...[a] sharp, learned, and thrilling new book ... Lerner convincingly argues that the failures of individual poems – of all individual poems – also serve as the grounds for celebration. We only come to sense poetic perfection, Lerner argues, by measuring how far actual poems fall short ... Lerner is a fine critic, with a lucid style and quicksilver mind ... But perhaps most remarkable is just how entertaining, how witty and passionate and funny, The Hatred of Poetry is. The book is polemical, no doubt, but reading it is less like overhearing a professor’s lecture than like listening to a professor entertain a crowd of students over pints after class.
It’s not a matter of convenience for Lerner that poems both terrible and great have a way of rehearsing the staring match between virtual and actual. The minute variability of his poetic analysis means it’s fortunate that he’s an expert close reader of 'actual' poems. His line-by-line analysis of William Topaz McGonagell’s 'The Tay Bridge Disaster,' 'one of the most thoroughly horrible poems ever composed,' is among the funniest I’ve ever seen ... There are small problems with The Hatred of Poetry, even if you can’t fault Lerner for his lack of analytic variety. (The book is a single essay, and he admits the lack.) The narrative sections are weaker than those found in his fiction, and their gestures at relatability come across as didactic ... But The Hatred of Poetryars poetica from a major American writer.
I don't think [Lerner] wanted to write a comprehensive treatment of our collective hatred of poetry. I think he wanted to write a personal account of his relationship to poetry, and he fell into the same mistake he accuses bad poets of: confusing the personal and the universal ... In The Hatred of Poetry, a personal feeling has been dressed up, given a few distracting academic tassels and a vague, impersonal 'we.' But maybe I just resent being spoken for. I, for one, like poetry.