An indisputably terrific primer for all students of literature in English.

READ REVIEW

BREAK, BLOW, BURN

Cultural guru (Vamps and Tramps, 1994, etc.) and academic prophet (Humanities and Media Studies/Univ. of the Arts) Paglia offers a series of close, brief, and beautifully lucid readings of 43 poems, all written in English and most squarely within the canon.

Employing old-fashioned “explication of text” (a close line-by-line reading), the author aims to loosen these poems’ “primal energies”—which are subversive, sublime, re-creative, and accessible for all readers, she asserts. Paglia rejects the “spirit-killing” jargon of Post-Structuralism, which she blames for the demise of college literature departments, and returns here to her early New Criticism training by Milton Kessler and Harold Bloom. She makes respectable selections from early English poetry: two Shakespearean sonnets, “The Flea” and several exquisite Holy Sonnets by Donne, and Marvel’s “To His Coy Mistress” are all obvious choices, though three from George Herbert seems a bit excessive. Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, and Coleridge get one or two selections each to represent the Romantics. Paglia treats Whitman’s Song of Myself (parts 1 and 24) and three chilling poems by Dickinson in more welcome detail, reflecting her personal academic interests. Perhaps her most arresting choices are three Roethke poems, which pay gruesome attention to natural particulars. Jean Toomer’s “Georgia Dusk,” May Swenson’s “At East River,” Gary Snyder’s “Old Pond,” and Norman H. Russell’s “The Tornado” also display a strong sense of place within nature. Snyder aside, the Beats get short shrift, and Paglia receives minimum points for including multicultural writers and women, although Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” appears with an extended explication, and LA poet Wanda Coleman’s tormented, feminist “Wanda Why Aren’t You Dead” also makes the cut. But the fun of such a collection is disputing who gets in, who gets left out. Robert Lowell’s superbly sad “Man and Wife” stands in a class by itself, as do the lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s troubadour-fused “Woodstock,” which conclude the collection and reinforce Paglia’s zeal for mass media—lest the reader forget.

An indisputably terrific primer for all students of literature in English.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-42084-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2005

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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