Sunday, 26 February 2017


The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
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.* 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.


*Or maybe not so clear. 

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