The Hatred of PoetryThe Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however, with a perfect
contempt for, one discovers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.”
Poetry – Marianne Moore

Usually, when reading a book, I have a strong sense of its theme.

However, with Lerner’s book, I had to take time to process and analyze it before I realized what his point is: poetry, by its very nature, is both subjective and personal to the reader and whether we like or dislike a poem (and/or a poet) is based on our unique interaction with it (and/or the poet).

Like Lerner, I am also a poet. I had one poem that somebody thought was good enough to be published while I was working on my undergraduate degree. The rest of my poetry is private. It resides on my computer or in boxes in storage, to be kept or thrown away by whoever disposes of my stuff when I die.

I don’t expect anyone to keep my poems. They are, after all, simply the thoughts of my imperfect mind, expressing my imperfect heart, and revealing my imperfect soul.

And that is Lerner’s point in this book.

Lerner – and he is also a poet – and I don’t agree on our taste in poets, except for Emily Dickinson.

Lerner lauds, for example, Keats’ four odes as the closest thing to perfection in poetry, while I’m kind of ho-hum about Keats (and the odes), but give me Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and I’m all in.

Lerner goes on and on about how wonderful Walt Whitman is as a prose poet (I strongly dislike Whitman intensely for many reasons).

But then Lerner brushes by T. S. Eliot (one of my favorite poets) with a mere sentence or two, which, to me, seems to say this is one of the poets (and poetry) that Lerner doesn’t like.

And – to be fair, this is a very short book, so Lerner couldn’t deal with every poet out there – there’s no mention of Robert Frost (another of my favorites), although he pays homage to Ezra Pound.

There’s a lot of great poetry out there.

My tastes also run from John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost to the World War I war poets to Edward Arlington Robinson’s Richard Cory – no matter how many times I read this, the end still hits me in my gut – and Gwendolyn Brooks’ We Real Cool, as well as some of the poetry written by Edgar Allen Poe, Phillip Larkin, Donald Justice, and Langston Hughes (although I love Shakespeare’s history and drama plays, I’m not a big fan of his poetry – or even any of the poetry of his contemporaries within a hundred years on either side of him), to name a few.

But whether we believe the poetry (and the poet) is great or not depends on us (the internal us – something deep inside us hooks us to the poetry we love) and there will never be two people on the planet who will be hooked up to all the same poetry, for all the same reasons, in exactly the same way.

And that, I think, Lerner and I can agree on, is why poetry matters and why poetry is important.

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