In his bold second book, Ben Lerner molds philosophical insight, political outrage, and personal experience into a devastating critique of mass society. Angle of Yaw investigates the fate of public space, public speech, and how the technologies of viewing—aerial photography in particular—feed our culture an image of itself. And it’s a spectacular view.
The man observes the action on the field with the tiny television he brought to the stadium. He is topless, painted gold, bewigged. His exaggerated foam index finger indicates the giant screen upon which his own image is now displayed, a model of fanaticism. He watches the image of his watching the image on his portable TV on his portable TV. He suddenly stands with arms upraised and initiates the wave that will consume him.
Haunted by our current “war on terror,” much of the book was written while Lerner was living in Madrid (at the time of the Atocha bombings and their political aftermath), as the author steeped himself in the history of Franco and fascism. Regardless of when or where it was written, Angle of Yaw will further establish Ben Lerner as one of our most intriguing and least predictable poets.
Employing the language of aphorism, advertising, parable, personal essay, political tirade, journalism and journal, the collage-like poems of Lerner's second collection express the ennui of American life in an era when even war feels like a television event. Two sequences of untitled prose poems weave public and private discourse, yielding often absurd yet frighteningly accurate observations: "We have willingly suspended our disbelief on strings in order to manipulate it from above"; "Some child actors have never been off camera"; "The right to have it both ways is inalienable or it isn't." Punctuating the prose are three extended free verse pieces, including "Didactic Elegy," a self-conscious, heady meditation on the collapse of the World Trade towers that is equal parts logic-proof, art criticism and subtle indictment of American mourning for 9/11: "The first men and women to be described as heroes were in the towers./ To call them heroes, however, implies that they were willing to accept their deaths." A handful of the more fragmentary poems in this long collection lack the satisfying associative logic and punch that characterize the best of these, and could have been omitted, but overall this collection places Lerner (The Lichtenberg Figures, 2004) among the most promising young poets now writing.