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A critical on Henry Rollins



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    Running Head: a critical essay on henry rollins

    A Critical Essay on Henry Rollins,

    With Focus and Emphasis on His Literary Works and Poetics


                            This is a critical essay on Henry Rollins. He was a multimedia artist that has been in music. Television and films, however this essay will concentrate on his written works and poetics.

    A Critical Essay on Henry Rollins,

    With Focus and Emphasis on His Literary Works and Poetics

    “I believe that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it. We must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and the soul.” – Henry Rollins (1961 – )


                Henry Rollins was born Henry Lawrence Garfield. He was born on February 13, 1961 in Washington D.C, in the Glover Park neighborhood. As a kid and only child, he was raised by his mom ever since his parents divorced when he was still in his young age. This was probably the reason why he suffered from low self esteem and was attention deficit as a child and had bad grades, bad attitude and poor conduct when he entered public school, and was later sent to The Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland. It was at Bullis where he began writing. His earliest writings were short stories filled alarming subjects, such as blowing up nhis school and murdering all the teachers. It was perhaps the lethal combination of being an only child, absent father figure and the divorce which have caused him to have so much rage by the time he was in his teenage years. After finishing High School, he tried entering College but he was discouraged by fellow students who were into beer and bong. He began working instead in odd jobs including being a courier of liver samples at the National Institute of Health.

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                He became involved in the punk rock scene and by 1979, he worked as a roadie for local bands, including his friend Ian MacKaye’s band Teen Idles. He later became stand in vocalist for bands like Teen Idles, Bad Brains and The Extols. He later joined the band State of Alert, writing sdngs and becoming S.O.A’s front man and vocalist. By the time S.O.A disbanded, he had become manager of the Georgetown Häagen-Dazs ice cream store, the steady income from which he financed S.O.A’s EP. Later on he became Black Flag’s vocalist. He quit his job and sold his car to move to Los Angeles, California, to become the vocalist for the band Black Flag. His growing public deviance and controversial violence during performances and internal dispute among his band members lead to the eventual break up of the band in 1986. He also appeared in television and movies. Among them were Alternative Nation in 1993 MTV Sports in 1994 Unsolved Mysteries in 1995 and State of the Union Undressed on Comedy Central. He began to present and narrate VH1 Legends in 1996 and made appearances and voicing such as Mad Stan in Batman Beyond in 1999 and 2000, Apple’s 1999 Gf Cube Ad, hosted Night Visions in 2001, Henry’s Film Corner, The Henry Rollins Show, Full Metal Challenge, MTV Jackass  and many others. He also hosted radio programs like Harmony in My Head on L.A’s Indie 103.1On February 18, 2009, KCRW announced that Rollins would be hosting a live show on Saturday nights starting March 7, 2009. He also appeared in movies  such as the Smith-Lawrence’s  Bad Boys , Feast, Wrong Turn Dead End, The Chase and Johnny Mnemonics, among a few. He also published books, and released albums of Spoken Word Poetry. This is the facet of his career which this paper aims to analyze; his literary style and poetics.

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    “If I lose the light of the sun, I will write by candlelight, moonlight, no light. If I lose paper and ink, I will write in blood on forgotten walls. I will write always. I will capture nights all over the world and bring them to you.” – Henry Rollins (1961 – )

                Before we even begin to discuss and analyze a sample of Rollin’s work, it is but proper to first define what exactly spoken word is. The New York Times define Spoken Word Poetry as “Pointlessly stiff term for poetry read aloud with stand-up comic timing and aggression,” (New York Times, 1994) A website address, further discusses what spoken word poetry is in more details and quoted below.

    “Spoken Word poetry is a very newly revived form of poetry that has been around since the 1990’s. Humorously enough, the term “Spoken Word” started as a sign label in record stores for non-musical selections like famous speeches and orations. During the 1990’s an increased interest in the Beat poets who were really dissatisfied with the world, and wrote really powerful poetry that was meant to make a statement. Today, Spoken Word poetry is a very general category of poetry that is meant to be both performed and to make a powerful statement. Unlike some of the Beat poets who were interested in only shouting about the really rotten things in the world, Spoken Word poetry is more interested in voicing the problems and offering hope.

