Says reviewer Jonathan Sturgeon, “The Hatred of Poetry is an important essay because it doubles as a self-conscious ars poetica from a major American writer, one who is not uncommonly cast in an Adamic light. (Few other writers are compared to Whitman by major critics, or hailed as “the future.”).”
Hmmm. I don’t know if all that’s hot air or not. Check back in a hundred years or so. But the points Lerner makes in his book about the process of writing poetry as experienced by the poet–the dynamic interplay of the poet’s mind, imagination and emotions–ring a bell.
If you have ever experienced that vague unease and sense of inadequacy that often afflicts poets after they have given a poem their best shot and revised it half to death, and then suddenly feel deflated, all the wind gone out of their sails, you will instantly get what Lerner is after here. Marianne Moore‘s oft quoted poem “Poetry” that begins, “I, too, dislike it,” is the launching pad for this bottle rocket reverie on the false hopes for transcendence that beguile poets in the full flush of early inspiration. The ideas are nothing new but worth re-examining.
Here is an excerpt:
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. In a dream your verses can defeat time, your words can shake off the history of their usage, you can represent what can’t be represented (e.g. the creation of representation itself), but when you wake, when you rejoin your friends around the fire, you’re back in the human world with its inflexible laws and logic.