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The Hatred of Poetry

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No art has been denounced as often as poetry. It's even bemoaned by poets: "I, too, dislike it," wrote Marianne Moore. "Many more people agree they hate poetry," Ben Lerner writes, "than can agree what poetry is. I, too, dislike it and have largely organized my life around it and do not experience that as a contradiction because poetry and the hatred of poetry are inextric No art has been denounced as often as poetry. It's even bemoaned by poets: "I, too, dislike it," wrote Marianne Moore. "Many more people agree they hate poetry," Ben Lerner writes, "than can agree what poetry is. I, too, dislike it and have largely organized my life around it and do not experience that as a contradiction because poetry and the hatred of poetry are inextricable in ways it is my purpose to explore." In this inventive and lucid essay, Lerner takes the hatred of poetry as the starting point of his defense of the art. He examines poetry's greatest haters (beginning with Plato's famous claim that an ideal city had no place for poets, who would only corrupt and mislead the young) and both its greatest and worst practitioners, providing inspired close readings of Keats, Dickinson, McGonagall, Whitman, and others. Throughout, he attempts to explain the noble failure at the heart of every truly great and truly horrible poem: the impulse to launch the experience of an individual into a timeless communal existence. In The Hatred of Poetry, Lerner has crafted an entertaining, personal, and entirely original examination of a vocation no less essential for being impossible.


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No art has been denounced as often as poetry. It's even bemoaned by poets: "I, too, dislike it," wrote Marianne Moore. "Many more people agree they hate poetry," Ben Lerner writes, "than can agree what poetry is. I, too, dislike it and have largely organized my life around it and do not experience that as a contradiction because poetry and the hatred of poetry are inextric No art has been denounced as often as poetry. It's even bemoaned by poets: "I, too, dislike it," wrote Marianne Moore. "Many more people agree they hate poetry," Ben Lerner writes, "than can agree what poetry is. I, too, dislike it and have largely organized my life around it and do not experience that as a contradiction because poetry and the hatred of poetry are inextricable in ways it is my purpose to explore." In this inventive and lucid essay, Lerner takes the hatred of poetry as the starting point of his defense of the art. He examines poetry's greatest haters (beginning with Plato's famous claim that an ideal city had no place for poets, who would only corrupt and mislead the young) and both its greatest and worst practitioners, providing inspired close readings of Keats, Dickinson, McGonagall, Whitman, and others. Throughout, he attempts to explain the noble failure at the heart of every truly great and truly horrible poem: the impulse to launch the experience of an individual into a timeless communal existence. In The Hatred of Poetry, Lerner has crafted an entertaining, personal, and entirely original examination of a vocation no less essential for being impossible.

30 review for The Hatred of Poetry

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ariel

    This was very very interesting. If you at all care about poetry I think you'd really enjoy it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Adam Dalva

    Brisk little monograph that uses a smart frame - a look at the historical forces behind the hatred of poetry - as an excuse for Lerner to dig into a few preferred subjects. The book loses a bit of its conceit as it goes (by the time we are talking about Rankine's CITIZEN, there is virtually none of the original thesis left), so it has to be evaluated on the basis of the vignettes. I loved the section on horrible Scottish poet William McGonagall: "Beautiful railway bridge of the silv'ry Tay Alas! I Brisk little monograph that uses a smart frame - a look at the historical forces behind the hatred of poetry - as an excuse for Lerner to dig into a few preferred subjects. The book loses a bit of its conceit as it goes (by the time we are talking about Rankine's CITIZEN, there is virtually none of the original thesis left), so it has to be evaluated on the basis of the vignettes. I loved the section on horrible Scottish poet William McGonagall: "Beautiful railway bridge of the silv'ry Tay Alas! I am very sorry to say That ninety lives have been taken away On the last sabbath day of 1879 Which will be remember'd for a very long time." and thought the CITIZEN analysis was sharp too. Lerner's Whitman obsession, which was apparent in 10:04, continues here, and as ever I don't quite get what he's trying to say about it. There are moments of Lernerian prose toward the end that are really beautiful (a scene from an outdoor movie with a firefly will stick with me), and the best moments are when this slips toward his fiction. This is one of the great prose writers going right now, and I think his continued fixation on self-definition-as-poet is fascinating. Since I'm teaching poetry this semester, I found the book helpful, but I can't quite bring myself to recommend it for non-fans of B.L..

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This fluid essay asks how poetry navigates between the personal and the universal. Socrates famously wanted to ban poets, fearing poetry might be turned to revolutionary purposes. Lerner wonders whether poetry still has a political role. Whitman’s goal was to create a new American verse style. But was it realistic for him to think that he could speak for everyone? The same might be asked about the poets who read at presidential inaugurations. Can different races and genders speak to and for each This fluid essay asks how poetry navigates between the personal and the universal. Socrates famously wanted to ban poets, fearing poetry might be turned to revolutionary purposes. Lerner wonders whether poetry still has a political role. Whitman’s goal was to create a new American verse style. But was it realistic for him to think that he could speak for everyone? The same might be asked about the poets who read at presidential inaugurations. Can different races and genders speak to and for each other, or is it only white males who are assumed to be able to pronounce on humanity’s behalf? Those are some of the questions addressed in this conversational yet unabashedly highbrow essay. Lerner’s points of reference range from Keats and Dickinson to Claudia Rankine, with ample quotations and astute commentary. See my full review at Nudge.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ben Babcock

