Poetry News

IvyGate Lashes Out at Jonah Lehrer's Undergrad Poetry

By Harriet Staff

Ivygate blog, which we're sure you check every day, has some rather incredulous analysis via-a-vis the dethroned New Yorker journalist Jonah Lehrer. Apparently, as a Columbia University undergrad, Lehrer commenced to lie with poesie, or so they tell it:

Perhaps more revealing to Lehrer’s present situation, though, is a passage we discovered in a poem of his titled “The Frustrated Monologue” (bolding below ours):

“to reveal
the terrible truth
hidden inside the detail.
I am lying and I am a liar
and the rocks of Flaubert are blue
because blue is a cliché.”

So, forget the self-plagiarism, the falsified Bob Dylan quotes, and everything else that Lehrer messed up on, guys. The man’s not a journalist, he’s a poet! This makes everything better, right? Right?


This does, however, bring up a major scholarly issue that is at the core of Lehrer’s deep, moving undergraduate poetry. If he is “lying” and “a liar,” then how can the reader trust him? Can we still take for granted that Flaubert’s rocks are blue?

Additionally, if we accept his admittance here that he is a liar, then how can we trust he is telling the truth when he calls himself a liar?

More simply, is he lying about being a liar?

If this is the case, Lehrer as the writer and narrator severs any sort of relationship he has with his audience. While his poetry is fantastical (earlier lines recall biblical verses and Edgar Allen Poe), there is a sort of inherent poetic law that allows the reader to suspend reality and accept what is on the page. Here, though, Lehrer sacrifices that, putting it in the reader’s hands to determine what is meant to be true and what is actually false. We can no longer trust our narrator to make the distinction, and the responsibility for establishing the veracity of Lehrer’s words falls on the audience. It becomes clear that both fact and fiction are the same to the writer.

You can read all of the 2000 issue of “The Columbia Review” here. . . .

“The Frustrated Monologue” can also be read at their site, along with some comments on the post, like this one:

Oh, puhleeze. A poem he wrote in college is an "admittance (sic)" that he's a liar? Here's a hint: If you find that you're making that kind of claim, it's time to shut your pie hole before you say something even more stupid.

Originally Published: September 11th, 2012