The Fall 2008 issue of Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics includes the piece, “Final Cut: The Selection Process for Break, Blow, Burn,“ by Camille Paglia.
I read Break, Blow, Burn and have a copy of it here somewhere, and while I don’t agree with every choice, what I appreciate about Camille Paglia is that not only does she have strong opinions, she’s quite passionate about voicing them.
Upon finishing this essay, you know exactly what she thinks about each poet and poem under discussion — there’s nothing more frustrating to me than reaching the end of a review and feeling no more enlightened about the critic’s true thoughts than when I began. (Though Joe Queenan has a funny counterpoint in this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review in a bit about overly-enthusiastic reviews.)
This is a lengthy and fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the process behind the book, which took Paglia 5 years to write. One characteristic excerpt (from the essay, not the book):
The obtrusive “ideas” in late Stevens have naturally provided grist for the ever-churning academic mill. But poetry is not philosophy. Philosophic discourse has its own noble medium as prose argumentation or dramatic dialogue. Poetry should not require academic translators to mediate between the poet and his or her audience. Poetry is a sensory mode where ideas are or should be fully embodied in emotion or in imagery grounded in the material world. Late Stevens suffers from spiritual anorexia; he shows the modernist sensibility stretched to the breaking point. Late Stevens is not a fruitful model for the future of poetry.
Most importantly, Paglia’s also called my attention to the poet David Young, whose book The Names of a Hare in English now seems an imperative need!