Ben Lerner’s work can be said to concern itself with ‘feeling forms around the static’; trying to tie together disparate expressions of self through various writing forms and the manipulation of language and narrative perspective. In The Lights, an anthology of prose and poems, Lerner achieves a cohesion of all these themes whilst placing the self at the crossroads of meaning and expression.
The collection begins with the poem, “Index of Themes”, a self-aware commentary on poetry as a vehicle of meaning. The poem alludes to the narcissism Lerner feels is implicit in poetry and the embarrassment he feels whilst writing it: ‘Poems about dreams/ like moths about streetlights/ until the clichés/ glow’. The collection’s standout poem, “The Lights”, provides Lerner with an alien writing perspective far away from his own, so that he might emote and ‘get it all down/ before my echo’ of self-criticism can hinder his expression. He attempts to adopt the perspective of these aliens to assess humankind’s expressive capabilities, to ‘scan/ the heavens, discover what we’ve projected there’.
Ridding oneself of the formalities of manicured novel-writing, of the expectations of poetry, Lerner imagines a people that articulate meaning in a formless way, ‘that they are baffled but can make out/ the shape of a feeling to which they assign/ no number, gender’.
The Lights is a beautifully pure, uninhibited study in closing the gap between what we feel, and how we think we should express it.
Words: Ciara Berkeley