Ken Chen in The New Republic:
Once, in my youth, I took a graduate philosophy seminar I thought would be about law and justice: Instead we discussed the semantic implications of punctuation marks. After class, I found myself venting to a friend who’d been a literature professor. I told her I was unsatiated by the course—it felt like when I had discovered poetry and found, in practice, this most lyric of arts often meant writing about flowers or describing an epiphany in the grocery store checkout line. My friend laughed. “You know your problem?” she said. “You thought that philosophy would be Truth and poetry would be Beauty.”
Apparently, this is Ben Lerner’s problem too. In his new book,The Hatred of Poetry, the poet, novelist, and MacArthur “genius” argues that if you love poetry’s promise of transcendence, you must also hate poems for their failure to keep up their end of the bargain. “Poetry,” Lerner writes, “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.” The only problem? Poems are ultimately human rather than divine in character. “As soon as you move from that impulse to the actual poem,” he continues, “the song of the infinite is compromised by the finitude of its terms. In a dream your verses can defeat time… but when you wake… you’re back in the human world with its inflexible laws and logic.” In other words, if you’re a poet, you may declare yourself the unacknowledged legislator of the world, but you’re really just a hobbyist in the verse game.