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The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner

For me, this book was an eighty-six page epiphany.  Ben Lerner argues, “Many more people agree they hate poetry than can agree what poetry is.”  I would never be capable of explicitly defining poetry.  Before the book I would have said I liked poetry.  Now I feel that I don’t really know what poetry is and the little exposure I have to it has been unchallenging.

When I read a book I use my little note card system.  I just take a 3×5 and jot down things to look up, items that interest me and sometimes quotes I love.  Then I use it as a bookmark.  This slim little book’s notecard is covered in things I had never heard of, people to research and mind blowing new ideas.  I was delighted to find someone else’s little list tucked into the back of this library book.

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Of all the things written on the front and back of the notecard there were two items that will stick with me forever.  One is Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings.  I had, obviously, heard of Dickinson.  I was completely unfamiliar with her envelopes.  Now, I am obsessed.  I love the way each one is its own little unique piece.

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The second is the idea that Plato felt poetry was so detrimental to society that it should be suppressed.  The author quotes Olinde Rodrigues, “‘the power of the arts is…the most immediate and fastest way’ to achieve sociopolitical reform.'”  Visual arts and music are consumed more by the mainstream.  Perhaps this is why, as the author highlights, every few years they is a cry that poetry is dead.

I do not want poetry to die.  I want to be part of the struggle.  I will still always love Shel Silverstein, Robert Frost and Walt Whitman.  But I am looking forward to challenging myself until perhaps I too will decry “I hate poetry!” Not because I don’t understand it but because I have seen the possibilities and felt the limitations and embraced the frustration.

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