Lerner inspires poetry, thought

BenLerner
Photo by Creative Commons.

Yale literature aficionados had the chance to hear American poet, novelist, and critic Ben Lerner read his own award winning work Thursday night.

Around 40 members of the Yale literary community gathered in Linsley-Chittenden Hall to hear Lerner read poems and an excerpt from his only novel, “Leaving the Atocha Station.” Lerner, who teaches in the Masters of Fine Arts Program at Brooklyn College, came to Yale as a part of the Grad Poets Reading Series.

Lerner began by reading his “Doppler Elegies,” a series of poems whose loose structure leaves much open to interpretation, and “Rotation,” a poem in six parts that starts off by juxtaposing the “transpersonality” of print with the individuality of handwriting, he said.

“While listening to these poems, choose your own adventure element,” Lerner urged his audience.

Lerner also read an excerpt from his only novel, “Leaving the Atocha Station,” which was inspired by the 2004 Madrid train bombings. The tragedy occurred while Lerner was studying in Spain and killed 191 people while injuring around 1,800, according to El Mundo, Spain’s largest digital newspaper.

His reading was preceded by the individual readings of three Yale-affiliated poets, one of whom was David Gorin GRD ’14, a doctoral student in English Literature. Gorin not only read his own poetry, but also introduced Lerner as an author who dwells on the “absorptive” experience of art.

One of the poems Gorin read at the event was inspired by the back cover of one of Lerner’s works, Gorin said.

“Lerner authentically confronts the problems and possibilities of poetry. He is simultaneously brilliant and hilarious, and combines suburban slang with literary theory in an absolutely engaging way,” Gorin said.

Other audience members agreed that Lerner was inspiring and thought provoking.

“It seemed like he was engaging with cynicism; probing cynicism, almost, but ultimately coming up with something a lot more interesting,” Orlando Hernandez ’13, editor-in-chief of the Yale Literary Magazine, said.

Born in Topeka, Kansas, Lerner earned his bachelors degree in political theory and his masters in fine arts in poetry from Brown University before leaving for Spain as a Fulbright scholar. He has published three poetry collections so far — “The Lichtenberg Figures,” “Angle of Yaw,” and “Mean Free Path” — and one novel, whose title is borrowed from a John Ashbery poem.

The next poet in the Grad Poets Reading Series is Pomona College English professor Claudia Rankine, who will visit campus Oct. 10.

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