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Lerner's explorations of balancing both humorous and elegiac tones, very lose and fractal concepts within a loose sequence of sonnets work here. Lerner's unnumbered and unnamed sonnets are not linear but built on each other in both topical and tonal dialogue. The effects are disorienting and alienating, but the seemingly random patterns are ordered in a way that creates art like the referenced patterns of Lichtenberg figures. Like other poets who write in sequences that can be rich in both personal, historical, and literary allusions such Michael Palmer, people will tend to react strongly to this work because of what it demands of them.
I'm so glad I was introduced to the poetry of gifted Ben Lerner earlier this summer! His witty, poignant, beautiful wordscapes linger long after these spare poems are read. I was happy to buy his novel 'Leaving the Atocha Station' and would give it five stars as well.
Ben Lerner is my favorite poet of the last decade. This is a good place to start with his work. It's current without being gimmicky and the vocabulary will have you joyously reaching for the dictionary.
In the 1998 Hal Hartley movie Henry Fool a perverted garbageman writes a poem that becomes the "best selling poem of all time," eventually earning him the Nobel Prize. Ben Lerner is not a garbageman, but he holds a degree in Political Theory from Brown University, which is close enough to the script that he ought to be in line for recognition by the Swedish Academy. Lichtenberg is a sonnet sequence chloroformed by the lies and swindles of the English language circa 2004. I adore this book. I adorate it.
Check out some of its lines:
What am I the antecedent of?
When I shave I feel like a Russian.
When I drink I'm the last Jew in Kansas.
I sit in my hammock and whittle my rebus.
I feel disease spread through me like a theaory.
I take a sip from Death's black daiquiri.
O slender spadix projecting from a narrow spathe,
you are thinner than spaghetti but not as thin as vermicelli.
While Lerner's work has much in common with L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writing--an interest in the materiality of language, in postmodern theory, in visual art, and so on--it also has the discursive precision of a more traditional poet--Auden, for example. The Lichtenberg Figures is one of those rare books in which beautiful and playful linguistic surfaces coexist with moments of sincerity.
Ben Lerner is fantastic at what he does and not only is his material fresh, but his approach at poetry is quite miraculous. Each time I sit down to write a poem, I think of his collection and how it inspired me to become more creative and flexible with my voice. This is a must-read. -->Ben Lerner<-- is way cool...A true artist and genius in his gift.