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This review is taken from PN Review 232, Volume 43 Number 2, November - December 2016.

Cover of The Hatred of Poetry
David C. WardHate/Love
Ben Lerner, The Hatred of Poetry
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016
That Ben Lerner’s little book has excited attention even outside Poetry World is down to the shock of its title: The Hatred of Poetry. Who hates poetry, you ask? And ‘Hate’ is so categorical and extreme that it brings you up short. Which, of course, it is designed to do. The Hatred of Poetry is a polemical essay in the tradition of the great pamphlet literature of the eighteenth or nineteenth century. If not J’accuse, it is certainly a What is to be done? about poetry, both for poets and their audience. Although his diagnosis is stringent, Lerner is not quite a revolutionary, both because he is too tentative temperamentally but also because he has no prescription or programme for poetry to follow. He wants us to examine our assumptions about poetry, both the writing and the reading of it.

Hatred is a hard emotion to sustain and Lerner’s commitment to its adamancy begins to waver from the outset; again, he’s no revolutionary. Lerner begins with an anecdote about how as a school child he was forced to memorise a chunk of poetry and mischievously chose Marianne Moore’s ‘Poetry’ with its line about poetry, ‘I, too, dislike it.’ Well, dislike is a distance away from hate. Those people who pay attention to poetry (a lot of people don’t, of course) don’t hate poetry, rather the obverse: they love it, perhaps too much, because they expect too much of it. No one indicts the novel as a form because every year huge numbers of potboilers across all genres, from ...

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