...[a] sharp, learned, and thrilling new book ... Lerner convincingly argues that the failures of individual poems – of all individual poems – also serve as the grounds for celebration. We only come to sense poetic perfection, Lerner argues, by measuring how far actual poems fall short ... Lerner is a fine critic, with a lucid style and quicksilver mind ... But perhaps most remarkable is just how entertaining, how witty and passionate and funny, The Hatred of Poetry is. The book is polemical, no doubt, but reading it is less like overhearing a professor’s lecture than like listening to a professor entertain a crowd of students over pints after class.
It’s not a matter of convenience for Lerner that poems both terrible and great have a way of rehearsing the staring match between virtual and actual. The minute variability of his poetic analysis means it’s fortunate that he’s an expert close reader of 'actual' poems. His line-by-line analysis of William Topaz McGonagell’s 'The Tay Bridge Disaster,' 'one of the most thoroughly horrible poems ever composed,' is among the funniest I’ve ever seen ... There are small problems with The Hatred of Poetry, even if you can’t fault Lerner for his lack of analytic variety. (The book is a single essay, and he admits the lack.) The narrative sections are weaker than those found in his fiction, and their gestures at relatability come across as didactic ... But The Hatred of Poetryars poetica from a major American writer.
I don't think [Lerner] wanted to write a comprehensive treatment of our collective hatred of poetry. I think he wanted to write a personal account of his relationship to poetry, and he fell into the same mistake he accuses bad poets of: confusing the personal and the universal ... In The Hatred of Poetry, a personal feeling has been dressed up, given a few distracting academic tassels and a vague, impersonal 'we.' But maybe I just resent being spoken for. I, for one, like poetry.
But despite its reception as an act of high-wire trolling, Lerner’s 86-page essay makes one thing abundantly clear: He loves poetry. Not only that, he loves poems—a much messier proposition ... Hatred of Poetry does a brilliant job showing how poets 'strategically disappoint' our assumptions about what the medium should do ... It’s engaging stuff, and superbly written, with a kind of soft-shoeing élan that wants to project humility but also delight ... I don’t mind Lerner’s (post-modern) knack for creasing old materials into fresh critical origami. He’s not bullshitting us; his rhetorical sorcery levitates plenty of plausible claims, and ones burnished with the extra shine of his sincere belief.
The book comes across as such a cerebral curio that it’s almost impossible to describe ... Mr. Lerner skates across this frozen lake of pique with delicate skill. His probing mind works in his favor: He’s virtuosic in picking apart a weak lament about poetry from a 2013 issue of Harper’s Magazine. What works against him is the curiously airless, antiseptic nature of the enterprise.
The Hatred of Poetry is a beefed-up version of Lerner’s 2015 London Review of Books essay, which he expanded to include a chatty tour of the Western tradition, from original poetry-hater Plato, to John Keats, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman, and concluding with contemporary poets Amiri Baraka and Claudia Rankine ... I read The Hatred of Poetry as a referendum on the lyric, at whose altar Lerner worships, and which I find, to use the language of post-structural hermeneutics, kind of gross. While I may happen to disagree with Lerner’s often-conservative account, he is unique among contemporary poets for holding out a poetics and a position, which he discusses with remarkable amiability ... One consequence of this is that Lerner spends much of the book accusing poems of not possessing a quality that he claims is impossible to possess ... In the end his book is an account of the special love-hate relationship that poets have with their art. What’s missing here is political economy.
For his part, Lerner acknowledges the shortcomings of The Hatred of Poetry, a slim volume. 'It doesn’t have much to say about good poems in all their variety' ... But perhaps a more head-scratching omission is that Lerner, so keen on advancing his own argument, never stops to examine the more usual explanations given for poetry’s unpopularity ... Perhaps The Hatred of Poetry is most compelling when reflecting on how poetry shapes our childhoods. Adults are eager, Lerner asserts, to return to that time of nursery rhymes, when language was rich in possibility, when meaning was still something to be discovered.
It may sound as if the problems with The Hatred of Poetry outweigh its virtues. That’s not the case, actually. Yet in order to understand what’s worthwhile about Lerner’s book, it’s necessary to appreciate the precarious position from which it was written. Contemporary poetry is, to put it mildly, unpopular, and that unpopularity may be increasing.
The Hatred of Poetry is one of the best denunciations of the genre of lyric poetry I have read—and one of the more intriguing defenses ... Lerner could more satisfyingly say much more here than he does—about the role of American anti-intellectualism, for instance, or about the historical specificity of current readers’ dislike, having to do with the rise of modernism and the 'difficulty' of some contemporary poetry—but the book’s real focus is on why poets hate poetry.
Lerner is often very funny as a critic, and whether or not one agrees, this book is a pleasure to read ... The Hatred of Poetry may represent Lerner’s own uneasy coming to terms with his ambivalence around his art form, but it tells me very little about mine, and, I’d bet, that of most poetry lovers. As for the haters, I don't believe in them — no one hates poetry, though many people are indifferent to it, and this book won't change that.
Lerner’s tone can be overly formal, as when he says that the use of pronouns in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen is 'discomfiting and a compelling refutation of the nostalgist fantasies of universality discussed above.' Yet he can also be wonderfully funny ... Despite his criticisms, Lerner is clearly on poetry’s side. He writes of terminal cases who write poems out of a need to express themselves before they die.
The Hatred of Poetry proceeds by a sequence of exemplary readings which foreground the centrality of virtual strategies in poetic making ... Lerner’s long essay is lucid and useful and finally overreliant on a distinction which settles less easily than he would like it to ... Despite its title, The Hatred of Poetry belongs to one of the genres it describes: the defense of poetry. Rarely have entries in that venerable line so insisted on poetry’s essential vulnerability, and rarely have they made such value of the felt insufficiency of participation in the form.
One of the problems with the essay is that Lerner does not explain why poetry’s failure is any more spectacular than our broader failure, endemic to all art and perhaps all interpersonal interactions, to communicate with absolute clarity ... [what] Lerner intuits beautifully and compellingly in The Hatred of Poetry, is that art’s failures matter precisely because its task is so vital.