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The Lichtenberg Figures (Hayden Carruth Award for New and Emerging Poets)

by Ben Lerner

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894263,584 (3.95)None
The Lichtenberg Figures, winner of the Hayden Carruth Award, is an unconventional sonnet sequence that interrogates the relationship between language and memory, violence and form. "Lichtenberg figures" are fern-like electrical patterns that can appear on (and quickly fade from) the bodies of people struck by lightning. Throughout this playful and elegiac debut--with its flashes of autobiography, intellection, comedy, and critique--the vocabulary of academic theory collides with American slang and the idiom of the Old Testament meets the jargon of the Internet to display an eclectic sensibility. Ben Lerner, the youngest poet ever published by Copper Canyon Press, is co-founder ofNo: a journal of the arts. He earned an MFA from Brown University and is currently a Fulbright scholar in Spain.… (more)
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Showing 4 of 4
I have absolutely no idea what I'm saying. I know only that I have a certain sympathy for the rhetoric of risk and mystery.

I largely don't know what he's saying either, but I couldn't stop reading. Ben Lerner is alternately opaque and lucid, but always engaging. His influences shine through (even occasionally directly mentioned), recombined and developed into originality. I'm looking forward to reading more. ( )
  drbrand | Jun 8, 2020 |

The stars will be adjusted for inflation
so that the dead can continue living
in the manner to which they've grown accustomed.


p. 18


Perhaps what remains of innovation
is a conservatism at peace with contradiction

as the sky transgresses its frame
but obeys the museum.


p. 22

Ben Lerner's The Lichtenberg Figures is a bit of a tough book of poetry. It's a sonnet sequence ostensibly about growing up in the midwest, but it's frustrated, as many of us were in the early 2000s, with the way the world seemed to work. Reading it now made me almost nostalgic for a kind of frustration that now seems so okay, so naïve, so less harmful to the fundaments of society, rather than to the bodies of people across the world. It's not funny in the way Patricia Lockwood can be, nor is it particularly melancholy. It's more abstract than that, more systematic. I enjoyed it, and I'll need to come back to it and his newer The Hatred of Poetry. ( )
  jtth | May 4, 2020 |
I love this poetry. Frequently it's quite warm and very emotionally satisfying. You don't often get that with work that is so clever. It's beautiful. ( )
  mermind | Apr 21, 2019 |
Stunning in many ways. Utterly captures what it feels like to have digested postmodernism as a college student/grad student. Young, hip, smart, funny, overloaded with irony, info, non sequitors, and all the moves de jeur but here they find they a near perfect expression and come again out of the ideas in the work rather than a predetermined set of Current Poetic Devices. You can find here why poetry moves the way it does now. ( )
  wordlikeabell | Sep 11, 2007 |
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The Lichtenberg Figures, winner of the Hayden Carruth Award, is an unconventional sonnet sequence that interrogates the relationship between language and memory, violence and form. "Lichtenberg figures" are fern-like electrical patterns that can appear on (and quickly fade from) the bodies of people struck by lightning. Throughout this playful and elegiac debut--with its flashes of autobiography, intellection, comedy, and critique--the vocabulary of academic theory collides with American slang and the idiom of the Old Testament meets the jargon of the Internet to display an eclectic sensibility. Ben Lerner, the youngest poet ever published by Copper Canyon Press, is co-founder ofNo: a journal of the arts. He earned an MFA from Brown University and is currently a Fulbright scholar in Spain.

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