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.
Ben Lerner 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.
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