Hatred of Poetry
Whereas it may not be certain whose hatred of poetry is greater, that of the poetically unattuned or that of the poet, it is clear, to Lerner at least, whose hatred of poetry is more instrumental to the writing of poetry (or maybe not so clear). Lerner, an accomplished poet (and novelist), posits that it is the failure of poetry to actualise its intentions that perfects, or at least gives shape to, or at least conveys some intimation of, those intentions - for poetry to convey something unconveyable - the very precision, or at least potential, or attempted, precision of its failure succeeding in defining, or, at best, clearing, a space in which unwordable experience may dance or move or do whatever it is that it does that cannot be caught with a word. The dislike of ordinary readers is nothing to the dislike of poets for actual poems, those blunt clumsy masses upon which sparks are struck and edges sharpened, those necessarily failed attempts to embed virtual poems, if such things may be thought of as poems, in the actual common muck of words. To progress by contrary motion, to locate a threshold by being unable to cross it, to point with a limp finger at a target in the dark, to squeeze brine from a bag of unknown contents, these are deeper functions of poetry, and the hatred of poetry espoused by Lerner is a symptom of either enthusiasm of compulsion, burden or useful luggage (who can tell?), clearing space for love. Through the spine of his essay, which blossoms with ambivalences and ambiguities, Lerner has threaded the poem 'Poetry' by Marianne Moore:
I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in it after all, a place for the genuine.
"Description: 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 communalexistence. In The Hatred of Poetry, Lerner has crafted an entertaining, personal, and entirely original examination of a vocationno less essential for being impossible.
Author Biography: BenLerner was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1979. He has been a Fulbright Fellow, a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry, a Howard Foundation Fellow, and a Guggenheim Fellow. His first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, won the 2012 Believer Book Award. His second novel, 10:04, an international bestseller, won The Paris Review's 2012 Terry Southern Prize, was a finalist for the 2014 New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award and the Folio Prize, and was named one of the best books of 2014 by more than a dozen major publications. He has also published three poetry collections: The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw, and Mean Free Path. Lerner is a professor of English at Brooklyn College.