Robert Polito

Hollywood & God [University of Chicago Press]

Books Reviews Robert Polito
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Robert Polito

Culture in a Petri poetry dish

The average reader will surmise from the pages of Hollywood & God that Robert Polito grew up Catholic, in New England, smart as hell.

It might be more of a stretch for Joe Everyman to puzzle out meanings of the poet’s challenging, cryptic, sometimes lurid pieces. You wouldn’t expect Polito to make things easy. He heads the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at The New School, that Oxford-of-the-avant-garde in Greenwich Village. He’s a writers’ writer—respected by critics, academics and reviewers who’ve recognized him in his career with a National Book Critics Award and an Edgar Award. Hollywood & God has a smooth two-stroke engine—fairly straightforward prose pieces, four or five pages long (most memorable is a piece on actress-turned-hooker Barbara Payton) that alternate with riddling, phosphorescent poems. Always, you feel a sweeping searchlight in Polito’s work: “I need a life that isn’t just about needing / To escape my life.”