    It’s with no regret, but some shame, that I admit I’m not a fan of poetry, and that I actively avoid teaching it. I use poems in my classes, when we’re talking about other subjects. But I avoid teaching the mechanics and technique of poetry, analyzing the metre and rhythm, looking into the intricacies of imagery and similes and repetition. I do this largely because, as a reader, I am not comfortable with poetry, and that translates then into my teaching. I avoid poetry for the same reason I avoid It’s with no regret, but some shame, that I admit I’m not a fan of poetry, and that I actively avoid teaching it. I use poems in my classes, when we’re talking about other subjects. But I avoid teaching the mechanics and technique of poetry, analyzing the metre and rhythm, looking into the intricacies of imagery and similes and repetition. I do this largely because, as a reader, I am not comfortable with poetry, and that translates then into my teaching. I avoid poetry for the same reason I avoid graphic novels: there’s something about the way I read that precludes me from really absorbing the meaning, or enjoying the message, of a poem. Oh, I can sit down, read a poem, mull over it, study it, write an essay on it—if I have to. But give me the choice between a nice, juicy novel and a slim volume of poetry, and I will choose the novel every day of the week. There is no contest. There is just something about prose, about sentences linked together into paragraphs stacked on atop another and squished into pages of exquisite storytelling, that gets me going in a way that poetry and comics and even movies and TV and music just do not. Nothing gives me a high as good as a novel does. And I’m a hypocrite, because even though I might say it’s totally OK to prefer reading one form over another, I definitely judge people who say, “Oh, I don’t read novels.” Then again, I also have some fairly mixed feelings about the way we teach novels. I will never not teach novels in my English class (although last time I taught an English class, I actually did eschew a novel, but that was to experiment with a few other things that I wouldn’t have time, in our eight-week sessions, to do if we were also reading a novel). But, to me, reading novels in class is an exercise in empathy and perspective rather than a literary criticism exercise. This is partly informed by my current student base, who are taking workplace/college pathway courses rather than university ones—but I also think the role of the novel in our society is changing, sometimes in ways I don’t like, because I’m an old fogey in a young person’s body. But I digress. Ben Lerner tries to tackle some of these common mixed emotions regarding poetry in The Hatred of Poetry, and he does a fairly good job. He describes the weird relationship that we have with poetry, in the way it is foisted upon us in schools, the way writing (and writing, in particular, poetry) is seen as a less serious occupation, the way poetry occupies a weird space within art itself. I liked the part where he describes how people react to learning that he is a poet: If you are an adult foolish enough to tell another adult that you are (still!) a poet, they will often describe for you their falling away from poetry: I wrote it in high school; I dabbled in college. Almost never do they write it now…. There is embarrassment for the poet—couldn’t you get a real job and put your childish ways behind you?—but there is also embarrassment on the part of the non-poet, because having to acknowledge one’s total alienation from poetry chafes against the early association of poem and self. I like this, because if you replace “poet” with “mathematician” and “poetry” with “mathematics”, you get exactly my experience telling people I study/teach math. “Oh that,” they say, “I haven’t taken that since high school. Algebra was fine, but I didn’t much care for trigonometry. Never touch it now. I just don’t have that ‘math brain’, you know?” (So much facepalming.) Poetry, like math, is something that everyone can learn and do and that kids do with joy. As we age, we relegate it to an Else, and you are marked by your choice to participate or not participate in the activity. People who do math are fundamentally different from people who don’t; people who write poetry as a serious occupation are somehow different from those who do not. Full stop, end of story. Except it’s not, as Lerner goes on to explore. He touches on the “bafflingly persistent association of poetry and fame” that he finds baffling precisely because “no poets are famous among the general population.” According to Lerner, this is because poetry, if it does its job correctly, sinks into the brain until your mind makes it your own. For poetry to truly work its magic, it must subsume itself into the reader/listener, until it becomes a part of their being. So when poetry affects you, the identity of the author might not be something you remember—even the words might fade away—so much as the feelings associated with the poem itself. In case you can’t tell, The Hatred of Poetry is not so much about poetry itself so much as poetry’s place in our society. Lerner meanders through history in a search for differing attitudes towards poetry. He holds up Plato as history’s first poetry hater; Plato regards poets as dangerous liars. He takes us through the French Revolution and poetry’s decline in the nineteenth century as the novel becomes the rising star of the literary scene. He compares Keats and Dickinson in a way that I’m sure could cause total flame wars if he were to post it on a poetry subreddit. And he spends some time with Walt Whitman, looking at how poetry can be an exercise in timelessness and identity. Despite being only 84 pages, this is a very ambitious book. Lerner sets out to accomplish much, and for the most part, I think he achieves it. My friend and former coworker Emma gave this to me as the response to my gift to her of For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too . At the end of the book, she has written: “Well. Twas a bit dense at times and I felt his argument a wee repetitive, but overall I’m glad I read it.” I concur. I don’t necessarily think that The Hatred of Poetry is going to make you jump up and go read the nearest poetry anthology to hand (and yes, I have several sitting on the shelves around me, including a complete collection of William Blake’s poetry I received as a gift from my dad…). Moreover, despite being white and male (like myself), Lerner displays a healthy awareness of issues of gender and race and how these play into the reception of poetry. He draws on the work of Claudia Rankine, explaining the context: …Rankine confronts—as an African-American woman—the impossibility (and impossible complexity) of attempting to reconcile herself with a racist society in which to be black is either to be invisible (excluded from the universal) or all too visible (as the victim of racist surveillance and aggression). before then quoting at length from Citizen and analyzing: My privilege excludes me—that is, protects me—from the “you” in a way that focuses my attention on the much graver (and mundane) exclusion of a person of color from the “you” that the scene recounts (how could you have an appointment. Citizen’s concern with how race determines when and how we have access to pronouns is, among many other things, a direct response to the Whitmanic (and nostalgist) notion of a perfectly exchangeable “I” and “you” that can suspend all difference. This is where I think The Hatred of Poetry gits gud, so to speak. Lerner avoids the pitfall of trying to present poetry, poets, or poetical activities as monolithic and functioning to serve a single greater artistic or cultural good. Indeed, he freely admits that poetry is a fractured exercise, that there are as many philosophies towards poetry as there are poets (and thus, people). I respect and appreciate his attempt to dive deeper than whether or not we should “like” poetry and attempt, rather, to look at why it is so persistent despite its failure to find purchase in mainstream popularity. Even though it’s a new year, I won’t be so silly as to spout off some resolution about reading more poetry. I am defiantly and unapologetically not going to do such a thing. Without question, I will read and consider some poems this year, for they will come across my desk in my research and lesson-planning, or simply because cool people I follow on Twitter might share them. Nevertheless, my abiding passion and obsession must remain novels. Lerner’s essay is erudite and interesting, but poetry … sorry, still not a fan.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Peter Landau

    It’s only in the last short number of years that I’ve been actively reading poetry. Before that, I thought it was impenetrable, that it’s secrets were locked behind a door which had no key. But, like most everything, I was wrong. Poetry is different than my beloved prose, even when prose stretches its wings and takes experimental flight. It’s not explanatory like an essay or philosophic text. Poetry speaks more to the space between what is known and what is unknown, and to inhabit this almost my It’s only in the last short number of years that I’ve been actively reading poetry. Before that, I thought it was impenetrable, that it’s secrets were locked behind a door which had no key. But, like most everything, I was wrong. Poetry is different than my beloved prose, even when prose stretches its wings and takes experimental flight. It’s not explanatory like an essay or philosophic text. Poetry speaks more to the space between what is known and what is unknown, and to inhabit this almost mystical place requires the use of language in ways not strictly lucid. Ben Lerner is a lot smarter than me. He’s a poet and a writer of two well-received novels that play with form. He’s just published a short monograph with the perfect title THE HATRED OF POETRY, perfect because that’s his theme. He doesn’t reject the hatred, but embraces it, acknowledging his own and the need for it, even. Poetry, as he sees it, and as I would expand to include almost all creative endeavors, is a failure. It tries to articulate the inarticulate, the Platonic ideal (and Plato/Socrates get an earful on their distrust of poetry, even though Plato delivered his newfound philosophy in an almost poetic form), within means that are limited. Success is impossible, so much so that great poetry only alludes to that perfection, and even the worst poetry, because of its utter lack of success, suggest the ideal in contrast. It’s only the mediocre or even just good poetry that doubly fails, because it never hints at the wellspring of potential behind the artificial structure erected by a poem to point there. The difference between poetry and prose, and certainly philosophy and science, is that a poem may be the greatest vehicle in language to reach the divine. It makes us slow down, speak the words aloud and follow its music, which is really the melody of existence.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    If anything could make me hate poetry, it would be The Hatred of Poetry. Lerner's little book is ponderously dull, troubling itself about the impossible "universality" of the perfect poem – a paradox without piquancy.You can only compose poems that, when read with perfect contempt, clear a place for the genuine Poem that never appears.If there is a hateful way to approach poetry, this is surely it. I, too, dislike Poetry when it comes with a capital P. Fortunately there are some bright moments am If anything could make me hate poetry, it would be The Hatred of Poetry. Lerner's little book is ponderously dull, troubling itself about the impossible "universality" of the perfect poem – a paradox without piquancy.You can only compose poems that, when read with perfect contempt, clear a place for the genuine Poem that never appears.If there is a hateful way to approach poetry, this is surely it. I, too, dislike Poetry when it comes with a capital P. Fortunately there are some bright moments among the pallid pondering. "For the avant-garde, the poem is an imaginary bomb with real shrapnel" - which is Lerner's version I guess of Marianne Moore's "imaginary gardens with real toads in them." I learned the difference between "virgule" and "virga" – and a dashed snippet from Emily Dickinson had me hunting down the exact meaning of "Gambrels." Most promising for me is Lerner's praise for his teacher Allen Grossman and fellow poet Cyrus Console: I'm looking forward to reading True-Love: Essays on Poetry and Valuing and Brief Under Water. Last night I sat down with the tiny book Written on the Sky: Poems from the Japanese, Kenneth Rexroth's translations of Japanese poems, some over 1000 years old, and marveled at their miniature beauty. In the short time it took me to read them, I was healed of my miserable mood. Not once did I wonder if these poems were genuine or universal because they couldn't be anything else.

