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This review is taken from PN Review 211, Volume 39 Number 5, May - June 2013.

Kicking Habits anthony madrid, I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say (Canarium) US$14
michael robbins, Alien vs. Predator (Penguin) US$18

In the 'Rhythm and Metre' chapter of Principles of Literary Criticism (1924), I.A. Richards writes that much perceived sound patterning 'is merely due to habit, to the routine of sensory stimulation'. A formally controlled poem increases 'the narrowness and definiteness of expectancy', and the reader, rather than the literary object, hence becomes patterned: 'With every beat of the metre a tide of anticipation in us turns and swings, setting up as it does so extraordinarily extensive sympathetic reverberations.'

In their debut collections, Anthony Madrid and Michael Robbins gaze with scorn and fascination upon habits and routines of reading and of living; their shared project is to address the rhythms of poetic and social cliché, introducing said rhythms to poems that mock and warp them. This is not like the worst, or even the bulk, of New Formalism, ticking the boxes of traditional form while preaching to the converted: at work here instead is the older formalism of defamiliarisation. Both poets know that a poem is a strange way for language to behave, and that a writer or reader should never be entirely comfortable in its presence.

Throughout Michael Robbins's Alien vs. Predator, poetic craft equals, as it should, the act of thinking: everything goes towards forming and complicating, rather than emphasising, ideas. The Dylan-referencing 'by getting out of going through everything twice, // by getting out of going through everything twice', for example, is more than a throwaway gag, because its allusion and self-awareness set ...


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