Mean Free Path

Mean Free Path

by Ben Lerner
     
 

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“Lerner [is] among the most promising young poets now writing.”—Publishers Weekly

“Sharp, ambitious, and impressive.” —Boston Review

National Book Award finalist Ben Lerner turns to science once again for his guiding metaphor. “Mean free path” is the average distance a particle travels before

Overview

“Lerner [is] among the most promising young poets now writing.”—Publishers Weekly

“Sharp, ambitious, and impressive.” —Boston Review

National Book Award finalist Ben Lerner turns to science once again for his guiding metaphor. “Mean free path” is the average distance a particle travels before colliding with another particle. The poems in Lerner’s third collection are full of layered collisions—repetitions, fragmentations, stutters, re-combinations—that track how language threatens to break up or change course under the emotional pressures of the utterance. And then there’s the larger collision of love, and while Lerner questions whether love poems are even possible, he composes a gorgeous, symphonic, and complicated one.

You startled me. I thought you were sleeping
In the traditional sense. I like looking
At anything under glass, especially
Glass.
You called me. Like overheard
Dreams. I’m writing this one as a woman
Comfortable with failure. I promise I will never
But the predicate withered. If you are
Uncomfortable seeing this as portraiture
Close your eyes. No,
you startled

Ben Lerner is the author of three books of poetry and was named a finalist for the National Book Award for his second book, Angle of Yaw. He holds degrees from Brown University, co-founded No: a journal of the arts, and teaches at the University of Pittsburgh.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lerner is both a favorite among young avant-garde poets and a recipient of more traditional honors—his previous book was a finalist for the National Book Award. In his third collection, which is composed of two alternating sequences, he continues and deepens his exploration of how contemporary mass culture taints language, testing the border where words transition from expressing real feeling to being so overused they mean almost nothing. The nine-line stanzas of “Mean Free Path” utilize collage, found language, humor, and snippets of what seem like autobiography to question how much a poem can really say. “I'm sorry, sorrier/ Than I can say on such a tiny phone.” Stunningly prescient insights (“In total war, the front is continuous”) alternate with humorous asides and haunting admissions of the limits of interpersonal connection, noting “the sudden suspicion the teeth/ In your mouth are not your own, let/ Alone the words.” The page-long “Doppler Elegies” utilizes many of the same techniques in an attempt to construct a fragmentary love poem to “Ari.” Promising sentences are cut off at the line break, only to resume in the midst of another, entirely different thought, often creating pertinent juxtapositions, as in a poem that laments “The life we've chosen/ from a drop-down menu.” Lerner keeps refining his techniques and remains a younger poet whose work deserves attention. (May)
Library Journal
"Written with my nondominant hand/ In the crawlspace under the war," the long poem sequences in Lerner's third collection (after Angle of Yaw) attempt to reconstruct the idea of deconstruction by stitching together fragments—of the post-9/11 world, a friend's suicide, the fraught distances inside intimacy as well as intimacies contained within distance—into a fragmented whole filled with alternate selves and parallel lives. The glass we see through darkly shatters, glues itself back into semblance, shatters again. This work (whose title refers to the average distance a subatomic particle travels before colliding with another particle) is a critique of the ways we've learned to see by not seeing, by diverting our vision to "the pleasures of…point and click." With alternating sections of 36 and 24 parts, respectively ("Mean Free Path" and "Doppler Elegies"), the book can be read both as love poem and as "preemptive elegy." VERDICT One of the pleasures here is how words are used in a Dickinsonian manner—like salty packages to be unwrapped, each containing a "finite infinity." The book needs a heroic reader, but persistence does pay off; what at first might seem like mumbo jumbo ends up casting an authentic spell: "With my nondominant hand/ I want to give/ in a minor key/ the broadest sense." Highly recommended.—Susan Kelly-DeWitt, Univ. of California, Davis

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781619320741
Publisher:
Copper Canyon Press
Publication date:
12/18/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
96
Sales rank:
739,880
File size:
300 KB

Meet the Author

Ben Lerner is the author of three books of poetry and was named a finalist for the National Book Award for his second book, Angle of Yaw. He holds degrees from Brown Univeristy, co-founded No: a journal of the arts, and teaches at the University of Pittsburgh.

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