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PN Review 275
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This review is taken from PN Review 275, Volume 50 Number 3, January - February 2024.

Cover of The Lights
Dane HoltBen Lerner, The Lights (Granta) $12.99
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The internal architecture of The Lights, Ben Lerner’s most recent collection, deserves its own review. In order to fool a reader into thinking that a collection of poems is more meticulously structured than it actually is, the poet might take a few tried-and-tested shortcuts: certain images reoccur, a phrase gets modulated here and there. The Lights, however, encourages reading from front to back then resists it, until you’re travelling back and forth, finding new avenues, forging alternate paths in which crops of imagery, entire rhythms, stanza shapes, tones of voice and ideas are altered, often significantly, out of their original proportions.

Lerner is helpful in the initial stages of the trip by providing an ‘Index of Themes’ as the opening poem: ‘Poems about night / and related poems. […] Poems about you, prose / poems.’ The book moves between these two modes, playing one off the other like light off shadow or, as in ‘Contre-Jour’, ‘light that changes / the light that goes out’. The discursive range of the prose (like Lerner I struggle to fully commit to calling them prose poems) is remarkable in its capacity, its frame of reference, its self-contradiction – ‘She looked at me to ascertain if I was being serious or merely difficult’ (‘The Grove’) – while never betraying narrative momentum. One prose piece, ‘The Chorus’, is perhaps the most straightforward in terms of its movement from A to B. It recounts an episode in which Benner (the father’s name for the young Ben) is unable, as the only Jewish child in the class, ...

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