In Voorhies Hall Ben Lerner appeared before the faithful UC Davis crowd to read from his most recent book Angle of Yaw. The crowd was quiet and attentive as they listened to Joshua Clover kick off the evening, in honor of Mayday, with a rendition of Allen Ginsberg’s “Kral Majales,” who read the piece with a decidedly understated “I am the King of May” compared to a gleeful exuberance one imagines attached to the youthful Ginsberg cavorting through Czechoslovakia during the year of the Prague Spring.
Then Ben Lerner took to the stage and offered to the denizens of that dimly lit room several pieces from Angle of Yaw and a new poem that was still in progress, still under revision. He started off the evening with “Begetting Stadia,” an homage to football stadiums and the the age of the spectacle. Then he read several selections of prose poems from Angle of Yaw. Finally, he read a new piece that he prefaced as being untitled and unfinished. Then lowering our expectations for it even more, he described what he saw as the movement and technique in the poem, both of which he expected the audience to be underwhelmed by. However, in my opinion, the new poem was the highlight of the evening. It seemed to be read with more conviction and attention, perhaps because he is still in the middle of the heat of this poem. If this last piece is any indication of the body of Lerner’s works to come, we have a lot to look forward to with this exceptional young talent.