In his first book of… not poetry, Michael Robbins, author of Alien vs. Predator and The Second Sex, makes an extended argument about the connections between poetry and pop music.
A pop song is a popular song, one that some ideal “everybody” knows or could know. Its form lends itself to communal participation. Or, stronger, it depends upon the possibility of communal participation for its full effect.
Of course, being a poet, he’s cynical as hell. He says poetry is nothing more than a “sad and angry consolation.”
As Joshua Clover says about our claims—whether total or qualified—for “the political force of poetry”: “It’s such bullshit, isn’t it?” Pop is even worse off, a watermarked wing of consumer capitalism restricted to dreams of utopia.
And yet they affect us enormously.
[“Tiny Dancer” by Elton John] works, I want to say, for the same reason the Kaddish or the Mass works: it conveys comfort because it is a shared experience, one that reinforces a sense of community, of “allies who will share the burden with us.” The entire congregation’s voices are lifted in unison, in supplication, in awe—this form is universal, known to all.
Equipment for Living is a collection of tiny essays about the poetry of pop songs (Tori Amos, Def Leppard, Prince, Taylor Swift) that adds up to a monumental—and incredibly wise—approach to finding peace in a broken world.
I was with a friend, and we had been talking earlier in the evening about our attraction to disparate accounts of the world as broken—Marxism, Christianity. I leaned across to her during the song and said, “The world is broken, but this is one of the things we can do about it,” gesturing in awe at the group. She said, “And would it mean as much if the world were whole?” Which is basically the theme of this book.
Take us to church!