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Mean Free Path Paperback – March 1, 2010

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Mean Free Path + Angle of Yaw + The Lichtenberg Figures (Hayden Carruth Award for New and Emerging Poets)
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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)
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About 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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon Press; y First printing edition (March 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556593147
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556593147
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #414,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Reinaldo Enrique on February 21, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's been a while since I bought this book. Mean Free Path has grown to be one of my favorite poems. Ben Lerner is an excellent poet that understands contemporary language, and culture. Presenting it to us in its rawest form.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By George Del Valle on February 25, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The title is the rejoinder to the poetic effort occurring in this collection. In terms of meaning and versified possibilities of thought experience, there is a mean path by which a poem can stand as indicative, representative, or expressive of some idea or emotion or thought. This seems to be the ethos of this profoundly re-readable, intelligent, and imaginative work. The poems probe into the schema of linguistic potentiality with meter that is fresh and enjoyable, but also ponderous and difficult. It asks of the reader's attention to culture, but also the minutiae of detail in experience, such that it asks what exactly it is to have language as a society whose personal and private spheres are ever more interconnected and wrapped up in the economy of meanings. And on a level of technique, Ben Lerner is one of the few contemporary poets seemingly still seriously taking up language with dignity and consideration. Which is not to detract from those other wonderful poets, but Lerner is headed for the canon; absolutely.
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10 of 19 people found the following review helpful By DabblerArts on April 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
A Man Trout
--a poem for Ben Lerner et al

Look, reader, I'm writing this poem
Built of echoes, self-same but full of
Minor disharmonies. Look I'm writing,
Reader, repetition. I had meant to write
A poem inching through echoes,
Love, continental theory,
To the grand scientific major,
To the world and all things it it, read it
Fast. Faster, reader, I'm writing
This poem, look, I repeat
Myself through a bunch more
Lines, phrases, impressive, not?
I had meant to write, reader,
A poem to my cat, but here
A photon and another photon enter
Effecting a dance of sub-
Atomic miracles, the world as we know it,
Also bullets, tanks, human miseries,
Etc... Years go by, reader, I'm still
Writing, soon I'll be finished.

[pages of illustration]

That's the parody I was moved to write after a second read-through of this pleasurable volume - "pleasurable" is the right word I believe, as the poems are nothing if not sensuous, in their own way). Toss in some Russian novels, some theory (in the literary sense), and there you have it. Lerner manages more gracefully than my parody, of course - the poems propel you forward, and are more lyrical than your average theory-laden stuff. The weaknesses are easy to point out - for example, the possibility of writing a poetry that's equal to our time is a vast, fashionable, but not terribly interesting question! The other problem is the shadow of industrial and military doom that make this a very somber book indeed. It's reflective of the time, but I am reminded of a certain philosopher's saying that "whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent.
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