Camille Paglia on the selection process for Break, Blow, Burn

Break, Blow, Burn, my collection of close readings of forty-three poems, took five years to write.  The first year was devoted to a search for material in public and academic libraries as well as bookstores.  I was looking for poems in English from the last four centuries that I could wholeheartedly recommend to general readers, especially those who may not have read a poem since college.  For decades, poetry has been a losing proposition for major trade publishers.  I was convinced that there was still a potentially large audience for poetry who had drifted away for unclear reasons.  That such an audience does in fact exist seemed proved by the success of Break, Blow, Burn, which may be the only book of poetry criticism that has ever reached the national bestseller list in the United States.

Read Camille Paglia’s lengthy article in Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics here.

9 thoughts on “Camille Paglia on the selection process for Break, Blow, Burn

  1. Michelle Post author

    Camille Paglia has some interesting and controversial opinions about various famous poets.

  2. johemmant

    Oh, how cool. I was looking for a cool poetry something that the kids could buy me for Christmas. Thanks, I’ll go tell Santa. Doesn’t she have a gorgeous name… couldn’t have a name like that and not be a poet.

  3. Michelle Post author

    She is an intellectual and critic, but she used to write poetry too. Check out Daniel Nester’s interview with her at Bookslut:

    Nester’s last question to Paglia in the interview is:

    “OK, one last question: Do you write poems?”

    She replies:

    “I did as a young person in high school. I did a little in college. And then I stopped. I felt that my love of poetry carried over to my prose. I think what I am doing is a sort of prose poem. I love Walter Pater, his writing on the Renaissance and the Mona Lisa, this low-key kind of prose poetry. I’m very influenced by that. I think I’ve absorbed that into my writing.”

    My feeling is she must be passionate about poetry in order to have untaken the compilation of an anthology like Break, Blow, Burn.

  4. christine

    I have read the essay you link to here. I hesitate to buy the book, though, because I’m not sure if I want her to explain all the poems to me. If I could read an excerpt or two of her critiques, that would help me make up my mind.

    She certainly used interesting criteria to choose the poems. She wanted a book of poems for those who usually don’t read poetry, didn’t she? It has become a New York Times bestseller, if I’m not mistaken. And she excluded a lot of poems that many poetry lovers adore. Her reasoning is sound, but her standards, oh, I could never live up to them as a writer!

  5. Michelle Post author

    I hear you, C. What I did find interesting is her strong opinions. I don’t agree with some of the things she’s written but I found it refreshing – and essays like this encourage and stimulate debate.


    If Camille Pagila is a poet, then it begs the question:

    Instead of busting her hump for five years trying to find a handful of existing poems that meet her approval — why she wouldn’t she spend that time composing her own book of poetry and demonstrating to everyone how it is supposed to be done?

  7. Dana

    I like Camille Paglia best when she’s giving talks with a giant phallus strapped on. Oh, the good old days! 😉

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