The first eight pages of Michael Robbins’s new book, “Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music” (Simon & Schuster), make reference to Annie Dillard, Harold Bloom, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Kenneth Burke, Geoffrey Hill, Kenneth Koch, Adam Phillips, Frank O’Hara, Emerson, Boethius, Nietzsche, Freud, and Miley Cyrus. The book is a collection of mostly previously published pieces, some on poetry, some on pop music, some on both, written, as the names suggest, in a critical style that could be called advanced pop.
Advanced-pop criticism would be criticism premised on the belief that you can talk about cultural goods loved uncritically by millions in terms originally developed to talk about cultural goods known mainly to an overeducated few. Advanced pop is Boethius and Springsteen, Artaud and the Ramones, and it yields sentences like “I assume that what Burke”—the literary theorist Kenneth Burke—“says about poetry applies, mutatis mutandis, to the songs of Def Leppard.” It’s erudite but caj, geeky and hip, alienated and savvy—on the inside of the outside. Another word for the attitude might be “Brooklyn,” which is indeed where, as an author’s bio unnecessarily informs us, Michael Robbins lives.