Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-04-25
- Reviewer: Staff
In lucid and luminous prose, poet and novelist Lerner (10:04) explores why many people share his aversion to poetry, which he attributes, paradoxically, to the deeply held belief that poetry ought to have tremendous cultural value. The “bitterness of poetic logic,” Lerner claims, is that its transcendent ideal—universal, trans- historical, divinely inspired—always falls short in the actual expression. He explains that when readers read with, in Marianne Moore’s words, “perfect contempt”—skeptically and critically—they find that poetry clears a space for the genuine, even if the “planet-like music” of the spheres cannot be adequately captured by human language. Ably moving from Plato and Caedmon to John Keats and Emily Dickinson and then to Amiri Baraka and Claudia Rankine, Lerner offers a concise primer on how to read a poem, along with a humorous, faintly regretful look at how individual poems fail to live up to the ideals readers have for them. Lerner’s brief, elegant treatise on what poetry might do and why readers might need it is the perfect length for a commute or a classroom assignment, clearing a space for both private contemplation and lively discussion. (June)