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Break, Blow, Burn, by Camille Paglia
By CLIVE JAMES
BREAK, BLOW, BURN
By Camille Paglia.
247 pp. Pantheon Books. $20
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.
One measure of her quality as a commentator is that those two subjects are not in the reverse order. In view of her wide knowledge, her expressive gifts, her crackling personality and the inherent credibility problems posed by looking too much at her ease on top of a pair of Jimmy Choos, it is remarkable how good Paglia can be at not putting herself first. From this book you could doubt several aspects of her taste in poetry. But you couldn't doubt her love of it. She is humble enough to be enthralled by it; enthralled enough to be inspired; and inspired enough to write the sinuous and finely shaded prose that proves how a single poem can get the whole of her attention. From a woman who sometimes gives the impression that she finds reticence a big ask, this is a sure index of her subject's importance to her, and one quite likely to be infectious. My own prescription for making poetry popular in the schools would be to ban it -- with possession treated as a serious misdemeanor, and dealing as a felony -- but failing that, a book like this is probably the next best thing. If she doesn't make a poem sound like something dangerous, at least she makes it sound like something complicated. Students grown wary of pabulum might relish the nitty-gritty.
The term ''a poem'' is one we have to use, because our author is strong on the point that a poet should be measured by individual poems, and not by a ''body of . . . work.'' To a reader from outside America, she sounds tremendously right about this, but inside America her view is likely to go on smacking of subversion for some time to come. One can only hope that the subversion does its stuff. Good poems are written one at a time: written that way and read that way. Even ''The Divine Comedy'' is a poem in the first instance, not part of a body of work; and even in Shakespeare's plays there are passages that lift themselves out of context. (''Shakespeare the poet,'' she says, ''often burns through Shakespeare the dramatist, not simply in the great soliloquies that have become actors' set pieces but in passages throughout his plays that can stand alone as poems.'') The penalty for talking about poets in universal terms before, or instead of, talking about their particular achievements is to devalue what they do while fetishizing what they are.
This insidious process is far advanced in America, to the point where it corrupts not just the academics but the creators themselves. John Ashbery would have given us dozens more poems as thrilling as his jeu d'esprit about Daffy Duck if he had never been raised to the combined status of totem pole and wind tunnel, in which configuration he produces one interminable outpouring that deals with everything in general, with nothing in particular, can be cut off at any length from six inches to a mile, and will be printed by editors who feel that the presence in their publication of an isotropic rigmarole signed with Ashbery's name is a guarantee of seriousness precisely because they don't enjoy a line of it. Paglia, commendably, refuses such cargo-cult status even to Shakespeare.
Working chronologically from then to now, the book starts with him: Sonnet 73, Sonnet 29 and the Ghost's speech from ''Hamlet,'' each individually explicated. The Ghost's speech counts as a poem because we not only experience it as an especially intense and coherent episode, we remember it that way. A poem's demand to be held in the memory counts for a lot with Paglia. Notably sensitive to language, rhythm and technique as devices for getting meaning into your mind and making it stick, she persuades you, throughout the book, that she has her poems by heart, even if she doesn't favor the idea of memorizing them deliberately like a trainee spy scanning a room. Her readings of Shakespeare are close, fully informed by the scholarship and -- a harder trick -- fundamentally sane, thus auguring well for her approach to Donne, whose Holy Sonnet XIV supplies the book's title. But her sensitivity to George Herbert is the best early sign of her range of sympathy.
With Shakespeare, Donne and Marvell she has merely to convince her students, fresh from their gender studies, that a poet could call a woman his mistress without belittling her. With Herbert she has to convince them that a poet could feel the same passion about God. (''We follow the path of the all-too-human quester as he advances toward God, then retreats in confusion.'' That ''we'' could be a bit optimistic, but she might get lucky.) One of her best attributes is well brought out: her refusal to modernize the past. Her thorough background in cultural history -- the Italians, who should be proud of her parentage, would call her preparatissima -- is always in play. Her entertaining wealth of up-to-date pop-culture allusion is merely the top dressing, and she is usually careful not to strain after a faddish point. In her exemplary analysis of Shelley's ''Ozymandias,'' for example, she could easily have referred to the last scene of ''Planet of the Apes,'' when Charlton Heston looks up at the Statue of Liberty's head just as Shelley's ''traveler from an antique land'' looked up at the truncated legs of stone. I was rather expecting her to. Perhaps she has realized, however, that the pace of forgetfulness is always accelerating, and that we have moved from an era of people who have never heard of Shelley to an era of people who have never heard of Charlton Heston.
When she calls Yeats's ''Leda and the Swan'' ''the greatest poem of the 20th century,'' she makes one of her few sweeping statements. It isn't a bad one, but it doesn't do enough to offset an equally sweeping question from us. When the book moves toward modern times, it moves toward America. Whatever happened to the Old World it left behind? After Coleridge (a bold and convincing interpretation of ''Kubla Khan''), Yeats is the last European, living or dead, to get an entry. There are probably copyright reasons for choosing nothing by, say, Auden, and meanwhile there is the compensation of the way she can treat great American poets as accomplished artists without merely abetting the worship of icons. This coolly enthusiastic emphasis shows up clearly in her detailed admiration for Emily Dickinson. Paglia can see the epic in the miniature, an especially important critical gift when it comes to a poet who could enamel the inside of a raindrop. One would be glad to have a complete Dickinson annotated by Paglia. An utter contrast of destinies, it would be a meeting of true minds. Paglia, too, has a kind of solitude, though it might not sound that way. The media attention she attracts does little to modify her opinions. That might be partly why she attracts so much of it. The proud motto of every suckerfish is: we swim with sharks.
But the most threatening thing about her, from the American viewpoint, is that she refuses to treat the arts as an instrument of civil rights. Without talent, no entitlement. She has the powers of discrimination to show what talent is -- powers that add up to a talent in themselves. A critical scope that can trace the intensity uniting different artistic fields is not unprecedented in America, but she is an unusually well-equipped exponent of it. Making a solid attempt to pin down the sliding meanings of Wallace Stevens's little poem ''Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock,'' she brings in exactly the right comparison: a piano piece by Erik Satie. She compares the poem's ''red weather'' with a Gauguin seascape: right again. These comparisons help to define the Post-Impressionist impulse from which all the verbal music of Stevens's ''Man With the Blue Guitar'' emerged, while incidentally reminding us that Paglia, before she made this bid on behalf of poetry, did the same for painting, and with the same treasury of knowledge to back up her endeavor. But above all, her range of allusion helps to show what was in Stevens's head: the concentration of multiple sensitivities that propelled his seeming facility. ''Under enchantment by imagination, space and time expand, melt and cease to exist.'' Nobody has a right to a creative mind like his. It's a gift.
Students expecting a poem by Maya Angelou will find that this book is less inclusive than the average lineup for Inauguration Day. But there is a poem by Langston Hughes; and, even better, there is ''Georgia Dusk,'' by Jean Toomer. A featured player in the Harlem Renaissance of the early 1920's, Toomer transmuted the heritage of Southern slavery into music. So did the blues, but Toomer's music was all verbal. He was a meticulous technician, which is probably the main reason his name has faded. Paglia does a lot to bring it back, but she might have done even more. She concedes too much by saying his ''courtly, flowery diction'' was more Victorian than modernist. The same might have been said of John Crowe Ransom, and with equal inaccuracy. Toomer sounds to me like a bridge through time from Elinor Wylie, whom Paglia doesn't mention, to Richard Wilbur and Anthony Hecht, neither of whom she mentions either.
