Synopses & Reviews
Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World's Best Poems
is destined to become a landmark. In it, America's premier intellectual provocateur explores and celebrates a series of great poems of the Western tradition, including some surprising discoveries of her own. She brings new energy and insight to our understanding of poems we already know, such as masterpieces by Shakespeare, Donne, Shelley, Dickinson, Lowell, and Plath. She leads us to appreciate the artistry of writers with whom we may not be familiar, such as Chuck Wachtel and Wanda Coleman. And she hails the songwriter Joni Mitchell as a major contemporary poet.
Daring, erudite, entertaining, and infused throughout with Paglia's inimitable style and passion, this beautifully written book and the dazzling mind behind it will entice readers to begin or renew a passionate engagement with poetry.
"The still-vocal critic of Sexual Personae, a book that drew on poetry and painting for its de-deconstructions of gender, checks in with an anthology of 43 poems, along with her own close readings of them. Her introduction offers a jumble of justifications for undertaking such a project (though she is 'unsure whether the West's chaotic personalism can prevail against the totalizing creeds that menace it,' she hopes it will), but the readings themselves reveal Paglia's fascination with poetry, which she likens 'to addiction or to the euphoria of being in love.' The book's first half presents canonical work that Paglia has found 'most successful in the classroom' (Shakespeare, Blake, Dickinson, etc.). The second features mostly canonical modernist and confessional work (Stevens, Williams, Toomer, Roethke and Plath), with a few more recent pieces. Clocking in mostly at two to four pages, Paglia's readings sound a lot like classroom preambles to discussion offering background, lingering over provocative lines, venturing provisional interpretations. Some of what she says comes off as grandiose (Roethke's ' 'Cuttings' is a regrounding of modern English poetry in lost agrarian universals'), some as boilerplate, some as inspired. Though hit-and-miss, Paglia's picks and appraisals provide the requisite spark for jump-starting returns to poetry." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[C]lose, brief, and beautifully lucid readings....An indisputably terrific primer for all students of literature in English." Kirkus Reviews
"Some poems are de rigueur, many are unexpected, and all are powerful and rendered piquantly fresh via Paglia's smart, pithy, and relevant interpretations." Booklist
Camille Paglia loves poetry and she wants to rescue the poetry she loves from stifling academic pedantry and jargon-ridden theory. Break, Blow, Burn is Paglia's master class in how to read and love poetry. With her innate talent for stimulating and provoking in unexpected ways, she helps us understand and appreciate poets as varied as Shakespeare and Robert Lowell, Shelley and Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes. She introduces us to the marvelous work of less conventional poets, such as the little-known but brilliant Chuck Wachtel and the fiery Wanda Coleman, and she reintroduces us to the lyric balladeer Joni Mitchell. Each entry is lively, entertaining and beautifully written. And with her knowledge of both classic and contemporary cultures, Paglia sheds illuminating light on the raw power of a wailing pop lyric as easily as she does on the cryptic wit of a line of Emily Dickinson. Here is the book and the dazzling mind behind it to entice readers to begin or renew a passionate engagement with poetry.
With her knowledge of both classic and contemporary cultures, Paglia sheds illuminating light on the raw power of a wailing pop lyric as easily as she does on the cryptic wit of a line of Emily Dickinson. Here is the book and the dazzling mind behind it to entice readers to begin or renew a passionate engagement with poetry.
About the Author
Camille Paglia is University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She is the author of Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson; Sex, Art, and American Culture; and Vamps & Tramps: New Essays. She has also written The Birds, a study of Alfred Hitchcock. She lives in Philadelphia.