Saturday, February 2, 2013

Camille Paglia's Break Blow Burn

Earlier this week I wrote a blog entry about surface reading titled reading is not as easy as it looks. The point I tried to make is that we can read overmuch into stories, articles and essays and would be well-served to sometimes take words at face value.

Camille Paglia’s Break Blow Burn is built on the opposite premise. When we read a sonnet by Shakespeare or Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, we miss so very much when we fail to take in the depths that their carefully crafted words contain.The book's subtitle explains her subject matter, Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World's Best Poems.

The first poem that she dissects, in just over three pages, is William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73. By the end of her first paragraph I knew I was in for a treat. By the end of her commentary I was breathless. Her exposition reminded me of the callouts and hot buttons on a web page, except the poem was the page and her insights were the flyouts that gave ever deeper understanding. She demonstrates why poetry has deservedly held its place of pre-eminence in the literary arts.

After Sonnet 73 she shines a light on Sonnet 29. And if you ever had your doubts about the significance of the Bard, these two short chapters alone will erase all of that.

I’m a newcomer to Paglia, having stumbled upon references to her thrice in the past couple weeks. In the winter edition of The City, a publication of Houston Baptist University, Camille Paglia is featured in an interview titled Art and the Modern Age, a send-up in response to her new book, Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars.

What is quickly apparent is that Paglia is an original thinker, offering original perspectives without that careful crafting of proper expressions that please political constituencies. It’s how I understand Steve Jobs to have been before his passing.

The copyrighted Reed Business Information review sums up the book this way: America’s most provocative intellectual brings her blazing powers of analysis and appreciation to bear on the great poems of the Western tradition, and on some unexpected discoveries of her own. Combining close reading with a panoramic breadth of learning, Camille Paglia refreshes our understanding of poems we thought we knew, from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 73” to Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” from Donne’s “The Flea” to Lowell’s “Man and Wife,” and from Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” to Plath’s “Daddy.”*

The American Library Association gives us this about the book: Among the many intriguing autobiographical disclosures she offers in her to-the-ramparts introduction is the fact that Harold Bloom was her doctoral advisor, and she is, indeed, on a Bloomian mission as she presents 43 poems worthy of sustained attention that she believes will speak to a diverse audience. Her selections truly are enticing and engaging, ranging from Shakespeare to Wanda Coleman, and including along the way Blake, Emily Dickinson, Theodore Roethke, Jean Toomer, and Joni Mitchell. Some poems are de rigueur, many are unexpected, and all are powerful and rendered piquantly fresh via Paglia's smart, pithy, and relevant interpretations. As Paglia asserts, poetry "develops the imagination and feeds the soul," missions her expert anthology will zestfully support. Donna Seaman 

There's a line in a movie somewhere in which a character insists, "Read the book." I'm inclined to not stop with just this one. Her literary and cultural insights have been most stimulating. Anyone still seriously attempting to understand what we've been experiencing as a culture these past fifty years would do well to get acquainted with Camille Paglia. I've determined to press on, convinced that I will be enriched. I believe you will be, too. 

*Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

2 comments:

My Inner Chick said...

--In so many ways, poetry has saved me.

I shall def. check out this book of poems.

thank you.

ENNYMAN said...

Yes, poetry is one of the finest of the arts.... This is certainly a worthy collection.
thanks for the coment.
e