day in the Life of Marjorie Wallace” that I think fits into the definition of the word “realist” (my quotes are meant to indicate the popular term, marked by straight prose where, for instance, the word “tree” denotes “a leafy plant with a trunk and branches”) and it was okay. It has a beautiful and effective conclusion that is worth reading the story for, but to me, the payoff doesn’t seem big enough to rationalize all the work she must have put into writing it. I mean, when the story was over, the sum of my thoughts was: huh. Not as a question or anything, just blank.
And plus, when you write that way – if you make a tiny little mistake, like she does with this clause – “a wonderful February sun falling onto her face” – you risk losing your audience. And mistakes like this are much more obvious in traditional, unmediated prose. Plus, in this story she has the main character, Marjorie, yell at a merely casual friend for not calling her six weeks earlier. I thought, “No one would do that.” So I was basically workshopping this story as I went along, even though I just wanted to read it for whatever reason people read stories. I did the same thing with a Barbara Taylor Bradford book I recently listened to in my car. With “realist” stuff, I always already feel like an expert on whatever a writer is talking about, and I get distracted by matching it up to my own perspective or something. I figure, why bother – unless there is some flat out stunning style to it.
I like Paula Bomer a lot, I think, and I know she’s intentional when she writes this way. I like that she’s sticking up for it. But when you do that other thing – where the language of the story is as essential as the story, and where the story is as essential as an exploded metanarrative, in the sense that it calls into question even the telling of the story, especially the telling (and that might not sound like it’s saying anything but it is) – you’re demanding that readers become familiar with the back or the inside story. When the reader invests like that for a work of art, when he allows himself to become a part of the work, its language and habitat and unfamiliar everything, he is more likely to dig in enough to appreciate it, less likely to discount it, shrug and walk away, as he might with something where he doesn’t “believe” one character would really say that thing, would really note the wonderful sun falling on her face.
I’m not really sure that nugget of theory holds up, and anyway I love impeccable writing, no matter what form it takes. I think my favorite novel is still The Brothers K by David James Duncan, at least in terms of emotional response, in terms of “holy crap, literature is amazareehing,” in terms of tears-to-page ratio. But nine times out of ten I prefer the mind-bending stuff to the “there is meaning in the accumulation of ordinary experience” stuff." - Interview with Dogzplot

"When somebody looks at the cover of your book, the first thing they are confronted with is a portrait that could be either Adam Robinson or Adam Robison. Then the title is Adam Robison and Other Poems and then author of the book is designated as Adam Robinson.
- The Adam Robison/Robinson thing isn’t supposed to be a dichotomy. I mean, they aren’t really two separate things. Robison isn’t my doppelganger. I think of it more like Borges and I, like I don’t know who’s writing what.
Just two weeks ago, I ate in Borges’ favorite restaurant in Buenos Aires, Munich, and the waiter said (in Spanish) that he used to wait on Borges. So the Borges/I and the Adam Robinson/AdamRobison/I, this comes up again in the first piece in the book, Introduction. In the third stanza, the I seems to be Adam Robinson (since he mentions “the fake name ‘Adam Robison’”). Then the I seems to be Adam Robison (“I, Adam Robison,”). And then in the last stanza, the figure described is Adam Robison and so would seem to be being presented from Adam Robinson (unless the piece has switch perspectives to third person).
- That’s an interesting and not totally crazy way to read the entire book, trying to parse out the parts that are Robison versus Robinson — but there isn’t a tidy distinction. That’s because there aren’t tidy distinctions. I am always both Robinson and Robison. Sometimes, in a way that is as real as anything else. I am also Kimball. I behave and think differently around you than I do around, say, Mom or Cats. Because I am Mom and Cats sometimes too. Why not? That’s the gist of the Cormac McCarthy epigraph — when John Grady Cole is arguing with what’s-his-face about how what’s-his-face wouldn’t have been born if his mother never met his father — but, like, how do we know that? How the eff did I get my consciousness and you get yours, which is so much different? There were 10 million sperms rushing to the egg – what if a different one had been the fastest?
I like that you further extend all this by having a poem called “Adam Robinson” along with two different poems called “Adam Robison,” but let’s talk about some of the other biographical poems – a range of people from philosophers like Hélène Cixous and Søren Kierkegaard to baseball players like Mario Mendoza and Mike Schmidt to musicians and religious figures like Glenn Tipton and Martin Luther to friends and family like Josh Maday and to Erma Ruth Rogers Tyner.
- The fact is that I never sat down with a “Robison voice” to write from, except to use it as an excuse to employ a silly vernacular. I don’t think the character is as fully fleshed as, say, Andy Devine, who becomes really conceivable as a person just from the things he writes. But Adam Robison is just one subject in the book, not the author. The book is so much about identity, and part of the title is a game about how much does my identity shift by deleting one letter?
And then, what happens to identity if I change every letter? Like, what if I make my name Glenn Tipton? Not much data about Glenn Tipton gets conveyed in that poem, but there’s a lot about me. “Glenn Tipton” was assigned by someone when I posted to a blog that I was taking suggestions for people to write poems about. I didn’t know anything about him, didn’t know he was in Judas Priest, but I had some keen associations with Judas Priest. So, yeah, most of the poems are really about me, even through the biography lens.
Two other poems that I take to be really about you even though they are a kind of essay-poem are “Introduction” and “Super Introduction.” I love what you’re doing with the form with those. Maybe just talk about how you came to write those and what you were after with them.
- “Introduction” started as a challenge (from myself) to figure out my point of view as a writer. It was kind of a “why do I bother” thing, because I’m often more interested in publishing or sometimes even my day job than writing. Sometimes I lack conviction or spizzerinctum. Rilke said a writer is a person that must write, and I think that’s crap. Anyway, it’s not me. I am primarily impelled by some amazing reading experiences that I want to recreate for others. So “Introduction” is a combination of reminding myself how astounding literature can be, mixed with figuring out my relationship to it, what I can add that ought to be added.
“Super Introduction,” which is the last poem in the book, is a similar appreciation of poetry — it’s as close as I’ll get to a manifesto, I suppose — but in this one I combine my reflections with thoughts on justice and forgiveness. I think there is so much personal stuff in ARAOP, which is okay with me because I believe sharing narratives is productive, but it’s also important to me to be clear about my intentions. I end with “Super Introduction” because I think the book’s takeaway is that poetry is our best shot at, um... can I say world peace? Or, to be less grandiose, understanding what’s understandable.
I feel as if we should stop there, but I have a random statement/question to mention. There’s an index, which is mostly biographical. And I noticed, for one, that Adam Robison isn’t listed and, for two, that the poem “Adam Robinson” isn’t listed under Robinsons, and, for three, that certain things listed in the index, which shall remain unnamed, are not explicit in the poems to which they are referenced. So maybe talk about the why of the index in relation to any of that or its very existence.
- I’m glad you spent so much time with the index. That’s really gratifying, because it’s meant to be a poem in itself, sort of. It’s not supposed to be a straight-up thing. Some parts of it are traditional — yes, I said “Matthea Harvey” on page 40 — but some things are meant to be clues. For instance, I don’t actually mention Michael Jackson in “Adam Robinson,” but his song “Bad” provides the key to unlocking that poem. I didn’t list “Adam Robinson” with my family because I think Adam Robinson, in the book, is a distinct character. And for Robison, he’d have to have every page listed, maybe. I’m not sure. It’s a mutable document." - Interview with Michael Kimball


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