Paglia, Camille. Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World's Best Poems. The introduction alone is worthy of publication. Paglia briefly touches on various critical approaches to poetry and notes that "Poststructuralism and crusading identity politics led to the gradual sinking in reputation of the premiere literature departments" across the country and, without apology, states that she finds "too much work by the most acclaimed poets labored, affected, and verbose, intended not to communicate with the general audience but to impress their fellow poets."
(I find the above statements a bit ironic, as Paglia herself has been an "identity politics" crusader with femininist criticism. My own preference is an amalgamation of most of the critical approaches, using whatever is appropriate. I like Jungian criticism mixed with traditional/biographical criticism, with a dash of whatever aids in appreciation of the work. I do agree with her statement, I just find the irony amusing.)
Paglia goes on to lament that she "was shocked at how weak individual poems have become over the past forty years." I agree with her that many contemporary poets have been guilty of "elevating process over form" and "treating their poems like meandering diary entries [crafted] for effect in live readings rather on the page."
The discussion of how Palgia decided on the 43 poems she includes is interesting and revealing. In the end, her selection of poems includes Shakespeare and the song lyrics of Joni Mitchell, and she discusses them line by line, in context, emphasizing the importance of word choice and the way in which the form of the poem contributes to its meaning.
Some choice phrases from the introduction:
"A good poem is iridescent and incandescent..."
"Reading a poem requires alert receptivity, perceptual openess, and intuition."
"Poems give birth to other poems.'
"Humanists must set an example: all literary criticism should be accessible to the general reader. Criticism at its bes it re-creative, not spirit-killing."
As Paglia proceeds from Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 ("That time of year thou mayst in me behold...") through her 43 poetic selections, she reveals each poem's iridescence and incandescence to the reader and makes each one accessible. This may sound easy, but if you've ever read poststructualist criticism, you know that making a poem accessible is quite a feat.
One reason I enjoyed this book so much is that she chose so many poems that I love. Another reason I enjoyed this book is because she introduced me to some new works--and helped me appreciate them.
Paglia includes a section of Biographical Notes on each poet because she believes that the text should not be "orphaned." A point with which I strongly agree; a poem is part and parcel of its creator and the times and situations in which it was conceived and crafted.
Nonfiction. Poetry/Criticism. 242 pages. 2005.