Clive James in the New York Times:
Clearly designed as a come-on for bright students who don’t yet know very much about poetry, Camille Paglia’s new book anthologizes 43 short works in verse from Shakespeare through to Joni Mitchell, with an essay about each. The essays do quite a lot of elementary explaining. Readers who think they already know something of the subject, however, would be rash if they gave her low marks just for spelling things out. Even they, if they were honest enough to admit it, might need help with the occasional Latin phrase, and they will find her analysis of individual poems quite taxing enough in its upper reaches. ”Having had his epiphany,” she says of the sonnet ”Composed Upon Westminster Bridge,” ”Wordsworth moves on, preserving his solitude and estrangement by shutting down his expanded perception.” Nothing elementary about that.
She flies as high as you can go, in fact, without getting into the airless space of literary theory and cultural studies. Not that she has ever regarded those activities as elevated. She has always regarded them, with good reason, as examples of humanism’s perverse gift for attacking itself, and for providing the academic world with a haven for tenured mediocrity. This book is the latest shot in her campaign to save culture from theory. It thus squares well with another of her aims, to rescue feminism from its unwise ideological allegiances. So in the first instance ”Break, Blow, Burn” is about poetry, and in the second it is about Camille Paglia.