Camille Paglia on poetry

In my new book, Break, Blow, Burn, I offer
line-by-line close readings of 43 poems, from canonical Renaissance
verse to Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, which became an anthem for my
conflicted generation. In gathering material, I was shocked at how weak
individual poems have become over the past 40 years. Our most honoured
poets are gifted and prolific, but we have come to respect them for
their intelligence, commitment and the body of their work. They ceased
focusing long ago on production of the powerful, distinctive,
self-contained poem. They have lost ambition and no longer believe they
can or should speak for their era. Elevating process over form, they
treat their poems like meandering diary entries and craft them for
effect in live readings rather than on the page. Arresting themes or
images are proposed, then dropped or left to dribble away. Or, in a
sign of lack of confidence in the reader or material, suggestive points
are prosaically rephrased and hammered into obviousness. Rote formulas
are rampant – a lugubrious victimology of accident, disease, and
depression or a simplistic, ranting politics (people good, government
bad) that looks naive next to the incisive writing about politics on
today’s op-ed pages. To be included in this book, a poem had to be
strong enough, as an artefact, to stand up to all the great poems that
precede it. One of my aims is to challenge contemporary poets to
reassess their assumptions and modus operandi.

the 1990s, poetry as performance art revived among young people in
slams recalling the hipster clubs of the Beat era. As always, the
return of oral tradition had folk roots – in this case the incantatory
rhyming of African-American urban hip-hop. But it’s poetry on the page
– a visual construct – that lasts. The eye, too, is involved. The
shapeliness and symmetry of the four-line ballad stanza once structured
the best lyrics of rhythm and blues, gospel, Country and Western music,
and rock’n’roll. But with the immense commercial success of rock music,
those folk roots have receded, and popular songwriting has grown weaker
and weaker.

Read more here.  And here is the Amazon link, if you are willing to pre-order on the presumption that the book actually appears; Publishers Weekly gives the release date as April 1…

Thanks to for the pointer.


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