Our intern Lusi, who is currently studying Art History at Lewis & Clark, is back at it. Today she reviews Ben Lerner's The Hatred of Poetry (currently available in the shop).
"Ben Lerner’s most recent publication, The Hatred of Poetry, couldn’t have arrived at a more apt time. Language is intrinsic to everything -- our way of living, the way we communicate, how we express ourselves -- and the most fascinating thing language can provide us is growth. Language is never stagnant and often highly adaptable; the way we choose to interact with it is what determines its impact and whether or not its growth will continue. That is to say, language will always be changing; the question is, are we ready to change with it?
Something I have been grappling with recently is the accessibility of language, particularly within the art world, and Lerner hits on this tension in his book at length. It’s easy to ask what makes a good poem or what makes a bad poem, but the subjectivity of the answer can often skew that perception. In an interview with The Paris Review, Lerner is quoted, “I think some people I know hate what I consider really good poetry because they are really anxious about intelligibility.” It’s the same with most Modern art or Expressionist art and thinking -- “Well I could have done that/my kid could have done that!” Yet art, in all of its forms, has no definitive beginning or end, and “what does not change is the will to change.”
The tradition of poetry or poetic ambition is tricky, mostly out of fear of rejection (internal or external) and poetry is undoubtedly an experiment -- always has been and will always continue to be such. But poetry also contradicts itself; poets confront limits and explore dualities intrinsic to human nature. Ideally that should create an open dialogue between the author and the audience but it is most often that those cases are the least accessible because deriving understanding and catching implication is based on the experience of the individual. Whether garnering meaning and inclusivity is to be done through a matter of defeating language or propounding a new measure of value, where I come to question Lerner’s argument is that I fundamentally disagree that it can’t be done through poetry. In my experiences, It is too immersive of a craft to be so pigeonholed as constantly disappointing.
As powerful a medium as it is, Lerner maneuvers the intricate dualities of the poetic form with surprising ease and efficiency. The Hatred of Poetry is at once one of the strongest denunciations of poetry I have ever encountered, but also one of the greatest defenses capable of rivaling Sir Philip Sidney’s The Defense of Poesy. A highly recommended and insightful read, for those who have never read a page of poetry and for those who have devoted their lives to it alike.'