Now, ordinarily, when Ben Lerner gives readings, the press starts off by noting that the Fulbright scholar won the Hayden Carruth prize for his cycle of 52 sonnets, The Lichtenberg Figures, or that his second book, Angle of Yaw, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2006, or perhaps that Library Journal named The Lichtenberg Figures one of the 12 best books of books of poetry of 2004. Sure, he edits No: A Journal of the Arts and we mean no disrespect to the fact that he recently joined the faculty at MFA program at Brooklyn College, but to us, he’s Matt’s brother.
You know, Matt, lives down on Ashworth with his wife Jo and kids Cy and Theo, right? CTO at Walkscore, that company working to improve the value of walk-friendly and bike-friendly environments across the country? Yeah, that’s him. You’ve probably seen him with his kids at Wallingford Playfield.
Anyhoo, his brother, Ben is giving a reading Friday night at Open Books. He’ll be reading from his latest collection, Mean Free Path. The Open Books web site illuminates:
A mean free path, the book’s cover informs, is the average distance a particle travels before colliding with another particle. Keeping this in mind can be helpful when first approaching the poetic process at work in this collection. Images, lines, sentences collide here in ways that sometimes have seemingly scant overt relationship to each other, but that, through their collisions, create a moving, thoughtful whole. This writing is one of the more vibrant responses to the Ezra Pound dictum “Make it new.” Phrases are collaged from political speech, commercial speech, and personal speech, including a thread weaving in the death of a friend and another weaving in Lerner’s love for his wife, Ariana. Sentences are interrupted, then resume later; imagery of air travel, of life during war, of reading and writing, occur frequently. Lerner is a ceaselessly intelligent and compassionate writer, one engendering awe and delight. His work is complex and challenging. And, when taken on its own terms, exceedingly rewarding —
from “Mean Free Path”
I decided I would come right out and say it
Into a hollow enclosure producing the
The aural illusion that we are in a canyon
They call this an experience of structure
Or a cave. If it weren’t for Ari
In the literature. It has to do with predicates
But it is. I had planned a work of total outrage
Changing phase upon reflection
Until a wave of jasmine interfered
Don’t you hate that? Waves of jasmine always getting in the way.
Frickin’ waves of jasmine.