    All Spoken Word poetry is meant to be read aloud, but not all poetry that is read aloud is Spoken Word.”

    Further, the site enumerates rhythm, repetition and rhyme as elements of Spoken Word poetry. The three “R’s” however are more focused on ‘auditory’ definitions rather than strict literary definitions and conventions of these elements.

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                Finally, to answer the question of whether Henry Rollins is a good poet, the best way to go is to do an analysis of a sample of his poetry and gauge it according to literary conventions of good poetry. Aside from his Spoken Word Poetry, he has written a couple of regular poems. For the purpose of this paper, we will try to look at a sample of his regular poem as follows.

    So what happens to you when your dreams have been destroyed?/When you have chased cornered and ripped them limb from limb?/When you walk away to a desert inside yourself/I fell into the vacuum of my room/The darkness tortured me/Sucked the air through the cracks in the floor/Time scars my thoughts/I have thought about calling or writing one of you/Trying to reach out and touch one of you/I never get to it/I can’t get out of myself/I couldn’t find the right words to show you where I am/It used to be terrifying/Talking myself out of shooting myself in the head/Now it’s just conversation/The night brings the silence and lies/With which keep myself alive/I hold myself in fragile arms/I’m not strong/I’m a rat holding on one handed to the screen of the drain//

    It would be difficult to critique the poem in an exclusive manner using the conventions of regular poetry, so it must be borne in mind that if we are to judge his literary merit, we are also to consider the conventions of Spoken Word Poetry in this analysis. To apply solely the literary conventions of ‘regular’ poetry would be an injustice, and would be confusing in one way or another. Let me then offer a general critique of the poem in both Form and Content

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    The above poem is written in free verse. There is no formal meter or rhyme scheme in the poem. Clearly it is of free-verse, and that of post-modernist type. The narrative line follows a certain ‘rhetorical questioning’ type at the beginning. There is no clear narrative structure, but may be consider as that of a confessional type of poetry. It is highly personalized and the persona in the poem or the “I” is the poet/writer himself. The addressee is the reader or the world at large. The problem with free-verse poetry is that it should still follow a coherent and fluid arrangement, which I find lacking in the poem. Line cutting is arbitrary and seem not to serve any literary function. Furthermore, the poem is riddled with clichés and cataloguing in its metaphorical and imaging device, such as ‘dreams destroyed,’ ‘darkness tortures’ ‘get out of myself’, ‘talking to myself’ ‘night brings silence’ to name a few. More importantly, the piece is prosaic and it is a bit cryptic in its narrative. After all, poetry seeks to render concrete the abstract, and it should show, not tell, which the above piece fails to do.


                A surface reading would show the themes desperation, loneliness, desolation, defeat and surrender to be the controlling emotions of the poem. If at all, the significant human experience that it wishes to convey is a bit overused, if not totally simplistic in its approach. It did not do so in a poetic manner where one is given a delightfully new and novel approach to the relating of that significant human experience. As above mentioned, the poem is very personal, confessional type and very prosaic. For me, it does not work and is easily forgettable. Even if we consider the elements of Spoken Poetry, it still could not work. There is no rhythm, internal, or otherwise, nor is there any repetition or rhyme in the above quoted poem. The poem simply does not work.

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                While it could be readily concluded that the above poem simply did not work and is not a success, to reach a conclusion on whether Henry Rollins is a good poem or not is an entirely different matter. Foremost, it would be a mortal sin to judge a poet’s skill or to conclude that he is good or bad based solely on a poem or two would be too much of an assumption or a conclusion to make. The poem just did not work for me, notwithstanding it being ‘post-modernist’ or ‘Spoken Word.’ I could say with conviction that the above quoted poem is not very successful, but to conclude that Rollins is a good or a bad poet would be too much of an assumption to make. After all, we critique, analyze and rank or pass judgment on the poetry and its elements, and not the author or his poetics.

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    Henry Rollins Official Website Retrieved on April 18, 2009

    Website retrieved on April 18, 2009

    Website retrieved on April 18, 2009

    A critical on Henry Rollins. (2016, Dec 05). Retrieved from

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