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The Hatred of Poetry

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  2,033 ratings  ·  316 reviews
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 inextric ...more
Paperback, 86 pages
Published June 7th 2016 by FSG Originals
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This was very very interesting. If you at all care about poetry I think you'd really enjoy it.
Adam Dalva
Apr 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Brisk little monograph that uses a smart frame - a look at the historical forces behind the hatred of poetry - as an excuse for Lerner to dig into a few preferred subjects. The book loses a bit of its conceit as it goes (by the time we are talking about Rankine's CITIZEN, there is virtually none of the original thesis left), so it has to be evaluated on the basis of the vignettes. I loved the section on horrible Scottish poet William McGonagall:

"Beautiful railway bridge of the silv'ry Tay
Alas! I
This fluid essay asks how poetry navigates between the personal and the universal. Socrates famously wanted to ban poets, fearing poetry might be turned to revolutionary purposes. Lerner wonders whether poetry still has a political role. Whitman’s goal was to create a new American verse style. But was it realistic for him to think that he could speak for everyone? The same might be asked about the poets who read at presidential inaugurations. Can different races and genders speak to and for each ...more
Kara Babcock
It’s with no regret, but some shame, that I admit I’m not a fan of poetry, and that I actively avoid teaching it. I use poems in my classes, when we’re talking about other subjects. But I avoid teaching the mechanics and technique of poetry, analyzing the metre and rhythm, looking into the intricacies of imagery and similes and repetition. I do this largely because, as a reader, I am not comfortable with poetry, and that translates then into my teaching.

I avoid poetry for the same reason I avoid
Peter Landau
Jun 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It’s only in the last short number of years that I’ve been actively reading poetry. Before that, I thought it was impenetrable, that it’s secrets were locked behind a door which had no key. But, like most everything, I was wrong. Poetry is different than my beloved prose, even when prose stretches its wings and takes experimental flight. It’s not explanatory like an essay or philosophic text. Poetry speaks more to the space between what is known and what is unknown, and to inhabit this almost my ...more
Jim Coughenour
Aug 02, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetryforliving
If anything could make me hate poetry, it would be The Hatred of Poetry. Lerner's little book is ponderously dull, troubling itself about the impossible "universality" of the perfect poem – a paradox without piquancy.
You can only compose poems that, when read with perfect contempt, clear a place for the genuine Poem that never appears.
If there is a hateful way to approach poetry, this is surely it. I, too, dislike Poetry when it comes with a capital P.

Fortunately there are some bright moments am
I'm having such a hard time understanding poetry, especially lately (and especially contemporary Bulgarian poetry but that's a whole other topic). This whole journey of discovering what I enjoy in a text or in a language or in a book has left me thinking poetry is just not for me. Literary criticism, however, of any genre is straight up my alley, so I got this book knowing it won't change my taste but hoping it would be enjoyable. Which it was, I liked it a lot. The basic premise is this: we all ...more
Sleepless Dreamer
Jan 06, 2020 rated it liked it
This was so short, putting this in my reading challenge feels like cheating.

Briefly, this is an essay about poetry, or more accurately, why everyone seems to hate poetry. It's written very well. I found myself losing track of the content of his words because I just enjoyed seeing them work together, feeling them. That's not something that's happened to me before, to be honest.

All in all, I think this is a nice idea. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to remember from this or what impact will it
Emma Townshend
Sep 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this: like having a late night conversation with an incredibly smart friend who makes you feel cleverer too. Admittedly I did wake up the next morning and go, "What WAS Ben saying about the unachieved presence of the virtual poem within the poem? Did ANY of that actually make sense, or was he really, really drunk?" But his likeable, funny, intelligent grasp of all things (ranging from Poetical Dentists to Keats to the rollerskating aisle patrollers of The Topeka Hypermart) was imp ...more
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017

Ben Lerner takes us into a journey into poetry and why do we hate it. Do you hate it because we don't understand it ? Or just hate it because it is poetry ? He describes various personal observations and aspects in vignettes. A Thought provoking slim volume. A beautiful crafted essay.
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I. / Some people argue that the age of poetry is over, and that the capacity of speaking to the greater public in the poetic mode is now situated in the songwriter. Indeed, it is very likely that more people can quote from Bob Dylan than from Robert Frost (or from Dylan Thomas, for that matter). Yet how many people can quote a song from beginning to end – rote learning complete poems was a relatively common skill in previous centuries, after all. No, we don't think in songs, per se: we think in ...more
Claudia Putnam
Aug 13, 2016 rated it liked it
Interesting meditation/expository essay on why we hate poetry, if we do. Which I don't. But I do teach poetry appreciation classes because many do. Lerner makes good points, mainly elaborating on Grossman's idea that poetry always falls short of its ideal. Because it attempts to express the ineffable, and words fail, it can't help but rouse ire. Any reader will sense the gap. It will frustrate everyone, its authors perhaps most of all.

