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


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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2005

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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