I just read a thought-provoking little book by Ben Lerner called The Hatred of Poetry (2016), an extended essay in which he ponders why poetry arouses such negative emotions in many people. If so many people disdain it and it has no relevance, why do so many people go on writing it and performing it? No art has been denounced as often as poetry. Lerner correctly notes that if you are foolish enough to admit to most people that you write poetry (or in my case, publish other people’s poetry, too) you are often met with hostility or at least rolled eyes. Lerner’s book does not answer all the questions raised, but he offers some theories and examines the history of poetry attacks, beginning with Plato’s famous hatred of poetry. One central idea he espouses is that at the heart of every good or terrible poem there is a noble failure, the attempt to launch the experience of an individual into the wider world across time. One of the strengths of the book is that it mentions and leads you to other articles and books featuring attacks and defenses of poetry. I recommend this book if you DO read and like some kinds of poetry, or if you think you hate it or have no connection to it and would like to examine those beliefs. He starts his essay with the famous short Marianne Moore poem, “Poetry.” I will end this brief commentary with the poem.
I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however, with a perfect
contempt for it, one discovers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.