That central anxiety — a sense that great ideas tend to become a little discombobulated during the difficult act of putting them into words — hovers over and haunts “The Hatred of Poetry,” an extended essay that hinges on the impossibility of writing poetry. There is something impossibly knotty about the arguments it makes, too. The book comes across as such a cerebral curio that (like Mr. Lerner’s thinky and digressive novels, “Leaving the Atocha Station” and “10:04”) it’s almost impossible to describe.
Let’s try. (Although if we were to give up trying, Mr. Lerner would probably applaud.) The gist: A lot of people seem to hate poetry, which is arguably neck-and-neck with mime as the most animus-attracting of art forms. Loathing rains down on poetry, from people who have never read a page of it as well as from people who have devoted their lives to reading and writing it. Pivoting off a provocative line by Marianne Moore — “I, too, dislike it.” — Mr. Lerner admits that he can relate to the haters. Hostility, he suggests, qualifies as a crucial mode in which poetry and human beings start a conversation with each other. Antipathy is the entry point.