  7. 4 out of 5

    sevdah

    I'm having such a hard time understanding poetry, especially lately (and especially contemporary Bulgarian poetry but that's a whole other topic). This whole journey of discovering what I enjoy in a text or in a language or in a book has left me thinking poetry is just not for me. Literary criticism, however, of any genre is straight up my alley, so I got this book knowing it won't change my taste but hoping it would be enjoyable. Which it was, I liked it a lot. The basic premise is this: we all I'm having such a hard time understanding poetry, especially lately (and especially contemporary Bulgarian poetry but that's a whole other topic). This whole journey of discovering what I enjoy in a text or in a language or in a book has left me thinking poetry is just not for me. Literary criticism, however, of any genre is straight up my alley, so I got this book knowing it won't change my taste but hoping it would be enjoyable. Which it was, I liked it a lot. The basic premise is this: we all hate poetry, because it's just never "enough" - the actual existing poems, even the best of them, can only remind us what we imagine poetry could, should be like. We put a great strain on poems, expecting them to speak to everyone, to be everlasting, to save our souls, bring us back to our own high-school impulse of composing poems, or start a revolution (too big an expectation on just a few lines). Lerner examines different ways we hate poetry, and the result is intelligent, sometimes funny, forever filled with just the right dose of self-doubt, and most importantly it combines ideas in new ways, which is always inspiring. It wasn't in any way too academic or inaccessible, but it wasn't too simple or playful either - a fine balance. (I might also be completely in love with the publisher, Fitzcarraldo Editions, props to them for a great selection and such an incredible design inside and out.)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Johan Thilander

    På mitt bibliotek ansvarar jag för lyrikhyllan. Det var ett ansvarsområde jag bad om på min första arbetsdag, och de bästa arbetsdagar brukar kännetecknas av att jag lyckas rekommendera och låna ut en diktsamling till en intet ont anande låntagare. För det är svårt, poesi är något många människor undviker - eller som denna essä uttrycker det: de "fruktar sin egen oförmåga att bli berörd av poesi". Utmaningen som bibliotekarie blir därmed att övertala låntagarna att möta sina rädslor. Denna bok pr På mitt bibliotek ansvarar jag för lyrikhyllan. Det var ett ansvarsområde jag bad om på min första arbetsdag, och de bästa arbetsdagar brukar kännetecknas av att jag lyckas rekommendera och låna ut en diktsamling till en intet ont anande låntagare. För det är svårt, poesi är något många människor undviker - eller som denna essä uttrycker det: de "fruktar sin egen oförmåga att bli berörd av poesi". Utmaningen som bibliotekarie blir därmed att övertala låntagarna att möta sina rädslor. Denna bok pratar om olika anledningar till varför vi hatar poesi, men är i grunden en väldigt hoppingivande bok för poesi-läsare. Den är väldigt träffsäker och intelligent. Som en sidenote så var detta även en bok jag skrattade högt i, och det är något jag sällan gör.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Emma Townshend

    Really enjoyed this: like having a late night conversation with an incredibly smart friend who makes you feel cleverer too. Admittedly I did wake up the next morning and go, "What WAS Ben saying about the unachieved presence of the virtual poem within the poem? Did ANY of that actually make sense, or was he really, really drunk?" But his likeable, funny, intelligent grasp of all things (ranging from Poetical Dentists to Keats to the rollerskating aisle patrollers of The Topeka Hypermart) was imp Really enjoyed this: like having a late night conversation with an incredibly smart friend who makes you feel cleverer too. Admittedly I did wake up the next morning and go, "What WAS Ben saying about the unachieved presence of the virtual poem within the poem? Did ANY of that actually make sense, or was he really, really drunk?" But his likeable, funny, intelligent grasp of all things (ranging from Poetical Dentists to Keats to the rollerskating aisle patrollers of The Topeka Hypermart) was impressive and good to read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ammar

    3.5 Ben Lerner takes us into a journey into poetry and why do we hate it. Do you hate it because we don't understand it ? Or just hate it because it is poetry ? He describes various personal observations and aspects in vignettes. A Thought provoking slim volume. A beautiful crafted essay.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jeroen