From there, Lerner goes off onto several interesting tangent
lark benobi
I enjoyed spending time with Ben Lerner's prose and I enjoyed getting to know his thoughts and even when he went off on a path where I didn't want to follow, I did follow, and was rewarded.

Even so this was so cussingly not the book I wanted to read. I don't hate poetry. So I guess I should have known this wasn't exactly my book. In fact I love poetry, whenever I discipline myself enough to read it. Even so I approach poetry the way a lot of people approach music, where they just listen to Death
William Rohner
Jul 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Terrific book in which the author, an award-winning poet, goes deep and with candor into the difficulties and shortcomings of poetry, both canonical and contemporary (though disappointingly, and perhaps tellingly, Lerner says almost nothing about his own poems). Despite its seeming slimness (86 pages), this turns out to be a very long-seeming essay (sorry, it's a "monograph," to use the word Lerner does) with basically one thesis and set of ideas. Though Lerner explores and elaborates on his the ...more
Jun 16, 2016 rated it did not like it
A lot of people, it seems, are interested in reading about why poetry is contemptible (it’s #1 on the Amazon sales list for poetry criticism). That’s a good thing, I take it—a sign of poetry’s vigor these days. But it’s really surprising—since Lerner’s poetry and his fiction have been lauded for their innovation—to discover that he builds his explanation of poetry’s abject fate around a creaky platform of neo-Platonic principles. Lerner’s neo-Romantic stance is dominated theoretically by his con ...more
Vincent Scarpa
Sep 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
“To derive your understanding of a word by watching others adjust to your use of it: Do you remember the feeling that sense was provisional and that two people could build around an utterance a world in which any usage signified? I think that’s poetry. And when I felt I finally mastered a word, when I could slide it into a sentence with a satisfying click, that wasn’t poetry anymore—that was something else, something functional within a world, not the liquefaction of its limits.”

One look at my "
Jun 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
5+ out of 5.

There is an inherent recognition in Lerner’s essay that the oft-repeated maxim of poetry being evident in every human mind is true. Yes, I would agree with him that it doesn’t make sense: every other art form requires some element of practice and natural talent. But poetry is itself an attempt, more than anything else, to express the inexpressible about being human – and so it may manifest itself as a moment when you’re stopped still by light dappling through trees across a fire esca
Sep 20, 2018 rated it did not like it
I was really looking forward to reading this and am disappointed in the half of the book that I did read. There is lack of direction to this text since this author did a poor job of separating between technical aspects of poetry and cultural biases in relation to poetry. I respect the intention behind the text, but I was just not able to connect with the follow through.
Jan 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, 5-star
Ben Lerner is at his best in this essay on that familiar feeling of "hating poetry." Not only is he a funny and affable stylist, but he also proves himself a brilliant reader of poetry (including Dickinson, Whitman, and Claudia Rankine).
Apr 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
I always find Ben Lerner's writing fascinating. I loved both Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04 and found them both thought-provoking and deeply interesting. His writing is precise and evocative: I have not yet read his poetry but after reading this small but thoughtful book (long essay?) I intend to fix that asap.

The Hatred of Poetry takes its title (more or less) from a quote from Marianne Moore at the beginning: "I too, hate poetry". Lerner examines people's distrust of poetry (including po
May 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I just read the whole thing in a single sitting of a little over two hours.

I'm probably going to have to go back and reread parts of it in order to better formulate my thoughts, but for now I'm just happy that FSG decided to publish it as a standalone book. It safe to say it's a masterpiece of its kind (little book, big essay) and that it will help shape my thinking about what poetry is and isn't.

(Whoever edited and designed this book [ETA: closer inspection of the copyright page reveals the bo
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays, lit-crit
Ben Lerner is a skillful contrarian and he uses his formidable cleverness to strip the negative of the negative of its negation and viola! the true positive essence is revealed.

