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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 organised 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 defence 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.
Readers will finish this essay exalted by Ben Lerner’s love of poetry, by his apprehension of the impossible task of poetry to defeat time, and of poetry as the essence of language and meaning.
‘Lerner argues with the tenacity and the wildness of the vital writer and critic that he is. Each sentence of The Hatred of Poetry vibrates with uncommon and graceful lucidity; each page brings the deep pleasures of crisp thought, especially the kind that remains devoted to complexity rather than to its diminishment.’
‘This intriguing book is a defence of poetry and a defence of the denunciation of it. But in the end, it’s a romance.’
‘Swift and casually erudite…a vivid catalogue.’
‘Lucid and engaging’ and ‘witty and wise…Lerner transcends the battles over poetry’s proper provenance.’
‘Compelling and agile…Lerner shows a route to bring poetry out of godliness, to make it specific, dynamic, fertile.’
‘Mr. Lerner skates across this frozen lake of pique with delicate skill…The book achieves its goal in the most circuitous of ways: by its (lovely) last sentence, Mr. Lerner might get you longing for the satisfactions of the thing you’re conditioned to loathe.’
‘Lerner’s lightness of touch is enviable: beyond his penchant for the amusing and suavely delivered paradox, he is a fine and funny reader…Illuminating and educative.’
‘The Hatred of Poetry is one of the best denunciations of the genre of lyric poetry I have read—and one of the more intriguing defenses…it offers two for the price of one, and this is its insight.’
‘Lerner’s brief, elegant treatise on what poetry might do and why readers might need it is the perfect length for a commute or a classroom assignment, clearing a space for both private contemplation and lively discussion.’
‘Under the force of this personal experience and the influence of his mentor Allen Grossman [Lerner] constructs an elegant argument to explain why poetry will always be a necessary disappointment, especially to those who most want it to succeed in being a universal art.’
‘Lerner’s style is light and assertive. He makes a successful illusion of an organic, probing discussion without workmanlike joins to be seen.’
‘Hilarious, intelligent and original.’
‘Ben Lerner’s essay The Hatred of Poetry is a quick-witted, 86-page contemplation of the nature of poetry that is nothing short of a medical breakthrough for those who experience instant disorientation at the sight of verse. Through his musings on Whitman, Keats, McGonagall, Dickinson and American poets Marianne Moore, Lerner convinces his reader that a hatred of poetry is actually necessary for its contemplation. Give this little book a whirl and you may see your loathing of poetry strangely paired with a love for it.’