    I. / Some people argue that the age of poetry is over, and that the capacity of speaking to the greater public in the poetic mode is now situated in the songwriter. Indeed, it is very likely that more people can quote from Bob Dylan than from Robert Frost (or from Dylan Thomas, for that matter). Yet how many people can quote a song from beginning to end – rote learning complete poems was a relatively common skill in previous centuries, after all. No, we don't think in songs, per se: we think in I. / Some people argue that the age of poetry is over, and that the capacity of speaking to the greater public in the poetic mode is now situated in the songwriter. Indeed, it is very likely that more people can quote from Bob Dylan than from Robert Frost (or from Dylan Thomas, for that matter). Yet how many people can quote a song from beginning to end – rote learning complete poems was a relatively common skill in previous centuries, after all. No, we don't think in songs, per se: we think in song lines. Or rather – to avoid incurring Lerner's aversion to the universalist urge – I think in song lines. They are always on my mind. II. / Indubitably, this move from replication to quotation is an expression of our diminished capacity for memory, which has been eroded by consecutive technological progress in the external storing of our memories and thoughts: the invention of paper, print, the encyclopaedia, the public library, and ultimately of course the internet. But I would argue it is more than that. As Ben Lerner argues here (appropriately enough by citing from his own earlier work), the poetic ideal is an utopia, it strives for something that is impossible to achieve. Says Lerner: Poetry isn't hard, it's impossible. His argument in The Hatred of Poetry is that poetry is only perfect when it is unrealised. It is the idea of poetry, not poetry itself, that we appreciate. Having said that, surely the mere idea of poetry is a mere boast: to say that one is poetic without spouting poetry is a classic “show, not tell” error. Clearly, we need a compromise. We need to infuse the virtual poem with actual poetry, but only to the point that the actual does not overshadow the virtual. This is where the citation comes in. As Lerner himelf wrote in an earlier novel: “I tended to find lines of poetry beautiful only when I encountered them quoted in prose, in the essays my professors had assigned in college, where the line breaks were replaced with slashes, so that what was communicated was less a particular poem than the echo of poetic possibility.” A dark sea has to encircle the words, one that might just contain the Ideal (even though we know it cannot, will not, realistically.) III. / One of the song lines that for the past decade or so has kept me occupied, has run deep grooves in the fabric of my mind, is in fact occupied with poetry. It is, in fact, so apposite here as to function as a summary, an abstract, of Lerner's essay. In “Obscurity Knocks,” the first single of a little-known English band called The Trash Can Sinatras, the chorus goes: “Though I ought to be learning I feel like a veteran / of 'oh, I like your poetry, but I hate your poems!'” It took me a while to wrap my head around this one, but I ultimately understood it to be about potential: Lerner's “echo of poetic possibility”. What the singer expresses, I think, is that he considers himself a great poet in theory, yet not in practice. I can identify. When I sit in the office, doing drudgery administrative work, I always compose stories and essays in my mind. I get positively excited. “When I get home,” I invariably think, “I am going to work this out. It'll be the break I've been waiting for.” Yet when I do get home, whatever idea I had seems to slip through my hands in the process of reifying it. The idea seems to work only as idea. IV. / In Satin Island, Tom McCarthy's 2015 novel that shares a kindred spirit with Lerner's work, the protagonist - a "corporate anthropologist" - is always just on the verge of writing the “Great Report” he has been tasked with. On one occasion, he realises (once more) that it is time for action. Before he can start with the writing, though, of course he has to prepare. He has to “[clear] the desktop thoroughly and ruthlessly: every object had to go from it; each notebook, stapler, pencil-holder, scrap of paper; the telephone, the clock (especially the clock); rubbers and paperweights – everything.” Then, “sitting at it, I looked out of the window at the sky. This was blue too – clear blue with the odd wisp of cloud. I angled myself so as to face the largest uninterrupted stretch of sky, then turned so as to align myself exactly with the desktop, so that the borders and perimeters of this ran parallel and perpendicular to those of my gaze. I sat there for a long time, luxuriating in the emptiness of first one space then the other: desktop, sky, desktop. It was definitely time.” He sits there for a long time, because he is in a sense sitting at the end of time: there is no move to make beyond it, there is no way to get up and over it and stalk into the Great Report. No way, that is, without destroying it. This is the problem he faces: the Great Report, which is an utopian undertaking, a text that purportedly deals with Everything, only exists in the virtual. To commence it would be to reduce it to a mere instance, to little more than “a report.” Like poetry, it only works as idea, needing to be both conceived (in the mind) and unconceived (on the paper) at the same time. V. / Lerner writes of a visit to his dentist, who asks what he does for a living. “I'm a poet,” Lerner announces, and the man winces. Seamus Heaney once mentioned that it took him a long time (we're talking decades here, if I recall correctly) before he allowed himself the moniker poet. “It is not a word,” he said, “that I employ lightly.” This was always the conception I myself had of it. Of course, the distinction that Lerner makes here is a fair one: that if you are a published poet, if you make your money by writing poems and being paid for it, then you are certainly entitled to call yourself a poet. A published poet. Yet the word poet seems to denote something deeper than mere occupation, something Lerner also acknowledges by pointing out how people never quite seem to consider poetry a proper job. In the popular imagination, the poet always seems to be just loafing, just lying about. This is why I (carefully) side with the dentist on this one: to call oneself poet is slightly preposterous. It is to call oneself God. For, after all, “poetry arises from the desire to get beyond the finite and the historical and to reach the transcendent or the divine.” VI. / Perhaps for this reason, and because of the marginalization of poetry as a viable commercial enterprise, to come across a self-proclaimed poet is a rare thing. It happened to me recently, on a trip to Ireland. I was actually startled by the announcement – so offhand and yet so confident – when the old man I met in the hostel said: “I'm an artist and a poet.” (Not just a poet: an artist too!) Unlike Lerner's dentist though, I do not in such cases turn to annoyance but rather to admiration. Like the dentist, I, too, immediately assume that the guy is either a bad poet or a good poet I do not understand. Yet this needn't bother me: it is not his putative output as a poet that I am impressed with at this point, but the gall it takes to call oneself poet. That in itself is enough. Perhaps to then go on and write poems, would only be to ruin a good thing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Claudia Putnam

    Interesting meditation/expository essay on why we hate poetry, if we do. Which I don't. But I do teach poetry appreciation classes because many do. Lerner makes good points, mainly elaborating on Grossman's idea that poetry always falls short of its ideal. Because it attempts to express the ineffable, and words fail, it can't help but rouse ire. Any reader will sense the gap. It will frustrate everyone, its authors perhaps most of all. From there, Lerner goes off onto several interesting tangent Interesting meditation/expository essay on why we hate poetry, if we do. Which I don't. But I do teach poetry appreciation classes because many do. Lerner makes good points, mainly elaborating on Grossman's idea that poetry always falls short of its ideal. Because it attempts to express the ineffable, and words fail, it can't help but rouse ire. Any reader will sense the gap. It will frustrate everyone, its authors perhaps most of all. From there, Lerner goes off onto several interesting tangents. I think I will have to address all of this in a longer review, probably a blog post. I hate it when people write reviews and end up directing followers to their blogs, but because this topic is where I live, I think I will have to do this myself. Sorry... So I'll supply that link soon. The main problem with this polemic, it seems to me, is that it suffers from one of the very things that causes the hatred of poetry in the first place. It's not that accessible--it's an academic thought piece. It's too bad he didn't choose to render his thoughts in plainer, and prettier, language, and there's no reason why he could not have. My personal belief is that the main reason why people hate poetry has to do with the type of poetry that the New Yorker--the most visible platform for smart people who are not necessarily of the literati but who like to learn and think about things--publishes. They don't like that stuff. They don't like that fiction, either. Time and again I hear this from engineers and scientists and historians and lawyers and other professionals who love the NYer for all the other content but hate the poetry and fiction and skip it entirely. Opportunity = lost. They'd be better off subscribing to the Boston Review overall, but they don't know this, and go on subscribing to the NYer. More later. **** I didn't get to the stuff I thought I'd get to when I wrote my blog post... I kind of forgot what I wanted to say... but here's the post anyway: https://claudiaputnam.com/2016/10/02/...

