Sorry again for my delay in responding to Kent’s great essay on Hatred of Poetry.
I actually attended a talk Lerner did about the book in Brooklyn over the summer. I was excited when I heard about it. It sounded like he was going to fully flesh out some of the stuff he talked about inAtocha Station, which really clicked with me when I first read it. I think the anxiety he expresses in that book is something we all have to reckon with — what is the role of poetry, traditional painting and art, etc. in an era ruled by multimedia and hyperconnectivity. I don’t say this in a hopeless way; it’s undeniable and exciting that we live in an era where it’s easier, more fitting and more appropriate to consume video, audio or a combination thereof. But that still leaves the question of what we do with more traditional media like poetry, fiction, painting, etc. which isn’t as easy to consume online, but also isn’t quite at the state of, say, live classical music or ballet, which feel a little more like the preservation of dead arts (excuse my sweeping generalization — think this can be chalked up to my lack of familiarity with these — but it is something that I feel applies in a way that doesn’t to poetry).
Hearing Lerner talk about it was pretty disappointing. Here’s what I think happened: he had a clever hook for the argument he wanted to make, defined by hyperbole (“hatred,” no one reads poetry anymore, etc.), but got bogged down in the details and forgot to revise his thesis after he finished. I think he’s onto something when he talks about the public’s high, unrealistic expectations of poetry, and how the experience of reading a famous canonical poem may fall flat. But it seems like he was clenching to this oversimplification. It’s odd that someone as perspicacious as Lerner and who has written the sorts of books that he has would lean on the Poetry Is Dead/Can’t Live Up To Its Promise approach as much as he does. Or, to be more specific, you’d think he’d understand as someone who has written a lot of stuff that poetry is more about individual experiences in context of writing and reading, instead of living up to fixed ideals. No one can experience a poem the same way twice. It’s transcendental in a fleeting, Buddhist way, not eternal salvation Christian way. Like you said, poetry after modernity is a fully material practice, aware that it’s unable to meet some Platonic promise.
Again, it’s hard not to have Is Poetry Dead? moments of weakness. I mean — fuck, hip hop is amazing, so immediate and feels like the most appropriate genre for our fast-paced, computer-literate and superficial era. Writers aren’t even getting the Nobel for literature anymore. But the fact that people like Dareen Tatour are getting imprisoned for their work is a reminder that the stakes for poetry are much, much higher than we acknowledge in our corporate Google society.
But then again, I haven’t read Hatred of Poetry either. I’ll let you know if anything changes if I do. Please do the same.