America’s most provocative intellectual brings her blazing powers of analysis to the most famous poems of the Western tradition—and unearths. Break, Blow, Burn By Camille Paglia. pp. Pantheon Books. $ CLEARLY designed as a come-on for bright students who don’t yet know. CLEARLY designed as a come-on for bright students who don’t yet know very much about poetry, Camille Paglia’s new book anthologizes

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The first half of the book contains what Paglia calls canonical writings which have been most successful for her in her classroom. Whatever her aspirations or blos, she is doggedly judged by her appearance and male attachments. While the essays are largely accessible to the general reader, Paglia writes in her introduction that “Commentary on poetry is a kind of divination, resembling the practice of oracles, sibyls, augurs, and interpreters of dreams.

The essays in Break Blow Burn argue that the poems under review are not required to “make sense”, to deliver a singular meaning, easily digested and disposed of, but exist instead to provide a subtler, more nuancedmore complex sense of what experience entails. Not that she has ever regarded those activities as elevated. Sometimes a cigar really is a cigar. Consciousness itself is elemental, an effect of light and heat that dissipates when our bodies are reabsorbed by nature. Unfortunately, poetry has always seemed to me something outdated, boring, and either too random, too issue-oriented, or too melodramatic for my tastes.

She also proves entertainingly willing to say not only what a poem does and means, but why she likes it. These works cannot bear the weight of intelligence and commentary brought to them. It does not dissipate. But she turns the painful struggle for selfhood into deliciously quirky comedy.

It’s pleasant to watch another mind read these poems, teasing out themes, remarking on aspects of form and diction and how these technical elements “work” a poem’s effect.


You can hear Paglia’s rbeak when she writes, “Along the way I’ve encountered so many people in the publishing world, in magazines, who said to me, you know, ‘I always keep up with the new novels, but not poetry. Here Paglia’s approach is less confrontational and aphoristic — she comes to the poems in a slow trance, inspired and connects like a plug to the poet’s psychological state.

I am trying to make close reading fashionable again and to embolden graduate students and junior faculty to do likewise. Eliot, even though I view The Waste Land as a breai work of the twentieth century.

Professor Paglia gives a master course in the close reading of some of the great poems of English literature, plus a few surprises. I agree with Paglia that the historical context of a poem and information about the author’s life can help deepen our understanding of the work.

Break, Blow, Burn

To court cliche, even Norman Mailer has more modesty. This is both a handbook for poetry readers and, at the very least, an implicit defence of poetry.

Unlike other reviewers who didn’t like the slection of poems, I really appreciated the mix of classic standards with modern poems I wasn’t familiar with, and which seem to have been selected for their accessibility and power. Hasn’t everyone looked at a poem like it pahlia cement barricade, and been intimidated by it’s seeming impenetrability — even bored by it?

I sound out poems silently, as others pray.

Break, Blow, Burn by Camille Paglia

Some of Paglia’s more unusual choices are great, such caamille Blackburn’s “The Once-Over,” which is a severely underappreciated work by a too-little-known poet. What stunning power of imagination and language!

Pretty silly in places, insightful in others, always entertaining, plus the neon pink cover is gaudy in the best way. I read a great review of this book a couple years back and knowing I needed to broaden my extremely limited exposure to poetry I added it to my wishlist. I am certainly not a prude and I’ve taken enough gender studies and lit classes to know that s I rather liked the first section where paglia writes about older “classic” poetry and thought she had some fantastic insights.


Paglia can see the epic in the miniature, an especially important critical gift when it comes to a poet who could enamel the inside of a raindrop. Oct 14, Joseph rated it it was amazing. As the book progressed, I found myself disagreeing more and more with her take on the “deeper meaning” of each poem and, perhaps, I should have not read the book in a quick sitting.

This year’s collection includes many independent and self-published artists; no mainstream or superhero comic in sight. In an interview, she expressed her distaste for the way poems run together in Norton Anthologies of poetry, and she chooses here to give an individual page for each poem, like a painting occupying its own space of a museum wall.

Poems are, have always been, crafted verbal artifacts of great and sometimes inexplicable resource that speak, each in its unique fashioning, to the permanent themes of life, death, beauty, art and love.

While I was looking forward to reading this, I was vastly disappointed. Perhaps she has realized, however, that the pace of forgetfulness is always accelerating, and that we have moved from an era of people who have never heard of Shelley to an era of people who have never heard of Charlton Heston.

Break, Blow, Burn is aimed at the general reader. And what is Paglia doing, writing that an actress as gifted as Anne Heche has ”the mental depth of a pancake”?