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lark Benobi

    I enjoyed spending time with Ben Lerner's prose and I enjoyed getting to know his thoughts and even when he went off on a path where I didn't want to follow, I did follow, and was rewarded. Even so this was so cussingly not the book I wanted to read. I don't hate poetry. So I guess I should have known this wasn't exactly my book. In fact I love poetry, whenever I discipline myself enough to read it. Even so I approach poetry the way a lot of people approach music, where they just listen to Death I enjoyed spending time with Ben Lerner's prose and I enjoyed getting to know his thoughts and even when he went off on a path where I didn't want to follow, I did follow, and was rewarded. Even so this was so cussingly not the book I wanted to read. I don't hate poetry. So I guess I should have known this wasn't exactly my book. In fact I love poetry, whenever I discipline myself enough to read it. Even so I approach poetry the way a lot of people approach music, where they just listen to Death Metal or Mozart or Country Western or Blues or whatever and they never wish to try anything else. Poetry wise, I keep going back to Rilke or the German Expressionists. Also I really love re-reading Dover Beach and no one can talk me out of it--it makes me cry every time. I like Yeats and D.H. Lawrence. I tend to flounder otherwise. And modern American poetry just feels like a hermeneutically sealed box and I can't get it to open and I don't even know where to start. I felt like Lerner is in something of the same boat, vs. being the person who could help me enjoy poetry more than I do.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Teresa Proença

    "a Poesia nasce do desejo de superar o finito e o histórico - o mundo humano de violência e diferença - e de alcançar o transcendente ou o divino."

  15. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    I was really looking forward to reading this and am disappointed in the half of the book that I did read. There is lack of direction to this text since this author did a poor job of separating between technical aspects of poetry and cultural biases in relation to poetry. I respect the intention behind the text, but I was just not able to connect with the follow through.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Vincent Scarpa

    “To derive your understanding of a word by watching others adjust to your use of it: Do you remember the feeling that sense was provisional and that two people could build around an utterance a world in which any usage signified? I think that’s poetry. And when I felt I finally mastered a word, when I could slide it into a sentence with a satisfying click, that wasn’t poetry anymore—that was something else, something functional within a world, not the liquefaction of its limits.” One look at my " “To derive your understanding of a word by watching others adjust to your use of it: Do you remember the feeling that sense was provisional and that two people could build around an utterance a world in which any usage signified? I think that’s poetry. And when I felt I finally mastered a word, when I could slide it into a sentence with a satisfying click, that wasn’t poetry anymore—that was something else, something functional within a world, not the liquefaction of its limits.” One look at my "read" shelf will show that I predominately read women, and (perhaps? probably? unfairly) avoid or procrastinate reading the work of most contemporary male writers, but Ben Lerner—despite my initial response to him as being a little self-inflating and not a little pretentious, which I think is probably still true to some extent—continues to be one of the most interesting minds to read on the page. (I love both of his novels, and recommend 10:04 regularly.) The Hatred of Poetry is a slim volume of lit crit, but it manages to do what good lit crit ought to: deepen and not dismiss, respond and not refuse, invite possibility and multiplicity, pluralize and specify. It'll be interesting to see how the book is received, as I think it aims to provoke a conversation about the use, aim, and value of poetry—a topic about which—knowing some poets, as I do—I presume many will have a lot to say.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Artfulreader

    Cool. Iconoclastic. Readable.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    A lot of people, it seems, are interested in reading about why poetry is contemptible (it’s #1 on the Amazon sales list for poetry criticism). That’s a good thing, I take it—a sign of poetry’s vigor these days. But it’s really surprising—since Lerner’s poetry and his fiction have been lauded for their innovation—to discover that he builds his explanation of poetry’s abject fate around a creaky platform of neo-Platonic principles. Lerner’s neo-Romantic stance is dominated theoretically by his con A lot of people, it seems, are interested in reading about why poetry is contemptible (it’s #1 on the Amazon sales list for poetry criticism). That’s a good thing, I take it—a sign of poetry’s vigor these days. But it’s really surprising—since Lerner’s poetry and his fiction have been lauded for their innovation—to discover that he builds his explanation of poetry’s abject fate around a creaky platform of neo-Platonic principles. Lerner’s neo-Romantic stance is dominated theoretically by his conception of “virtual poetry”—an idealized (and non-material) icon of poetry that spoils, he says, our appreciation of actual poems. (I kid you not.) Even the best poems disappoint, Lerner claims, because they are inevitably haunted, and diminished, by the specter of “Poetry” and its claims to transcendence. Lerner has nothing to say about how such an ideal might actually come into existence under specific historical circumstances. Nor, surprisingly (given the title of his essay), does he show much interest in the gruesome wonderland of bad poems (emblems of the inability of even great poems to fulfill the ideal of “virtual poetry”). Although he claims that his essay is “much better at dealing with horrible instances” of poetry than good ones, he treats bad poetry for the most part as little more than an abstract foil to the ideal of absolute Poetry. Except for a brief discussion of prosody (not a very useful index of bad poetry these days) in a wretched nineteenth-century ballad imitation, Lerner simply ignores the specific qualities, and indeed the tradition, of bad poetry (stirring the “hatred” at the core of his poetics). He spends most of his time talking about “great” poetry, whose greatness is inextricable from its failure to fulfill the ideal of “Poetry”: the poetic appeal of Claudia Rankine’s writing, for example, can be explained, he decides, by the "phantom limb" of lyric poetry (missing from Rankine's writing)--a non-material species of "Poetry" haunting (and elegizing) her anatomy of race. Perhaps. In the end, the general effect of Lerner’s idealist perspective is that it prevents him from taking bad poetry seriously; it defers a materialist and historical model of bad poetry. Without such a model, it becomes impossible to identify a verbal matrix (such as the toxin of poetic diction) linking the best and the worst poems. I want to know about lyric poison in its particulars! Lerner’s idealism also obstructs any possibility of viewing toxic forms of lyric as potential catalysts for a radicalization of lyric poetry. For those interested in such prospects and in a thoroughly materialist examination of bad poetry (along with the productive loathing it arouses), one will need to look elsewhere for a more canny and observant (and more seditious) breakdown of lyric poison.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Drew

