Benjamin Kahan

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers

“The fatal problem with poetry: poems,” says Ben Lerner (32). What he means by this is that each actually existing poem stands a monument to the unrealizability of the utopian hope that we call “poetry.”

Lerner has some interesting things to say about poetry and its relationship to work, the desire and the worry that writing poetry not be work. Poetry is utopian insofar as it seems to offer an alternative to “getting and spending,” an order of work that is also seamlessly a way of leaning and loafing at one’s ease; hence the defenses. That very utopian possibility also seems a monstrous indifference to the brutalities of being constrained to sell one’s labor in order to live; hence the denunciations.

'a few 'strong wrinkles' puckering the / skin between the ears'

I suggested in my previous post that poetic irritation, or maybe irritability (who, after all, is being irritated here?) has something to do with a tediously citational female word-labor, antithetical to poetry in the case of Nella Larsen’s constantly irritated fictional character Helga Crane, and the very “raw material of poetry in all its rawness” in the case of Marianne Moore. “[W]e discern Miss Moore being a librarian, an editor, a teacher of typewriting: locating fragments already printed; picking and choosing; making, letter by letter, neat pages” (Kenner 98).

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