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Ben Lerner


Ben Lerner was born in Topeka, Kansas, on February 4, 1979.  He received a BA in political theory and an MFA in poetry from Brown University.

Lerner is the author of three poetry collections: Mean Free Path (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), Angle of Yaw (Copper Canyon Press, 2006), and The Lichtenberg Figures (Copper Canyon Press, 2004), winner of the 2003 Hayden Carruth Award. He is also the author of the 10:04 (Faber & Faber, 2014) and Leaving the Atocha Station (Coffee House Press, 2011).

Lerner is the recipient of fellowships from the Fulbright Program, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Howard Foundation. In 2011, he became the first American to win the Preis der Stadt Münster für Internationale Poesie for the German translation of The Lichtenberg Figures. In 2015, he was also awarded the MacArthur “Genius” Grant. He teaches English at Brooklyn College and lives in Brooklyn.



Mean Free Path (Copper Canyon Press, 2010)
Angle of Yaw (Copper Canyon Press, 2006)
The Lichtenberg Figures (Copper Canyon Press, 2004)


10:04 (Faber & Faber, 2014)
Leaving the Atocha Station (Coffee House Press, 2011)

Ben Lerner
Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

By This Poet


Mean Free Path [excerpt]

For the distances collapsed. 
            For the figure
failed to humanize 
the scale. For the work,
the work did nothing but invite us
to relate it to
            the wall. 
For I was a shopper in a dark

For the mode of address 
            equal to the war 
was silence, but we went on 
celebrating doubleness. 
For the city was polluted 
with light, and the world, 
For I was a fraud 
in a field of poppies.

For the rain made little 
            affective adjustments
to the architecture.
For the architecture was a long
lecture lost on me, negative 
mnemonics reflecting 
and reflecting 


I finished the reading and looked up
Changed in the familiar ways. Now for a quiet place
To begin the forgetting. The little delays
Between sensations, the audible absence of rain
Take the place of objects. I have some questions
But they can wait. Waiting is the answer
I was looking for. Any subject will do
So long as it recedes. Hearing the echo
Of your own blood in the shell but picturing
The ocean is what I meant by


You startled me. I thought you were sleeping
In the traditional sense. I like looking
At anything under glass, especially
Glass. You called me. Like overheard
Dreams. I'm writing this one as a woman
Comfortable with failure. I promise I will never
But the predicate withered. If you are
Uncomfortable seeing this as portraiture
Close your eyes. No, you startled


Unhinged in a manner of speaking 
Crossed with stars, a rain that can be paused 
So we know we're dreaming on our feet 
Like horses in the city. How sad. Maybe
No maybes. Take a position. Don't call it
Night-vision green. Think of the children
Running with scissors through the long
Where were we? If seeing this as portraiture 
Makes you uncomfortable, wake up


Wake up, it's time to begin 
The forgetting. Direct modal statements 
Wither under glass. A little book for Ari
Built to sway. I admire the use of felt
Theory, like swimming in a storm, but object
To anti-representational bias in an era of
You're not listening. I'm sorry. I was thinking 
How the beauty of your singing reinscribes 
The hope whose death it announces. Wave 


Numbness, felt silence, a sudden
Inability to swallow, the dream in which 
The face is Velcro, describing the film
In the language of disaster, the disaster in 
Not finishing sentences, removing the suicide
From the speed dial, failing to recognize 
Yourself in the photo, coming home to find
A circle of concerned family and friends 
It's more of an artists' colony than a hospital 


It's more of a vitamin than an anti-psychotic 
Collective despair expressed in I-statements 
The dream in which the skin is stonewashed 
Denim, running your hand through the hair 
Of an imaginary friend, rising from bed
Dressing, returning calls, all without 
Waking, the sudden suspicion the teeth
In your mouth are not your own, let
Alone the words