Pretending to Be a Poet, II

I found an online interview with Ben Lerner on the website for Believer, “a monthly magazine where length is no object.”  In the interview, published in August 2011, Lerner says that his novel, Leaving the Atocha Station* celebrates poetry but savages poems.  Then Lerner quotes from the book:

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.

Italics added to poetic possibility.  Lerner goes on to say that what his character tends to find beautiful in poems is an abstract potential that is betrayed by actual poems.

Isn’t it just like humans to anticipate something and then be disappointed by the real event?  In some way, life can never live up to its potential.

I had thought of poetic possibilities, as a blog name, as a place to explore the possibilities of poetry, not as a place to just drift.  Poems can always be noodled with and edited…and as long as they stay unfinished, there will be no disillusionment.  But how can you move on unless you declare the poem finished and … but of course, it is not, because it can always be noodled with.

There’s a terrific interview with Elizabeth Bishop in the Paris Review from the Summer of 1981 where she talks about starting a poem about whales many years previously and that she can’t publish it now because whales are trendy and the interviewer, oddly, asks, but it’s finished now? and Bishops says, no, but I think I could finish it easily.

Maybe poets are just stuck, finding it easier to move backward than forward.

*See my blog post, Pretending to Be a Poet, Nov. 23, 2011.


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