Writer Ben Lerner on Teaching Creative Writing | Louisiana Channel



The acclaimed American writer shares some of his approaches to writing and sums up his experiences in teaching young poets. He sees teaching as a way of creating new value, which is not about economic value, but a value that “needs to be developed to stay human”, he says.

“What I like about teaching is that it is always an experiment in unfolding a new language of value that isn’t a dominant value of the day, that needs to be developed to stay human.”

“One of the things I value about teaching writing is that you would have to be crazy to think there is one right way to do it. What I like about it is the adventure of co-constructing literary value each time. What I want to do as a teacher is to honor what I see as the most exciting tendencies of the student’s writing and to read together. And to use somebody else’s work, not my work or the student’s work, as an opportunity for an experiment and what values we can find in common. Or to just acknowledge where there is an irreconcilable difference of opinion. Because to me, part of the value of art, of reading together or looking at paintings together, is that it is a personal experience the way you encounter a text and how it resonates with you. But then there is the desire to make it social and to test what part of it is shareable with another person, and that is actually when writing and reading are so similar to me – in the desire to talk about the experience.”

Lerner mainly teaches poetry, and “what you do is to try and work against the student’s most ingrained habits,” he says giving different examples of these kinds of habits, adding: “it is always about introducing the counter term”. “Not because the student needs to abandon the modes in which she is working, but because the student will actually be clearer about what tendencies are really irreversibly hers by virtue of being exposed to work that does something extremely different.”

“What I like about teaching is that it is always an experiment in unfolding a new language of value that isn’t a dominant value of the day. It is also always an argument that some regime of value other than price needs to be developed to stay human, so I sometimes think of poetry classes as little laboratories in value”, Lerner concludes.

Ben Lerner (born 1979) is an American poet, novelist, essayist, and critic. Born and raised in Topeka, Kansas he has a BA in political science and an MFA in creative writing from Brown University. He has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a finalist for the National Book Award, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and has received many honors, including being a Guggenheim Fellow and a MacArthur Fellow. Lerner’s novels include ‘The Topeka School’ (2019), ‘10:04’ (2014), and ‘Leaving the Atocha Station’ (2011). His poetry collections, include ‘No Art’ (2016), ‘Mean Free Path’ (2010) and ‘Angle of Yaw’ (2006). Ben Lerner’s monograph, ‘The Hatred of Poetry’, was published in 2016. Lerner teaches at Brooklyn College, where he was named a Distinguished Professor of English in 2016

Ben Lerner was interviewed by his Danish translator Tonny Vorm in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival in August 2022 at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark.

Camera: Simon Weyhe
Edit: Signe Boe Pedersen
Produced by Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2022.
Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet, C.L. Davids Fond og Samling, and Fritz Hansen.

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