From Publishers Weekly
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. (Apr. 1)
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Brazen intellectual Paglia whipped up controversy as a liberator of critical thinking from priggishness and pretension, championing pop culture and pornography in erudite yet incendiary essays, last collected in Vamps & Tramps
(1994). Now in a more reflective mode, the diva of shock discourse and a veteran of 30 years of teaching, turns to poetry, an art form she treasures for its "exhilarating spiritual renewal." Paglia's seemingly racy title is found in one of John Donne's Holy Sonnets. It's an appeal to God, not a call to party, and serves as a sure indication that even though she's advocating for serious literature and "unfashionable" humanist values, she's as free of pedantry and as electrifying as ever. 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 SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved