Ben Lerner

Ben Lerner’s book of prose poems, with images by Barbara Bloom, will be published in the autumn.

Poem: ‘The Stone’

Ben Lerner, 7 January 2021

Imagine a song, she said, that gives voice to people’s anger. These weren’t her actual words. The anger precedes the song, she continued, but the song precedes the people, the people are back-formed from their singing, which socialises feeling, expands the domain of the feelable. The voice must be sung into existence, so song precedes speech, clears the ground for it. Then how are...

Diary: On Disliking Poetry

Ben Lerner, 18 June 2015

What if we dislike or despise or hate poems because they are – every single one of them – failures? The poet and critic Allen Grossman tells a story (there are many versions of the story) that goes like this: you’re moved to write a poem because of some transcendent impulse to get beyond the human, the historical, the finite. But as soon as you move from that impulse to the actual poem, the song of the infinite is compromised by the finitude of its terms. So the poem is always a record of failure.

Most critics attempt to demonstrate a novelist’s perceptiveness by providing examples of his eye for the significant detail. But part of what makes Knausgaard’s writing unusual is that he seems barely to adjudicate significance; he’s like a child who has taken Henry James’s injunction to novelists – ‘be one of the people on whom nothing is lost’ – literally; he appears to just write down everything he can recall (and he appears to recall everything). It’s easy to marshal examples of what makes My Struggle mediocre. The problem is: it’s amazing.

The Topeka School (think New York School, or don’t) is more than a confession, an excuse, a romp, a holiday; it uses what has come from Lerner’s earlier experiments in autofiction – the unexpected...

Read more reviews

So this is how it works: Ben Lerner

Elaine Blair, 19 February 2015

The first thing the narrator of 10:04 does is make a lot of money.

Read more reviews

At the start of Leaving the Atocha Station, Adam Gordon, a young American in Spain for a year on a fellowship, purportedly to write ‘a long, research-driven poem’ about the Spanish...

Read more reviews

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences