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This is a personal project by @dellsystem. I built this to help me retain information from the books I'm reading.

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5

“Poetry”: What kind of art assumes the dislike of its audience and what kind of artist aligns herself with that dislike, even encourages it? An art hated from without and within. What kind of art has as a condition of its possibility a perfect contempt? And then, even reading contemptuously, you don’t achieve the genuine. You can only clear a place for it—you still don’t encounter the actual poem, the genuine article. Every few years an essay appears in a mainstream periodical denouncing poetry or proclaiming its death, usually blaming existing poets for the relative marginalization of the art, and then the defenses light up the blogosphere before the culture, if we can call it a culture, turns its attention, if we can call it attention, back to the future. But why don’t we ask: What kind of art is defined—has been defined for millennia—by such a rhythm of denunciation and defense? Many more people agree they hate poetry than can agree what poetry is. I, too, dislike it, and have largely organized my life around it (albeit with far less discipline and skill than Marianne Moore) and do not experience that as a contradiction because poetry and the hatred of poetry are for me—and maybe for you—inextricable.

—p.5 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago

“Poetry”: What kind of art assumes the dislike of its audience and what kind of artist aligns herself with that dislike, even encourages it? An art hated from without and within. What kind of art has as a condition of its possibility a perfect contempt? And then, even reading contemptuously, you don’t achieve the genuine. You can only clear a place for it—you still don’t encounter the actual poem, the genuine article. Every few years an essay appears in a mainstream periodical denouncing poetry or proclaiming its death, usually blaming existing poets for the relative marginalization of the art, and then the defenses light up the blogosphere before the culture, if we can call it a culture, turns its attention, if we can call it attention, back to the future. But why don’t we ask: What kind of art is defined—has been defined for millennia—by such a rhythm of denunciation and defense? Many more people agree they hate poetry than can agree what poetry is. I, too, dislike it, and have largely organized my life around it (albeit with far less discipline and skill than Marianne Moore) and do not experience that as a contradiction because poetry and the hatred of poetry are for me—and maybe for you—inextricable.

—p.5 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago
7

Allen Grossman, whose reading of Caedmon I’m pirating here, abstracts from this story (and there are many versions of this story) a harsh lesson: Poetry 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. You’re moved to write a poem, you feel called upon to sing, because of that transcendent impulse. 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. In a dream your verses can defeat time, your words can shake off the history of their usage, you can represent what can’t be represented (e.g., the creation of representation itself), but when you wake, when you rejoin your friends around the fire, you’re back in the human world with its inflexible laws and logic.

Thus the poet is a tragic figure. The poem is always a record of failure. There is an “undecidable conflict” between the poet’s desire to sing an alternative world and, as Grossman puts it, the “resistance to alternative making inherent in the materials of which any world must be composed.” In an essay on Hart Crane, Grossman develops his notion of a “virtual poem”—what we might call poetry with a capital “P,” the abstract potential of the medium as felt by the poet when called upon to sing—and opposes it to the “actual poem,” which necessarily betrays that impulse when it joins the world of representation.

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—p.7 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago

Allen Grossman, whose reading of Caedmon I’m pirating here, abstracts from this story (and there are many versions of this story) a harsh lesson: Poetry 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. You’re moved to write a poem, you feel called upon to sing, because of that transcendent impulse. 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. In a dream your verses can defeat time, your words can shake off the history of their usage, you can represent what can’t be represented (e.g., the creation of representation itself), but when you wake, when you rejoin your friends around the fire, you’re back in the human world with its inflexible laws and logic.

Thus the poet is a tragic figure. The poem is always a record of failure. There is an “undecidable conflict” between the poet’s desire to sing an alternative world and, as Grossman puts it, the “resistance to alternative making inherent in the materials of which any world must be composed.” In an essay on Hart Crane, Grossman develops his notion of a “virtual poem”—what we might call poetry with a capital “P,” the abstract potential of the medium as felt by the poet when called upon to sing—and opposes it to the “actual poem,” which necessarily betrays that impulse when it joins the world of representation.

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—p.7 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago
11

If you are an adult foolish enough to tell another adult that you are (still!) a poet, they will often describe for you their falling away from poetry: I wrote it in high school; I dabbled in college. Almost never do they write it now. They will tell you they have a niece or nephew who writes poetry. These familiar encounters—my most recent was at the dentist, my mouth propped open while Dr. X almost gagged me with a mirror, as if searching for my innermost feelings—have a tone that’s difficult to describe. There is embarrassment for the poet—couldn’t you get a real job and put your childish ways behind you?—but there is also embarrassment on the part of the non-poet, because having to acknowledge one’s total alienation from poetry chafes against the early association of poem and self. The ghost of that romantic conjunction makes the falling away from poetry a falling away from the pure potentiality of being human into the vicissitudes of being an actual person in a concrete historical situation, your hands in my mouth. I had the sensation that Dr. X, as he knocked the little mirror against my molars, was contemptuous of the idea that genuine poetry could issue from such an opening. And Dr. X was right: There is no genuine poetry; there is only, after all, and at best, a place for it.

—p.11 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago

If you are an adult foolish enough to tell another adult that you are (still!) a poet, they will often describe for you their falling away from poetry: I wrote it in high school; I dabbled in college. Almost never do they write it now. They will tell you they have a niece or nephew who writes poetry. These familiar encounters—my most recent was at the dentist, my mouth propped open while Dr. X almost gagged me with a mirror, as if searching for my innermost feelings—have a tone that’s difficult to describe. There is embarrassment for the poet—couldn’t you get a real job and put your childish ways behind you?—but there is also embarrassment on the part of the non-poet, because having to acknowledge one’s total alienation from poetry chafes against the early association of poem and self. The ghost of that romantic conjunction makes the falling away from poetry a falling away from the pure potentiality of being human into the vicissitudes of being an actual person in a concrete historical situation, your hands in my mouth. I had the sensation that Dr. X, as he knocked the little mirror against my molars, was contemptuous of the idea that genuine poetry could issue from such an opening. And Dr. X was right: There is no genuine poetry; there is only, after all, and at best, a place for it.

—p.11 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago
12

[...] “poetry” denotes an impossible demand. This is one underlying reason why poetry is so often met with contempt rather than mere indifference and why it is periodically denounced as opposed to simply dismissed: Most of us carry at least a weak sense of a correlation between poetry and human possibility that cannot be realized by poems. The poet, by his very claim to be a maker of poems, is therefore both an embarrassment and accusation.

And when you are foolish enough to identify yourself as a poet, your interlocutors will often ask: A published poet? And when you tell them that you are, indeed, a published poet, they seem at least vaguely impressed. Why is that? It’s not like they or anybody they know reads poetry journals. And yet there is something deeply right, I think, about this knee-jerk appeal to publicity. It’s as if to say: Everybody can write a poem, but has your poetry, the distillation of your innermost being, been found authentic and intelligible by others? Can it circulate among persons, make of its readership, however small, a People in that sense? This accounts for the otherwise bafflingly persistent association of poetry and fame—baffling since no poets are famous among the general population. To demand proof of fame is to demand proof that your songs made it back intact from the dream in the stable to the social world of the fire, that your song is at once utterly specific to you and exemplary for others.

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—p.12 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago

[...] “poetry” denotes an impossible demand. This is one underlying reason why poetry is so often met with contempt rather than mere indifference and why it is periodically denounced as opposed to simply dismissed: Most of us carry at least a weak sense of a correlation between poetry and human possibility that cannot be realized by poems. The poet, by his very claim to be a maker of poems, is therefore both an embarrassment and accusation.

And when you are foolish enough to identify yourself as a poet, your interlocutors will often ask: A published poet? And when you tell them that you are, indeed, a published poet, they seem at least vaguely impressed. Why is that? It’s not like they or anybody they know reads poetry journals. And yet there is something deeply right, I think, about this knee-jerk appeal to publicity. It’s as if to say: Everybody can write a poem, but has your poetry, the distillation of your innermost being, been found authentic and intelligible by others? Can it circulate among persons, make of its readership, however small, a People in that sense? This accounts for the otherwise bafflingly persistent association of poetry and fame—baffling since no poets are famous among the general population. To demand proof of fame is to demand proof that your songs made it back intact from the dream in the stable to the social world of the fire, that your song is at once utterly specific to you and exemplary for others.

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—p.12 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago
14

(At the turn of the millennium, when I was the editor of a tiny poetry and art magazine, I would receive a steady stream of submissions—our address was online—from people who had clearly never read our publication but whose cover letters expressed a remarkable desperation to have their poems printed anywhere. Some of these letters—tens of them—explained that the poet in question was suffering from a terminal condition and wanted, needed, to see his or her poems published before he or she died. I have three letters here that contain the sentence, “I don’t know how long I have.” I also received multiple letters from prisoners who felt poetry publication was their best available method for asserting they were human beings, not merely criminals. I’m not mocking these poets; I’m offering them as examples of the strength of the implicit connection between poetry and the social recognition of the poet’s humanity. It’s an association so strong that the writers in question observe no contradiction in the fact that they are attempting to secure and preserve their personhood in a magazine that no one they know will see. It is as though the actual poem and publication do not matter; what matters is that the poet will know and can report to others that she is a published poet, a distinction that nobody—not Death, not the social death of exclusion from the Law—can take from her. Poetry makes you famous without an audience, an abstract or kind of proto-fame: It is less that I am known in the broader community than that I know I could be known, less that you know my name than that I know I am named: I am a poet / and you know it.)

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—p.14 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago

(At the turn of the millennium, when I was the editor of a tiny poetry and art magazine, I would receive a steady stream of submissions—our address was online—from people who had clearly never read our publication but whose cover letters expressed a remarkable desperation to have their poems printed anywhere. Some of these letters—tens of them—explained that the poet in question was suffering from a terminal condition and wanted, needed, to see his or her poems published before he or she died. I have three letters here that contain the sentence, “I don’t know how long I have.” I also received multiple letters from prisoners who felt poetry publication was their best available method for asserting they were human beings, not merely criminals. I’m not mocking these poets; I’m offering them as examples of the strength of the implicit connection between poetry and the social recognition of the poet’s humanity. It’s an association so strong that the writers in question observe no contradiction in the fact that they are attempting to secure and preserve their personhood in a magazine that no one they know will see. It is as though the actual poem and publication do not matter; what matters is that the poet will know and can report to others that she is a published poet, a distinction that nobody—not Death, not the social death of exclusion from the Law—can take from her. Poetry makes you famous without an audience, an abstract or kind of proto-fame: It is less that I am known in the broader community than that I know I could be known, less that you know my name than that I know I am named: I am a poet / and you know it.)

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—p.14 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago
22

[...] a large part of the appeal of the defense as a genre is that it is itself a kind of virtual poetry—it allows you to describe the virtues of poetry without having to write poems that have succumbed to the bitterness of the actual. Which is not to say that defenses never cite specific poems, but lines of poetry quoted in prose preserve the glimmer of the unreal; to quote the narrator of my first novel who is here describing an exaggerated version of my own experience: “I tended to find lines of poetry beautiful only when I encountered them quoted in prose, in the essays my professors had assigned in college, where the line breaks were replaced with slashes, so that what was communicated was less a particular poem than the echo of poetic possibility.”