    5+ out of 5. There is an inherent recognition in Lerner’s essay that the oft-repeated maxim of poetry being evident in every human mind is true. Yes, I would agree with him that it doesn’t make sense: every other art form requires some element of practice and natural talent. But poetry is itself an attempt, more than anything else, to express the inexpressible about being human – and so it may manifest itself as a moment when you’re stopped still by light dappling through trees across a fire esca 5+ out of 5. There is an inherent recognition in Lerner’s essay that the oft-repeated maxim of poetry being evident in every human mind is true. Yes, I would agree with him that it doesn’t make sense: every other art form requires some element of practice and natural talent. But poetry is itself an attempt, more than anything else, to express the inexpressible about being human – and so it may manifest itself as a moment when you’re stopped still by light dappling through trees across a fire escape out an apartment window with conversation from the neighboring restaurant drifting through the breeze and an acoustic guitar strumming quietly through the closed door at the other end of the apartment. Or perhaps it manifests as the slight dizziness at the news of another shooting, another life or lives stopped short because a policeman or an extremist couldn’t stop themselves short, and the way that the muscles around your heart constrict and your palms get sweaty and the tears don’t quite make it into your eyes even though they did the last time but maybe the last time was already one time too many. You may not be able to express how these moments or any moments strike you, or you may choose to express them in means other than the poetic. But the experience of them is Poetry – and we hate poetry because it will never quite express the inexpressible. More at RB: https://ragingbiblioholism.com/2016/0...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

    I just read the whole thing in a single sitting of a little over two hours. I'm probably going to have to go back and reread parts of it in order to better formulate my thoughts, but for now I'm just happy that FSG decided to publish it as a standalone book. It safe to say it's a masterpiece of its kind (little book, big essay) and that it will help shape my thinking about what poetry is and isn't. (Whoever edited and designed this book [ETA: closer inspection of the copyright page reveals the bo I just read the whole thing in a single sitting of a little over two hours. I'm probably going to have to go back and reread parts of it in order to better formulate my thoughts, but for now I'm just happy that FSG decided to publish it as a standalone book. It safe to say it's a masterpiece of its kind (little book, big essay) and that it will help shape my thinking about what poetry is and isn't. (Whoever edited and designed this book [ETA: closer inspection of the copyright page reveals the book designer to be one Jonathan D. Lippincott] over at the Flatiron Building or at 18 West 18th St. or wherever deserves some kind of prize. Ben Lerner's essay is brilliant and entertaining, sure, but to make the cover, texture and page layout attractive and accommodating enough for a reader as distractable and tired as I neither to switch my attention to the mobile Internet nor to fall asleep on my very comfortable couch is feat of quite another order, and I'm still not sure how he did it.) Anyway, friends: highly recommended reading, more than worth the twelve bucks.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Magdelanye

    Ben Lerner is a skillful contrarian and he uses his formidable cleverness to strip the negative of the negative of its negation and viola! the true positive essence is revealed. Many more people agree that they hate poetry than can agree what poetry is. p6 This short volume, essentially a long essay with no breaks but with a phrase taken from the text in the middle of the outer margin on each page, is an onslaught of dazzling concepts so counter intuitive that when they begin to cohere into some k Ben Lerner is a skillful contrarian and he uses his formidable cleverness to strip the negative of the negative of its negation and viola! the true positive essence is revealed. Many more people agree that they hate poetry than can agree what poetry is. p6 This short volume, essentially a long essay with no breaks but with a phrase taken from the text in the middle of the outer margin on each page, is an onslaught of dazzling concepts so counter intuitive that when they begin to cohere into some kind of sense the sensitive reader is gobsmacked into reversing any initial opinions and flummoxed into turning again to the first page with the hope that now that the book has had its initial reading it can be read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bert

    One has the right to say he dislikes a novel, hates a movie, or disagrees with a study or essay. But with poetry one has to be in line with the fellow readers, the people for whom the poem is written. In this essay Lerner tries to explain why one has to, and why this causes readers to disdain poetry. Lerner does this by swiping away the universality of a poem and reducing it back to the singularity it comes from - be it an individual experience, a feeling, a thought, desire, contempt, lack of sk One has the right to say he dislikes a novel, hates a movie, or disagrees with a study or essay. But with poetry one has to be in line with the fellow readers, the people for whom the poem is written. In this essay Lerner tries to explain why one has to, and why this causes readers to disdain poetry. Lerner does this by swiping away the universality of a poem and reducing it back to the singularity it comes from - be it an individual experience, a feeling, a thought, desire, contempt, lack of skills, outburst or aspiration, everyone can write poetry. And everyone should write poetry. As long as one doesn't write it for everyone poetry is something that can and will be loved.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    Ben Lerner is at his best in this essay on that familiar feeling of "hating poetry." Not only is he a funny and affable stylist, but he also proves himself a brilliant reader of poetry (including Dickinson, Whitman, and Claudia Rankine).

  24. 5 out of 5

    Maddie

    5/9 for Hatred of Poetry Module. Well, if the module is named after this book, I guess it was pretty important.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    The more accurate title for this 86 page essay would be The Frustration of Poetry. This is Lerner's philosophical enquiry into poetry itself. What is it? As an art form, what does it set out to accomplish? And starts the exploration with this premise: everyone hates poetry, poets included, including the poet and essay author, Ben Lerner. The Hatred brings to light the builtin paradox of poetry... it cannot achieve what it sets out to be. Lerner quotes the poet Grossman: I live in the space between The more accurate title for this 86 page essay would be The Frustration of Poetry. This is Lerner's philosophical enquiry into poetry itself. What is it? As an art form, what does it set out to accomplish? And starts the exploration with this premise: everyone hates poetry, poets included, including the poet and essay author, Ben Lerner. The Hatred brings to light the builtin paradox of poetry... it cannot achieve what it sets out to be. Lerner quotes the poet Grossman: I live in the space between what I am moved to do and what I can do.. The paradox of Poetry: It's inspiration is its purity, its devine, but its execution (the linguistic poem) always falls short of that ideal. It's a frustrating failure. This paradox gives rise to all the popular reasons for hating poetry: They don't speak to everyone. Their message is obtuse. They're too personal. They're too universal. They're just bad. And aside from just bad (which defacto they fail to be what they want to be so they're all bad), Lerner argues they can't even be what we criticize them for not being. Lerner uses Keats & Whitman to show the "universal" poem, and how they struggled (frustratingly) to keep themselves out of the poetry. And how Emily Dickinson struggled to transcend the words and the lines. She was aware that her poems were confined by words themselves and the frustration is there in the poems. While the avant-garde (Claudia Rankine) attempt to break free of poetry form only to create poetic prose, with gimmicks such as removing line formatting, and then even the "/" (virgule) to present the poem as prose, but still... it's a poem. How frustrating! Don't you hate it? A very entertaining for of the essay is when Lerner sites examples from really bad poetry (William McGonagall) that everyone hates as a means to demonstrate, ironically, that because such poetry is easily and widely viewed as bad, it implies the existence of "Good Poetry". This was a similar technique Descartes used to provide a proof of God: "I know I'm a flawed person, so therefore I have a notion of a divine (perfect) self, A.K.A God." The Hatred does an especially good job of rebutting critical essays of poetry - one from The New Yorker dismissing Obama's choice for including a poet in his inauguration because the chosen poem would not be "universal", and another from Harper's lamenting modern poetry's inability to motivate the masses - be politically inspiring (like it used to be). Lerner has a lot of fun dismissing these arguments as misguided, specious at best, as poetry never even attempts such goals and never has. In summary: Truly horrible poets unwittingly provide a glimmer of virtual possibility via the extremity of their failure; avant-garde poets hate poems for remaining poems instead of becoming bombs; and nostalgists hate poems for failing to do what they wrongly, vaguely claim poetry once did [(spoke to everyone)].