Many more people agree that they hate poetry than can agree what poetry is. p6

This short volume, essentially a long essay with no breaks but with a phrase taken from the text in the middle of the outer margin on each page, is an onslaught of dazzling concepts so counter intuitive that when they begin to cohere into some k
One has the right to say he dislikes a novel, hates a movie, or disagrees with a study or essay. But with poetry one has to be in line with the fellow readers, the people for whom the poem is written. In this essay Lerner tries to explain why one has to, and why this causes readers to disdain poetry. Lerner does this by swiping away the universality of a poem and reducing it back to the singularity it comes from - be it an individual experience, a feeling, a thought, desire, contempt, lack of sk ...more
Jan 08, 2018 added it
Shelves: university
5/9 for Hatred of Poetry Module.

Well, if the module is named after this book, I guess it was pretty important.
Jul 31, 2018 rated it it was ok
I don't hate poetry, but it discomfits me. To sit and try to write a poem, for me, is not to engage freely in a medium of creative self-expression. It is a weighty gauntlet, a test of my linguistic core; to write something beautiful and honest and indicative wholly of my brief experience being alive. Lerner relates his early education to poetry similarly as to how I first understood it: that we all have poets inside us, a creative right, and we have an impulse capable of being fulfilled.
But mos
Aug 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bio-memoir-essay
Though Lerner's essay is brief, it speaks to the scope and depth of his understanding of poetry as both a consumer and producer. I have a new excitement for the form and a new lens through which to view it. His writing is thoughtful, yet he does not waste a word. I enjoyed my reading of the whole essay but at the end was particularly moved.

“Poetry arises from the desire to get beyond the finite and the historical—the human world of violence and difference—and to reach the transcendent or divine.
tortoise dreams
Apr 12, 2018 rated it liked it
A lengthy essay on the thesis that everyone is justified in hating poetry.

Book Review: The Hatred of Poetry just made me feel contrary. I don't hate poetry and while some poets may be misdirected, and some poems inscrutable, naturally the only proper and logical course is to hate the poets -- not poetry. Certainly poetry is often taught poorly. A few years ago I had the good fortune to teach an evening continuing-education class in poetry writing and it was rewarding for all of us. Housewives, f
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
The more accurate title for this 86 page essay would be The Frustration of Poetry.

This is Lerner's philosophical enquiry into poetry itself. What is it? As an art form, what does it set out to accomplish? And starts the exploration with this premise: everyone hates poetry, poets included, including the poet and essay author, Ben Lerner.

The Hatred brings to light the builtin paradox of poetry... it cannot achieve what it sets out to be. Lerner quotes the poet Grossman:
I live in the space between
Tom Ewing
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A rather lovely short book - readable in an hour - which traces a history of disappointment in poetry among critics and poets themselves. Spoilers! Lerner does not actually hate poetry! And is only productively disappointed in it. He's also a fine reader and sharp critic - particularly good on American pundits' relationship to Walt Whitman and the inadequacy of universality, but the essay is crisp, funny, intelligent, and occasionally mean throughout. Highly recommended to readers and critics in ...more
Kevin Mckinney
Mar 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
this was cool-- i don't know how much of it i think is necessarily "right" or "true" or if i agree with it or whatever, but benny l. is a dazzler and a charmer and says some smart stuff and points us down pathways for further thought and reading
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Ben Lerner is an American poet, novelist, and critic. He was awarded the Hayden Carruth prize for his cycle of fifty-two sonnets, The Lichtenberg Figures. In 2004, Library Journal named it one of the year's twelve best books of poetry. The Lichtenberg Figures appeared in a German translation in 2010, for which it received the "Preis der Stadt Münster für internationale Poesie" in 2011, making Lern ...more

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“Poetry arises from the desire to get beyond the finite and the historical—the human world of violence and difference—and to reach the transcendent or divine. You're moved to write a poem, you feel called upon to sing, because of that transcendent impulse. But as soon as you move from that impulse to the actual poem, the song of the infinite is compromised by the finitude of its terms.” 6 likes
“All I ask the haters--and I, too, am one--is that they strive to perfect their contempt, even consider bringing it to bear on poems, where it will be deepened, not dispelled, and where, by creating a place for possibility and present absences (like unheard melodies), it might come to resemble love.” 2 likes
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