The Lights

Farrar. Sept. 2023. 128p. ISBN 9780374279219. $26. POETRY
Despite finding his most commercial success with a trio of fiction works published during the 2010s (including 2019’s The Topeka School)—this after three verse collections—Lerner has always considered himself a poet first and foremost. Fittingly, here he marries prose and poetry more purposely than before, blurring the boundaries of form and reflexively experimenting with various modes across the collection: “I completed my study of form/ and forgot it.” Regardless of the shape it takes, Lerner’s writing is as erudite as ever, once again taking as locus the intersection of life and art and particularly the nature of poet and poetry: “you’ve probably felt that a spirit is at work in the world, or was, and that making it visible is the artist’s task, or was.” As in all of Lerner’s work, this collection vibrates with interiority and intellection, the author’s ruminations merging the observational and existential, a swirling chaos he shapes into calm. His writing is similarly bold, at times expressionistic and acrobatic, while in other moments executed with unadorned, plainspoken clarity.
VERDICT Sometimes it can feel like a tale of two works, the junction not quite seamless, with some of the poetry here feeling a bit more academic and opaque next to the thrilling prose. But on the whole, this is another stunningly audacious work from Lerner that surveys life through the lens of art and vice versa, intimate and universal, challenging but deeply rewarding.
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