Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Lichtenberg Figures by Ben Lerner

State: Kansas (4* of 52)

The Lichtenberg FiguresThe Lichtenberg Figures by Ben Lerner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Why I read it: Hunting around for authors from Kansas and this volume had received quite a bit of acclaim.

I came across Ben Lerner when I was looking for writers from Kansas. Lerner writes poetry and has published one novel, Leaving the Atocha Station. He is what I would call a very academic poet - very self-aware, intentionally creating structured poems, using words most readers will need to look up. (Goodness, take what I said and magnify it by 100 - check out this video lecture of him speaking on poetic logic and structure.)

This set of poems is described as 52 "sonnets," although they aren't sonnets in the traditional rhyming scheme sense, but rather just in the number of lines each has. The sonnets are unnumbered and unnamed, making them difficult to reference. Over all there are many moments of humor, self-reference, paradox, and conflict. He mentions a few characters, one so often I tried figuring out who he is, and most people have decided he is an imaginary figure (Orlando Duran). A few of them are dedicated "To Benjamin," which some believe to be the poet himself.

He does mention Kansas a few times - Topeka several times. And then there is a biting description of Kansasians (is that what we call them?):
"...There is a suffering somewhere else,
but here in Kansas our acquaintances
rape us tenderly and remain unchanged...."

One of the "for Benjamin" sonnets includes this little segment which is my favorite:
"Sensation dissolves into sense through this idle discussion,
into a sense that sees itself and is afraid. Still, we must finish our coffee
and partition epiphany
into its formative mistakes...."

*I haven't yet posted #3 because of a baked good plan I had.  SOON.

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