Poetry doesn't want to be your friend. Get over it.
For poet (Mean Free Path, 2012, etc.), novelist (10:04, 2014, etc.), and MacArthur Fellow Lerner (English/Brooklyn Coll.), the only kind of love poetry permits is tough love. It's an art with a mean streak, or at least a highly forbidding, unlikable temper. It may be a lot of things—melodic, perceptive, brilliant, awful—but it also carries a threat that warns you to either tread slowly or stay away altogether. "I, too, dislike it," Marianne Moore famously wrote; Lerner adds that dislike is part of the bargain: “What kind of art has as a condition of its possibility a perfect contempt?” The problem seems to be that poetry aims higher than other arts and runs the risk of greater failure. "Poetry arises from the desire to get beyond the finite and the historical," writes the author, "the human world of violence and difference—and to reach the transcendent or divine." The payoff, if there is one, is in the effort. "The hatred of poetry is internal to the art,” writes Lerner, because it is the task of the poet and poetry reader to use the heat of that hatred to burn the actual off the virtual like fog." The author pays homage to the individual, solitary nature of poetry and its refusal to be tamed or coddled, but he does the act of reading no favors. He makes writing poetry seem like a zero-sum game and reading it like torture. The closer he gets to some usable approach, the more it eludes him. His struggle to give concrete form to an increasingly abstract concept of art is just "form gulping after formlessness," as Wallace Stevens put it.
A learned but knotty defense on poetry's behalf, persuasive to no one but those who need no convincing.