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jack

    I don't hate poetry, but it discomfits me. To sit and try to write a poem, for me, is not to engage freely in a medium of creative self-expression. It is a weighty gauntlet, a test of my linguistic core; to write something beautiful and honest and indicative wholly of my brief experience being alive. Lerner relates his early education to poetry similarly as to how I first understood it: that we all have poets inside us, a creative right, and we have an impulse capable of being fulfilled. But mos I don't hate poetry, but it discomfits me. To sit and try to write a poem, for me, is not to engage freely in a medium of creative self-expression. It is a weighty gauntlet, a test of my linguistic core; to write something beautiful and honest and indicative wholly of my brief experience being alive. Lerner relates his early education to poetry similarly as to how I first understood it: that we all have poets inside us, a creative right, and we have an impulse capable of being fulfilled. But most poetry isn't good. It's hard to write good poetry, and in comparison to prose or drama, the poet seems to spend considerably more time writing considerably less, to a smaller audience. One could spend a year on a poem, publish it, and have their reader glance over their work for a minute or two and turn the page without significant thought or affect. Lerner brings up this tangible reality, but only briefly - his monograph is too short to really dig into meaningful thought regarding his thesis statement, and in general does not speak to the reader that might feel obliged to read more poetry and appreciate it more without the depth of feeling traditionally associated with the pleasures of poetry. He brings up a few poems he likes, a few poets he knows, and fizzles out. The book is essentially as unmemorable and quietly ineffectual as the average poem, without significant exploration of that very problem. But hey, I'll keep reading poetry anyway - perhaps Lerner was preaching, if not to the converted, then to the lapsed reader, ambivalent of the narrative surrounding the art, but reluctant to discard it entirely.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor

    Though Lerner's essay is brief, it speaks to the scope and depth of his understanding of poetry as both a consumer and producer. I have a new excitement for the form and a new lens through which to view it. His writing is thoughtful, yet he does not waste a word. I enjoyed my reading of the whole essay but at the end was particularly moved. “Poetry arises from the desire to get beyond the finite and the historical—the human world of violence and difference—and to reach the transcendent or divine. Though Lerner's essay is brief, it speaks to the scope and depth of his understanding of poetry as both a consumer and producer. I have a new excitement for the form and a new lens through which to view it. His writing is thoughtful, yet he does not waste a word. I enjoyed my reading of the whole essay but at the end was particularly moved. “Poetry arises from the desire to get beyond the finite and the historical—the human world of violence and difference—and to reach the transcendent or divine. You're moved to write a poem, you feel called upon to sing, because of that transcendent impulse. But as soon as you move from that impulse to the actual poem, the song of the infinite is compromised by the finitude of its terms.” “Our contempt for any particular poem must be perfect, be total, because only a ruthless reading that allows us to measure the gap between the actual and the virtual will enable to to experience, if not a genuine poem—no such thing—a place for the genuine, whatever that might mean.”

  28. 5 out of 5

    tortoise dreams

    A lengthy essay on the thesis that everyone is justified in hating poetry. Book Review: The Hatred of Poetry just made me feel contrary. I don't hate poetry and while some poets may be misdirected, and some poems inscrutable, naturally the only proper and logical course is to hate the poets -- not poetry. Certainly poetry is often taught poorly. A few years ago I had the good fortune to teach an evening continuing-education class in poetry writing and it was rewarding for all of us. Housewives, f A lengthy essay on the thesis that everyone is justified in hating poetry. Book Review: The Hatred of Poetry just made me feel contrary. I don't hate poetry and while some poets may be misdirected, and some poems inscrutable, naturally the only proper and logical course is to hate the poets -- not poetry. Certainly poetry is often taught poorly. A few years ago I had the good fortune to teach an evening continuing-education class in poetry writing and it was rewarding for all of us. Housewives, farmers, grandmas, working folk, and the odd regular student or two, all ages and types and all with the desire to love and write poetry. The quality of the poems may've been all over the place, ranging from a crow on a fence at sunset (worthy of Bashō), to Mickey Mouse, to how a rural row of mailboxes resembled gravestones, to teenage heartbreak. My students were wonderfully generous and helpful with each other, always self-deprecating, eager to learn, to improve, to express their visions. They were also tolerant of and patient with my not-well-informed but well-meaning suggestions. That class was a highlight of my life and it all blossomed from a shared love, not hatred, of poetry. Ben Lerner in The Hatred of Poetry seems to believe that poetry deserves to be hated, but to me this is mean-spirited. Small minded. More clever than meaningful. But an excellent way for an academic to get a grant. Ben Lerner's thesis rests on two fallible points: first, that poets, unlike other artists, fail to achieve the transformation of their poetic vision into substance. But all artists suffer this frustration. How many painters have taken knives to canvas? How many novels have been burned in manuscript? How many songs died aborning, never heard? (In fact, Lerner's root example is song, not poetry.) As George Orwell said, "Every book is a failure." Or William Faulkner: "We will all agree that we failed. That what we made never ... will match the shape, the dream of perfection which ... will continue to drive us, even after each failure, until anguish frees us and the hand falls still at last." Or da Vinci: "Art is never finished, only abandoned." I can't say that any poet is a greater or more frustrated artist than Toni Morrison, Pablo Picasso, Beethoven, or Yo-Yo Ma. Lerner's second point is that poets must be simultaneously relevant and universal. Yet so much amazing poetry is neither and never attempted to be either. Much reasonably modern poetry (yes, you, Language Poetry) is completely opaque. It's neither relevant nor universal, but is certainly poetry (no, I'm not a fan, 'nuff said). There are other odd moments: Lerner eviscerates a fellow white male poet for being more of a white male than he. As a poet he's ready to leap into the cliche simile of "like a sensation in a phantom limb." And while he appreciates Dickinson he finds Whitman wanting because "Whitman's dreamed union never arrived." Yet he seems to miss that Dickinson's tiny, hermetic, insular poems spoke to the broadest universal themes and passions, while Whitman's Old Testament prophet voice spoke to a very individual and personal, almost confessional view of himself: the great "I" as well as "We." He does note Charles Olson's accurate observation that lines of poems are more poetically striking when quoted in prose than in the actual source poem itself; I've always found that true and puzzling. My thought here is not to discourage anyone from reading The Hatred of Poetry. It's worth reading. But pack a rucksack full of salt, keep your skepticism at hand, and always, always, always question authority. Critical reading is a necessity. The moments I've had reading Lorca, Dickinson, Neruda, and too many others are moments I treasure. Just break your heart reading "Death of a Son" by Jon Silkin, and who could hate poetry? [3★]