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—p.22 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago

[...] a large part of the appeal of the defense as a genre is that it is itself a kind of virtual poetry—it allows you to describe the virtues of poetry without having to write poems that have succumbed to the bitterness of the actual. Which is not to say that defenses never cite specific poems, but lines of poetry quoted in prose preserve the glimmer of the unreal; to quote the narrator of my first novel who is here describing an exaggerated version of my own experience: “I tended to find lines of poetry beautiful only when I encountered them quoted in prose, in the essays my professors had assigned in college, where the line breaks were replaced with slashes, so that what was communicated was less a particular poem than the echo of poetic possibility.”

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—p.22 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago
28

[...] The mention of the “sabbath day” is presumably supposed to invoke the religious, to introduce the possibility of messianic time instead of mere clock time, but whatever hint of redemption the phrase carries is canceled by “1879,” which here sounds as cold and abstract as “ninety.” [...]

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—p.28 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago

[...] The mention of the “sabbath day” is presumably supposed to invoke the religious, to introduce the possibility of messianic time instead of mere clock time, but whatever hint of redemption the phrase carries is canceled by “1879,” which here sounds as cold and abstract as “ninety.” [...]

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—p.28 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago
35

I dwell in Possibility—
A fairer House than Prose—
More numerous of Windows—
Superior—for Doors—

Of Chambers as the Cedars—
Impregnable of eye—
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky—

Of Visitors—the fairest—
For Occupation—This—
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise—

—p.35 by Emily Dickinson 2 years ago

I dwell in Possibility—
A fairer House than Prose—
More numerous of Windows—
Superior—for Doors—

Of Chambers as the Cedars—
Impregnable of eye—
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky—

Of Visitors—the fairest—
For Occupation—This—
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise—

—p.35 by Emily Dickinson 2 years ago
38

[...] I, too, dislike it: That “too” in the Moore is important—poet and reader of poetry are united in a suspicion of the song of any “earthly poet,” and that suspicion is the ground for an intuition of the ideal. The hatred of poetry is internal to the art, because it is the task of the poet and poetry reader to use the heat of that hatred to burn the actual off the virtual like fog.

Great poets as different as Keats and Dickinson express their contempt for merely actual poems by developing techniques for virtualizing their own compositions—by dissolving the actual poem into an image of the Poem literary form cannot achieve. [...]

—p.38 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago

[...] I, too, dislike it: That “too” in the Moore is important—poet and reader of poetry are united in a suspicion of the song of any “earthly poet,” and that suspicion is the ground for an intuition of the ideal. The hatred of poetry is internal to the art, because it is the task of the poet and poetry reader to use the heat of that hatred to burn the actual off the virtual like fog.

Great poets as different as Keats and Dickinson express their contempt for merely actual poems by developing techniques for virtualizing their own compositions—by dissolving the actual poem into an image of the Poem literary form cannot achieve. [...]

—p.38 by Ben Lerner 2 years ago
63

What we want to avoid at all costs is…an opposition between writing that accounts for race…and writing that is “universal.” If we continue to think of the “universal” as better-than, as the pinnacle, we will always discount writing that doesn’t look universal because it accounts for race or some other demeaned category. The universal is a fantasy. But we are captive, still, to a sensibility that champions the universal while simultaneously defining the universal, still, as white. We are captive, still, to a style of championing literature that says work by writers of color succeeds when a white person can nevertheless relate to it—that it “transcends” its category.

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—p.63 by Beth Loffreda, Claudia Rankine 2 years ago

What we want to avoid at all costs is…an opposition between writing that accounts for race…and writing that is “universal.” If we continue to think of the “universal” as better-than, as the pinnacle, we will always discount writing that doesn’t look universal because it accounts for race or some other demeaned category. The universal is a fantasy. But we are captive, still, to a sensibility that champions the universal while simultaneously defining the universal, still, as white. We are captive, still, to a style of championing literature that says work by writers of color succeeds when a white person can nevertheless relate to it—that it “transcends” its category.

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—p.63 by Beth Loffreda, Claudia Rankine 2 years ago