Ben Lerner discusses his first book of poetry, “The Lichtenberg Figures.” Part of “The Paris Review”'s “My First Time” video interview series.
“My First Time” is a video series in which we invite authors to discuss the trials of writing and publishing their first books. Consider it a chance to see how successful writers got their start, in their own words—it’s a portrait of the artist as a beginner and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.
This installment stars Ben Lerner, poet and novelist. While an undergraduate at Brown—and later as an M.F.A. student—Lerner wrote the cycle of fifty-two sonnets that would become 2004’s The Lichtenberg Figures. At the time, he and roommate Cyrus Console were, says Lerner, “always writing under the sign of crisis ... now when I look back, we had a kind of really intense practice.” He discusses the process of imposing form, his thematic inspirations, and the challenges of taking one’s place in the creative universe. “With the first book, you don’t really know if you can do it. You have a kind of constant anxiety about whether or not you have something to contribute to the conversation. And that anxiety—it can ruin your life, but it’s also really generative. Like, it’s a kind of discipline.”
This series is made by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling; we’re delighted to collaborate with them. Be sure to watch the previous interviews in the series:
- Katori Hall, on Hoodoo Love, her first play
- Donald Antrim on Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, his first novel
- Sheila Heti on The Middle Stories, her first collection
- Tao Lin on Bed, his first collection
- Christine Schutt on Nightwork, her first collection
- Branden Jacobs-Jenkins on his play Neighbors
- Gabrielle Bell on The Book of ... series, her early cartoons
- J. Robert Lennon on his debut novel, The Light of Falling Stars