  29. 4 out of 5

    max

    Ben Lerner’s clever and short defense of poetry, latest in a long and proud tradition, uses an inventive conceit to attempt to save contemporary poetry from itself. The conceit is that everyone hates poetry, no less poets themselves. Starting with Adrienne Rich’s famous quip “I, too, dislike it”, Lerner explains that while everyone loves the idea of poetry, almost all are disappointed in actual instances of it. In other words, the reality never lives up to the fantasy. Lerner takes this further, Ben Lerner’s clever and short defense of poetry, latest in a long and proud tradition, uses an inventive conceit to attempt to save contemporary poetry from itself. The conceit is that everyone hates poetry, no less poets themselves. Starting with Adrienne Rich’s famous quip “I, too, dislike it”, Lerner explains that while everyone loves the idea of poetry, almost all are disappointed in actual instances of it. In other words, the reality never lives up to the fantasy. Lerner takes this further, arguing that the expectations poetry inherently sets for itself--that it can be honest, that it can be dreamlike, that it can be political, that it can be personal, that it can be moving, that it can be both particular and universal--can never be fully realized because these goals are either outlandishly high or self-contradictory. Lerner explores the romantic notion that poetry is an expression of the self by introducing various straw men to his act. His first straw man is his 2nd grade teacher, who says “you’re a poet and don’t even know it”--implying that a poet lurks within all of us--and his second straw man is his dentist, who evinces skepticism that poetry is a real job, and suggests that poetry is simply a phase most sane people grow out of. From here he introduces the slightly less straw-stuffed Plato, who banishes poets from his republic on the grounds that they convince using emotion and falsehood. At first, Lerner is excited to find an authority who vests such power in the hands of poets, despite his dislike of them, but of course, nothing can can live up to a Platonic ideal. Which is where Lerner returns to reiterate his theme: The ideal form of poetry is powerful. Its actual incarnation, much less so. From the onset, it would seem Lerner’s defense of poetry rests on diminishment: In essence, we should expect less of poetry. But beneath this argument, Lerner wants to show us how individual poems and individual poets fight their pitched battles against diminishment by leaving space for the unsaid--a kind of negative space--and use these unsaid things to create room for the ideal to reenter the poem. This is Lerner’s thesis, however belated by the time he gets around to it. It’s simple, it’s convincing, and while not exactly original, he defends it well with his selection of his favorite poems, from Keats to Dickinson to Whitman. The problem is it’s hardly specific to poetry. The fields of design, the performing arts, and visual art all are subject to similar dynamics. They fall victim to the same sentimental ideas and simplifications. A sculptor starts with an ideal image they want to express, and struggles against the limitations of physics and craft to convey it. The issue of idealization is conceptually identical across all creative or expressive fields and not a special problem or feature of poetics, as Lerner would have us believe. The greater issue is culture. Average Americans visit art galleries about as often as they read contemporary poetry books. They probably feel similarly about meeting an artist as they do meeting a poet. As they surely feel about playwrights, modern dancers, and composers of contemporary orchestral music. Mainly, wait, you do this crap for a living!? Which is a problem that has very little to do with ideals or Plato or Walt Whitman or anything else. It has to do with contemporary culture. People don’t hate art, they hate its cultural baggage--especially contemporary artistic baggage, and very especially high-brow contemporary artistic baggage. High culture is deeply suspect to the general public, as it’s widely considered a con job or prank, like Duchamp’s urinal or Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Its ever-increasingly insestuous relationship to academia doesn’t do anything to bolster it; quite the opposite. It ties art with concrete shoes to the so called “cultural war” of safe spaces and trigger warnings while providing further evidence the emperor wears no clothes. The problem isn’t, as Lerner states, an inherent failure built into the art form to live up to a fantasy ideal. It’s that irrespective of ideal, traditional artistic disciplines have become loaded with the kinds of things most people--like his dentist--want to avoid like the plague. Which is a taboo Lerner won’t touch. If anything, Lerner, in a book about hatred, grossly underestimates the hate. Damingly, Lerner refuses to assign any responsibility to the creators themselves for this sad state of affairs. Instead of looking within and examining his field honestly, he sticks to his clever but shallow conceit to circle the wagons. He dedicates precious pages to counterpunching, hitting back against recent critics who have decried poetry’s creeping surrounder of universal human experience in favor of political identity and voice. Returning to his established theme, he insists that it is unreasonable to hold poetry to a standard--universal experience--that he believes it never really delivered on. (Which is absurd. The only reason we are still reading Sappho and Du Fu is because they can cross vast gulfs of language, culture and history more or less intact.) He further assails this standard as inherently prejudiced because most white men only accept their own voices as “universal”. Yet this is not a problem with the idea of the universal, it’s a problem with who and how it’s being judged. Meanwhile popular arts are doing great. The recording industry in the United States is a sixteen billion dollar enterprise--and growing--and its most popular segment is hip-hop. Which, while we could quibble, is at its heart poetry. (Poetry book sales sit around five million dollars per year). Here’s the thing that Lerner doesn’t understand but that hip-hop labels do: marginalized voices can sell, marginalized voices can speak universally. Who cares if old white men hate it. According to sales figures, Americans love hip-hop. Enough to say it’s now part of the fabric of who we are, no matter your race, religion, or gender. Dare I say it’s universal. I want the same thing for contemporary poetry. I demand a poetry that resonates across cultural pigeonholes. I demand a poetry of strong and outspoken voices. I demand a poetry whose voices transcend the particular it in order to become enduring. That’s not me being unreasonable or prejudiced. That’s me holding our culture to account. As for Ben Lerner’s little book, as witty as it is, it’s essentially sophistry. I almost hate it, though hate is too strong a word.

  30. 4 out of 5

    clarissa

    Uscire con l'intento di bere una birra e fare invece mattina perché non si riesce a smettere di cantare, a saltare le tracce, e si finisce per cantarci addosso album interi. Guidare fino casa con le luci e i colori di un'alba bellissima, con gli occhi stanchi e pesanti ma con una grande leggerezza addosso. Per me questa è poesia, la sento nei momenti che mi alleggeriscono, nelle persone che mi fanno sentire a posto con me stessa, nei sorrisi a lungo raggio. Ecco cosa fa Ben Lerner in Odiare la p Uscire con l'intento di bere una birra e fare invece mattina perché non si riesce a smettere di cantare, a saltare le tracce, e si finisce per cantarci addosso album interi. Guidare fino casa con le luci e i colori di un'alba bellissima, con gli occhi stanchi e pesanti ma con una grande leggerezza addosso. Per me questa è poesia, la sento nei momenti che mi alleggeriscono, nelle persone che mi fanno sentire a posto con me stessa, nei sorrisi a lungo raggio. Ecco cosa fa Ben Lerner in Odiare la poesia, ci regala sprazzi della sua intuizione poetica, ci racconta i suoi momenti poetici e ci fa capire che davvero anche la Poesia può essere tangibile, che fa parte di noi più di quanto non ce ne accorgiamo. Un saggio bellissimo che ci ricorda chi siamo e da dove veniamo, che sembra dirci: osservate di più, cogliete i vostri momenti quotidiani di poesia e non lasciateveli scappare, quando avrete imparato ad afferrarli non potrete fare a meno di viverne.

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