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Hollywood & God

Hollywood & God is a virtuosic performance, filled with crossings back and forth from cinematic chiaroscuro to a kind of unsettling desperation and disturbing—even lurid—hallucination. From the Baltimore Catechism to the great noir films of the last century to today’s Elvis impersonators and Paris Hilton (an impersonator of a different sort), Robert Polito tracks the snares, abrasions, and hijinks of personal identities in our society of the spectacle, a place where who we say we are, and who (we think) we think we are fade in and out of consciousness, like flickers of light dancing tantalizingly on the silver screen. Mixing lyric and essay, collage and narrative, memoir and invention, Hollywood & God is an audacious book, as contemporary as it is historical, as sly and witty as it is devastatingly serious.

88 pages | 6 1/8 x 8 1/2 | © 2009

Phoenix Poets



“The title can stand as the best terse summation of American culture on record. . . . Polito is cobra-fascinating in his second poetry collection. Each finely patterned, muscular line holds wonder and menace.”

Donna Seaman | Booklist

“Split between oddly angled bits of memoir and acts of Hollywood ventriloquy, this second poetry collection from Polito leaps between essays and lyrics, between theology and violence, between tell-alls and persona poems. ‘If only God would save me,’ Polito writes in the title poem, ‘I would know how to hurt you,’ with the kind of drama and intimacy that infuses many of the voices here. . . . Three personal essays anchor the poems, each a story about interrogating self and god, whether fallen, falling apart or missing altogether.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Like Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, Robert Polito’s fabulous new book combines prose and poetry to sing out a polymorphous, hydra-headed declaration of independence from identity’s cage. We can’t classify Polito’s thrilling recitatives; we can only surrender to their baroque plainspokenness and their sonorous clarity, which reaches back toward modernist-epic cadences for its grave sea swell. Turn left on Vine; drive down Hollywood until you hit God. I’ll gladly meet Polito, a marvel-maker, at any intersection, at any hour.”

Wayne Koestenbaum

Hollywood & God could have been called ‘American Dirt’; it could have been called ‘Wrong Turns.’ A reader will find his or her own titles, because almost everything here—‘Riding with the King’ picking up Huckleberry Finn, ‘Overheard in the Love Hotel’ summoning Elvis Presley, ‘The Great Awakening’ calling Jonathan Edwards up on stage with T.D. Rice—is emblematic. Emblematic, but also whispering, as if to say, ‘First impressions are always wrong.’ This is a book full of people hiding behind their own names: a book of surprises.”

Greil Marcus

“Robert Polito has composed a book both delirious and cool. In his play of cinematic illusion, the most fictive voices—down-and-out actors, demented DJs, Elvis impersonators—express the starkest truths, and the teasingly autobiographical passages slide into myth. Polito puts his finger on the pulse of American dreaming in all its pathos and tawdry glamour. He is unsparing, swift, and fiendishly intelligent, and runs rings around the poetry of earnest personal anecdote in this rich and astonishing collection.”

Rosanna Warren

“In the America of these poems, the obsession with celebrity and the yearning toward God constantly threaten to turn into each other. Both, by promising us transcendence, ravage the human spirit. Alongside the glamour of celebrity and God stands the unknowable, tormented figure of the poet’s father, seemingly untouched by either. Somehow Polito manages to be both disabused and hypnotized in this ambitious, eloquent, finally tremendously touching book.”

Frank Bidart

“Clean, decisive, and yet shimmering with the too-real clarity of a dream, Polito’s poetry is part craving, and all desire. . . . And he makes a convincing case for a Gnostic revelation—the strumming need in the American soul is the spark of the divine, which of course is manifested in the all-too imperfect expression pop culture.”

Brooklyn Rail

“Hollywood—metonym for all worldly desires—hasn’t replaced God, according to Polito; both are receding into the past at exactly the same velocity. . . . Every bid for transcendence foregrounds a lack. What would we do without that lack? stop worrying and enjoy your life, enjoined the bus ads; our poets, like the wistful Polito . . . it’s not that simple.”

Ange Mlinko | Bookforum

“The Best Poetry of 2009. . . . This collection is shattered, mythic, and dazzling.”

Tess Taylor | Barnes & Noble Review

"Polito makes poetry out of pop-culture in a way that deepens, not cheapens, either the poem or the pop. Elvis Presley, the Edgar G, Ulmer thriller Detour, and Dunkin Donuts all put in appearances in poems whose lines snake across the page, wrapping themselves around rhythms that surprise and hypnotize."

Ken Tucker | Entertainment Weekly

Table of Contents


Hollywood Hills

Barbara Payton: A Memoir
Paris Hilton Calls on Jesus
Two or Three Dreams About . . .
Mike the Winger
Please Refrain From Talking During The Movie
Overheard in the Love Hotel
New York School
Three Horse Operas
What a Friend
Deep Deuce
The Harrowing of Dorchester
Shooting Star
Sister Elvis
Pacific Coast Highway
Spicy Detective
Riding with the King
The Great Awakening
Last Seen
Hollywood & God

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