Break, Blow, Burn

2005-03-15

Because I love poems and language, this excerpt from the introduction to Camille Paglia's new book made me want to yell "Amen, sister!" Some choice observations:

What fascinated me about English was what I later recognised as its hybrid etymology: blunt Anglo-Saxon concreteness, sleek Norman French urbanity, and polysyllabic Greco-Roman abstraction. The clash of these elements, as competitive as Italian dialects, is invigorating, richly entertaining and often funny, as it is to Shakespeare, who gets tremendous effects out of their interplay. The dazzling multiplicity of sounds and word choices in English makes it brilliantly suited to be a language of poetry....

My secular but semi-mystical view of art is that it taps primal energies, breaks down barriers and imperiously remakes our settled way of seeing. Animated by the breath force (the original meaning of "spirit" and "inspiration"), poetry brings exhilarating spiritual renewal. A good poem is iridescent and incandescent, catching the light at unexpected angles and illuminating human universals - whose very existence is denied by today's parochial theorists. Among those looming universals are time and mortality, to which we all are subject. Like philosophy, poetry is a contemplative form, but unlike philosophy, poetry subliminally manipulates the body and triggers its nerve impulses, the muscle tremors of sensation and speech....

Artists are makers, not just mouthers of slippery discourse. Poets are fabricators and engineers, pursuing a craft analogous to cabinetry or bridge building. I maintain that the text emphatically exists as an object; it is not just a mist of ephemeral subjectivities. Every reading is partial, but that does not absolve us from the quest for meaning, which defines us as a species.

The full title of Paglia's book is Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World's Best Poems; I'll review it here once I've read it.


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