If she has a deaf spot, it lies on that wing. Favoring, with good reason, the American vernacular, she tends to set it up as something that supersedes European formality, as if it were possible for a poem to be overconstructed. But it can't. It can only be underpowered. If she had paid the same pinpoint attention to the complex interplay within Toomer's four-square quatrains as she pays to William Carlos Williams's free verse in ''The Red Wheelbarrow,'' she would have been able to show how a superficially mechanical form can intensify conversational rhythms by the tightness with which it contains them. It would have been a useful generosity. Hecht's reputation was injured when Helen Vendler found his forms limiting. On the contrary, they were limitless. As for Wilbur, his fastidiously carpentered postwar poems were part of the American liberation of Europe. Whether that liberation was a new stage in American cultural imperialism's road to conquest remains a nice question. One would like to have heard her answer. Such a discussion would lie well within her scope. But our disappointment that she stops short is a sign of her achievement. If we want a book to do more than what it does, that's a condemnation. If we want it to do more of what it does, that's an endorsement.
Occasionally there is cause for worry that her young students might listen too well. Three short poems by Theodore Roethke are praised without any warning that most of his longer poems, if the reader goes in search of them, will prove to be helpless echoes of bigger names. Ambition undid him, as it has undone many another American poet infected by the national delusion that the arts can have a major league. The short poem by Frank O'Hara should have been marked with a caveat: anything longer by the same poet will be found to have a lot less in it, because the urge to find a verbal equivalent for the apparent freedom of New York Abstract Expressionist painting led him to believe that he could mean everything by saying anything. Nor are we told that Robert Lowell would spend the later and incoherently copious part of his career making sure that he would never again attain the rhetorical magnificence of the opening lines of ''Man and Wife.'' But Paglia knows why, and how, those lines are magnificent: and in Lowell's case, among her specific remarks, there is a general one that typifies her knack of extending an aesthetic question into the moral sphere. Lowell's ''confessional'' streak insulted his loved ones. The same question is posed again by Sylvia Plath's ''Daddy,'' an agonized masterpiece by which Paglia is driven to a stretch of critical writing that stands out for its richness even in a rich book.
Applying her particularized admiration to rescue the poem from those who cite it as a mantra, Paglia points out an awkward truth about Plath as a feminist Winged Victory: her poetry was in ''erudite engagement with canonical male writers.'' A still more awkward truth is that the manner of Plath's suicide helped to set up her husband, Ted Hughes, as an abuser of women. Paglia defends Hughes against Plath, a defense that few feminists have dared to undertake. She also defends Plath's father against Plath, which might seem a quixotic move in view of the poem's subject matter, but does help to make the point that Plath, by calling her father a Nazi and identifying herself with millions of helpless victims, was personalizing the Holocaust in a way that only her psychic disturbance could excuse. Leaving out the possibility that Plath might have been saying she was nuts, Paglia does Plath the honor of taking her at her word. But you can't do her that honor without bringing her down off her pedestal. The poet used her unquestionable talent to say some very questionable things, and there's no way out of it. Paglia is tough enough to accept that conclusion: tough enough, that is, not to complain when she winds up all alone.
She seems to enjoy being alone. It's a handy trait for the sort of thinker who can't see an orthodoxy form without wanting not to be part of it. Google her for half an hour and you will find her fighting battles with other feminists all over cyberspace. Recording how she became, at the age of 4, ''a lifelong idolater of pagan goddesses'' after seeing Ava Gardner in ''Show Boat,'' she tells us why she is less than thrilled with Madonna. It's a view I share, but at least Madonna manufactured herself. Ava Gardner from North Carolina was manufactured in a Hollywood studio, as she was the first to admit. And what is Paglia doing, writing that an actress as gifted as Anne Heche has ''the mental depth of a pancake''? How many pancake brains could do what Heche did with David Mamet's dialogue in ''Wag the Dog''? And what about her performance in ''One Kill''? No doubt Heche has been stuck with a few bad gigs, but Paglia, of all people, must be well aware that being an actress is not the same safe ride as being the tenured university professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
Paglia by now should be famous enough to start throttling back on some of the stuff she is famous for. She might make a start with bitchery, for which she has a taste but no touch. The media want snide remarks from her the same way that the Sahara wants rain. But writers capable of developing a nuanced position over the length of an essay should not be tempted into believing that they can sum it up in a sound bite. Liberal orthodoxy will always need opposing, but not on the basis that all its points are self-evidently absurd. According to Paglia, gun abuse is a quirk of the sexually dysfunctional. That might be right, but people aren't necessarily deluded when they want a ban on the sort of gun that can kill a dozen people in half a minute. Waiting until everybody is sexually functional would be a long time to hold your breath.
NOR does Paglia's useful conviction that feminism, as an ideology, is as debilitating for individual responsibility as any other ideology make it true that women are now out of the woods. Only the misapprehension that she can be wise like lightning could explain her brief appearance, in ''Inside Deep Throat,'' to tell us that the cultural artifact in question was ''an epochal moment in the history of modern sexuality.'' On the contrary, it was a moronic moment in the history of exploitation movies made by people so untalented that they can't be convincing even when they masturbate.
But all these posturings by the madly glamorous Paglia happen only because, in the electrified frenzy of the epochal moment, she forgets that the lightstorm of publicity makes her part of the world of images. In her mind, if not yet in her more excitable membranes, she knows better than to mistake that world for the real one. This book on poetry is aimed at a generation of young people who, knowing nothing except images, are cut off from the ''mother ship'' of culture. The mother ship was first mentioned in her 2002 lecture called ''The Magic of Images.'' In the same lecture, she put down the marker that led to this book: ''The only antidote to the magic of images is the magic of words.'' She can say that again, and let's hope she does, in a longer edition of a book that shows her at her true worth. When you have proved that you can cut the mustard, it's time to cut the malarkey.
Clive James's most recent book is ''As of This Writing: The Essential Essays, 1968-2002.''
Saturday, April 2, 2005 Page D6
Break, Blow, Burn
By Camille Paglia
Pantheon, 247 pages, $27
Camille Paglia has a brisk, intense and powerful understanding of poetry. "My secular but semimystical view of art is that it taps primal energies, breaks down barriers, and imperiously remakes our settled way of seeing," she writes in her introduction to Break, Blow, Burn, which treats us to her reading of 43 of the "world's best poems."
I like very much the acknowledgment present in "semimystical," that we do not know, we cannot "prove" what it is that art, or more particularly poetry, does, or why, finally, we value poetry. That our estimation of poetry can only go so far on purely logical or argumentative grounds, that the value we assign to King Lear or Wordsworth's Intimations of Immortality emerges from a territory beyond or indifferent to the cold measurements of reason.
It's bold of Paglia to begin by acknowledging that every poem is an act of faith, and that a poem's effectuality retains a core of mystery. The insight is not a new one. Poetic inspiration has been viewed since the birth of poetry as a form of "divine madness," or afflatus, the poet as a vessel possessed or inspired. It's bold because, although Paglia begins by declaring some essential part of poetry to be beyond reason, the whole point of Break, Blow, Burn is to bring to poetry as much as reason can carry.
This is both a handbook for poetry readers and, at the very least, an implicit defence of poetry. Its principal virtue is its very straightforwardness. Paglia reads her 43 poems not for their politics, not for their message or sentiment, but because they are unique verbal creations. She is reading poetry for itself. She is not reading Shakespeare's wonderful Sonnet 73 (That time of year thou may'st in me behold) in order to "situate" it in imperial discourse, or to draw up an indictment against 16th-century patriarchy, or to chase down a theory that it wasn't actually written by Shakespeare, but "appropriated" from his marginalized sister. In the world of Paglia, poems have authors, they are made of words and they deploy the lexical resources of metaphor, allusion, argument and rhythm.
Poems are, have always been, crafted verbal artifacts of great and sometimes inexplicable resource that speak, each in its unique fashioning, to the permanent themes of life, death, beauty, art and love. Paglia is explicit on this point in her introduction: "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. Each reading is partial, but that does not absolve us from the quest for meaning, which defines us as a species."
Consequently, she is serious about wanting the unique pleasures and insights of poetry available to as many people as possible. She wishes to minimize the distance between the poem and those who would like to receive it. Being practical as well as intelligent, Paglia has chosen a direct way of bringing people within the circle of poetry's noble endeavours: Offer a number of poems, each with a distilled and detailed commentary.
Until very recently, from Samuel Johnson to the advent of modern politico-criticism, this has always been the approach to poetry. Bring as much real information -- lexical, historical, biographical -- to bear on a poem as one can, compare other readings, exercise one's taste and judgment, and allow -- over time and after several readings -- the poem to "settle." It was such a sensible recipe that, naturally, in an exquisite academic age, it had to go. Blow, Break, Burn is an attempt to bring it back. This approach has the great dividend of renovating one's appreciation for poems one already knows, and teasing the appetite for familiarity with those, in my case chiefly in the latter half of the book, one does not know.
Fully half of Paglia's selections are true classics, ranging from a couple of Shakespeare's sonnets, a love poem by Donne, Marvell's To His Coy Mistress, Coleridge's Kubla Khan, some familiar Emily Dickinson, and a brace of Yeats's masterworks, The Second Coming and Leda and the Swan. It's pleasant to watch another mind read these poems, teasing out themes, remarking on aspects of form and diction and how these technical elements "work" a poem's effect.
Paglia sees the unity of poetry, that all good poems have a vital relation with one another and with the idea of poetry. The devices of poetry, its craft and technique and themes, are consistent, recurrent and, in essence, the same in Homer's day as in the time of Yeats. She's adept in her brisk, concentrated expositions at drawing thematic comparisons and contrasts, underlining recurrent poetic concerns, such as how much of poetry -- Kubla Khan, for instance -- is both a statement about and an enactment of the artistic act of creation.
Her method is close explication, guided readings unravelling the knottier allusions, not too intensely technical but giving notice to the poetic form -- sonnet, lyric, narrative -- and suggestively offering her own account of theme and aim. For instance, her treatment of Leda and the Swan offers a modest assistance with the mythological references at the poem's centre, how the rape of Leda was the primal spring of the Trojan war: "A shudder in the loins engenders there/ The broken wall, the burning roof and tower/ And Agamemnon dead."
Her reading moves out to demonstrate how the poem is in fact a synecdoche for the even larger theme of Western history, when she claims, correctly in my view, that "Yeats portrays Western culture as inseminated with treachery and violence" -- the "inseminated" taken from the poem itself, a typically astute touch. She is implicitly demonstrating as well the awful force of poetry, that in its "little room," a masterwork such as this can contain, can animate, can speak an aspect of the entire world.
She makes one other telling connection, with the one poem most identified with the fragmentation, despair or violence of the modern era, Eliot's The Waste Land , and offers the interesting insight that "Agamemnon dead" might have a secondary meaning, "that classical culture no longer feeds and informs the present."
This excellent handbook will defuse the fear with which novices instinctively approach poetry. Paglia is not artsy; she respects poetry and responds deeply to it, but she doesn't gush. She's not a soft-voiced, soft-minded evangelical who makes poetry a mix of advice column and a cloud of verbal incense. People looking to poetry for "help in their relationships" or a link to some mushy, cosmic Oprahworld had best pass on by.
If, however, readers wish to know something about the craft of Shakespeare's sonnets, or the density of allusion and how such allusion "works" in The Second Coming, or how Marvell structures his witty seduction, or what Emily Dickinson (Paglia shares with Harold Bloom, her mentor, a marvellous ability to read Dickinson) achieves in her fiercely concentrated mini-lyrics -- then this book is for them.
The handful of truly modern poems included here show a generosity of inclusion, but represent, for me at least, a falling-off. I admire the catholicity that sees Joni Mitchell's Woodstock appear with Sonnet 73, but I'm not convinced that "We are stardust, we are golden" works from the same standard of intelligence, complexity or aesthetic effect as "when yellow leaves, or few, or none, do hang/ Upon those boughs which shake against the cold/ Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang."
I don't think some of Paglia's modern selections can be justified as among "the world's best poems." May Swenson's At East River is at best interesting, Paul Blackburn's The Once-Over is a clever urban sketch, Gary Snyder's The Pond is a slight imagist leftover, and Rochelle Kraut's My Makeup is hardly more than a not too clever epigram. These works cannot bear the weight of intelligence and commentary brought to them. And they destabilize the book: It's a seesaw, with Wallace Stevens just before the fulcrum point, and all the rest of the moderns high in the air just from the sheer gravity of every other poet before him.
But taste, as the ancient aphorism has it, cannot be disputed, and if Mitchell serves as bait or appetizer for Donne and Shakespeare, I have little quarrel. What really counts is the determined and grounded analysis of each selection, the presentation of what each poem is doing, and Paglia's persistent reminder that poetry counts, that it is not idle ornament, a wistful beguilement of an idle hour, but that it inflects our transactions with others, with history, with life.
In an all-too-brief introduction, we are given glimpses of what Paglia sees as the function of poetry in our time: that it is a stay against the fevered impermanences of our electronic and computer age, the glittery static of mass amusement and high-stimulus, low-brainpower pop culture. Poetry has weight. It does not dissipate. It extends the reach and depth of our consciousness, and it binds us to themes and sensations that belong to our kind over time. She reminds us that poetry -- art -- is mankind's rebuttal against the transitory. And in a culture that is more flotsam than sea, this brief, enthusiastic book is a needed reminder.
Contributing reviewer Rex Murphy is the host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup, a commentator and reporter for CBC-TV's The National and a columnist for The Globe and Mail.
The pleasures of poetry
BY JOHN FREEMAN
John Freeman is a writer in New York.
March 27, 2005
The Hubba-Bubba pink cover art on her new book notwithstanding, Camille Paglia is courting a lower profile these days. "Oscar Wilde was a huge influence on me," says the firebrand on a recent Thursday at the Philadelphia College of Art, where she has taught for two decades. "He believed in the strong critic, and I've done that. I'm there in most of my books; boy am I there. With 'Break, Blow, Burn,' however, I tried to make myself as invisible as possible."
It might sound like an odd statement coming from the author of "Sexual Personae," which put its stiletto heel on the throat of mainstream feminists and kept it there for much of the '90s. But Paglia, 57, insists she's not showing a kinder, gentler side, or making nice. After all, "thanks to Madonna," she says, "the whole pro-sex wing of feminism which had been ostracized since the '60s came back with a vengeance. And we won. We won massively. Now, Catherine McKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, you hardly see their names anywhere."
No, by her estimates those battles are now border skirmishes. What Paglia wants to do next is get Americans to read poetry again. And so we have "Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads 43 of the World's Best Poems" (Pantheon, $20). "This took me five years," Paglia says, dressed tidily in a check blazer and jeans, hair sporting the trademark feather and wave. "Along the way I've encountered so many people in the publishing world, in magazines, who said to me, you know, 'I always keep up with the new novels, but not poetry.' These are really literary people, and even they feel poetry no longer speaks to them."
So Paglia has put down her Molotov cocktails and picked up the lyre to sing the praises of 43 poems, ranging from Shakespeare and Wordsworth to Sylvia Plath and Gary Snyder. An essay follows each poem that explains the poet's significance and then proceeds to describe what is interesting, unique and, yes, pleasure-giving about the poem. "The child-like pleasure principle is crucial to approaching art," Paglia says. "If you don't approach art like that, then you don't know anything about how it's made!"
Paglia first encountered poetry as a child, and even tried writing it well into her late teens. She suspects this early appreciation came from a certain Italian-American culture of good craftsmanship. "All four of my grandparents were born in Italy; my mother was born there. From my earliest years, they gave me little objects from the Vatican, little statuaries, a sense of stone-cutting, and basket-weaving, and wood-working. No matter what your job was during the day, there was a sense of the made object."
In "Break, Blow, Burn," Paglia approaches poetry with a similar kind of reverence for craft, noting, for example, the way Shakespeare strings a sentence along in Sonnet 29 to create a palpable tension, leaving it unrelieved until the poem's final rhyming couplet, "For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings/ That then I scorn to change my state with kings." It is no accident that the book's title comes from a poem by Donne. "I've always loved that poem," says Paglia, "in part because he compares God to a potter."
In addition to craft, the other qualities key to Paglia are spontaneity and improvisation. It's why she has chosen Shakespeare and Joni Mitchell as the two bookends for "Break, Blow, Burn," and it's also why she continued reading poetry past the age when most Americans put it down. "Poets who had a big impact on me in the '60s were beatniks, these folks who got drunk and messed around and were hobos and eccentrics. But then as colleges began to have more of these creative writing programs, poets retreated to a world of their own. They became more and more insular, and their world became more and more professionalized."
Paglia puts some of the blame for poetry's further marginalization on critics' shoulders, too. "Thanks to 25 years of post-structuralism in our elite colleges, we have this idea now that you are supposed to use your pseudo-sociological critical eye to look down on the work and find everything that's wrong with it," Paglia says, talking so quickly she has to pause and take a deep breath before continuing. "The racism, sexism, homophobia, imperialism. This style of teaching just nips students' enthusiasm in the bud."
A professor for more than 34 years, Paglia has structured "Break, Blow, Burn" like a class in reading poetry, but it also feels like a strange kind of greatest-hits collection. William Blake rubs shoulders with Chuck Wachtel; California poet Wanda Coleman nuzzles William Carlos Williams. Paglia admits her selection is a bit eccentric, and she wishes it could be longer.
"I searched and searched for the [right] Bukowski poem," Paglia says, revealing her predisposition to some old favorites. "But I couldn't find it. I found a lot of poems where there is great stuff in the poem but no truly great poem." From beyond the grave, Bukowski has no reason to sniff, however. Other poets who didn't make the cut include Seamus Heaney, John Ashbery and virtually every living American who has won the Pulitzer Prize.
Instead, we get the classics, and happy surprises, and poems by folks such as Paul Blackburn, whose "The Once Over" describes a subway car traveling downtown, its passengers enraptured by the image of a beautiful woman. "It has been condemned for sexism, as you can imagine," Paglia says, once again treading across controversy's high wire. "But this to me is a classic poem of my time. There's a mysterious girl in a beautiful dress, and everyone is staring at her. That's it. That's the entire thing. It's so wonderful, the way he captures that moment, and that's the purpose of reading poetry - which is that it teaches you to notice what other people don't notice. To find significance in the insignificant."
Wednesday, April 06, 2005, 09:14 A.M. Pacific
Paglia deconstructs poems she labels "best"
Special to The Seattle Times
"Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads
Forty-Three of the World's Best Poems"
by Camille Paglia
Pantheon, 272 pp., $20
With its flamingo-pink cover and sensational title (taken from a John Donne sonnet), Camille Paglia's book "Break, Blow, Burn" is supposed to be aimed at a general audience. It's a selection of 43 English-language poems, from Shakespeare to Joni Mitchell, that the professor and firebrand critic counts among the world's best. Each poem is accompanied by a punchy explication, with comments that range from illuminating to overbearing.
It's hard to figure out who the book's real audience will be. Paglia's introduction boils with the rancor that divides English-department faculty members into warring factions. Yet for those who've left that political battleground behind, her pronouncements generate little heat. From out here in the real world, the "sneering poststructuralists" whom Paglia demonizes in her introduction are something of a yawn.
Paglia's explications, while impressive in the array of knowledge she displays, are the kind of essays a brilliant student might write to dazzle her professors. They'll surely be helpful to scholars who want a quick fix of poetic Cliffs Notes, but how many readers want to be told that in William Wordsworth's "The World is Too Much With Us," the tone is "flat, severe, dismissive"? The poem is plenty capable of speaking for itself.
Paglia defines her critical stance as Old Historicism, which views poems as artifacts of a particular place and time, elucidated in part by the poet's biography. She takes a few jabs at the mid-20th-century school of New Criticism (based on a close analysis of a poem's language and form) for its disdain of popular culture.
For Paglia, pop culture stands as "the authentic native voice of America." So why does she act like it's radical to reach back to the 1960s to canonize the lyrics of Joni Mitchell? No revelation there.
I agree with Paglia that the historical context of a poem and information about the author's life can help deepen our understanding of the work. If only she had stuck with that. The book's greatest offense is its presumptuousness. Paglia defines criticism as an act of divination and sets herself up as an oracle mediating between us lesser mortals and the poem.
One of her more outrageous explications is of Sylvia Plath's famous poem "Daddy." At one point Paglia declares, "The poet dissolves her patient, cultivated mother (who warmly supported her daughter's literary endeavors) into the general pack of do-gooders and busybodies who don't understand her and thwart her deepest desires." What gives Paglia the authority to tell us that Plath's experience of her relationship with her mother was wrong?
In the foreword to a new edition of Plath's book "Ariel," the poet's daughter Frieda Hughes describes the way Plath's poems have become mirrors for the psychological issues of those who write about them. "It was as if the clay from her poetic energy was taken up and versions of my mother made out of it, invented to reflect only the inventors, as if they could possess my real, actual mother, now a woman who had ceased to resemble herself in those other minds. I saw poems such as 'Lady Lazarus' and 'Daddy' dissected over and over, the moment that my mother wrote them being applied to her whole life, to her whole person, as if they were the total sum of her experience."
Great poetry survives its critics. Much as I appreciate Paglia's love of poetry and her ability to make well-grounded observations, I wish she hadn't passed over the primary rules of reading poems: Don't assume your interpretation is gospel. And beware of confusing the poet with the poem.
Sheila Farr is the visual arts critic for The Seattle Times.
March 18, 2005
Burn : Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World's Best Poems
by Camille Paglia
Pantheon, 272 pp.
Learning to Read Poetry Again (with Camille Paglia as your Professor)
Blest be anyone who, in this age of meretricious materialism, nascent narcissism, and hapless hedonism, returns us to poetry, to the joy of language for its own sake, for its distilled passion, and for its summons to discipline, in both writer and reader. Camille Paglia’s Break, Blow, Burn is a reading of forty-three English language poems ranging from Shakespeare’s sonnets to a Joni Mitchell lyric. Her title is from one of John Donne’s so-called “Holy Sonnets,” where he appeals to God to overwhelm him, possess him, and transform him. Paglia explains, “My secular but semimystical [sic] view of art is that it taps primal energies, breaks down barriers, and imperiously remakes our settled way of seeing.” Operating wholly within the secular city of the present, she avers nonetheless, that “the sacred remains latent in poetry.”
Anyone who has read Paglia heretofore knows that she thrives in polemic and is never afraid of a good fight. In choosing to write a book which might curiously look conventional, she is in fact throwing down the gauntlet again. “In gathering material for this book, I was shocked at how weak individual poems have become over the past forty years. Our most honored poets are gifted and prolific, but we have come to respect them for their intelligence, commitment, and the body of their work. They ceased focusing long ago on production of the powerful, distinctive, self-contained poem.” She goes on to say that they have lost ambition, which may mean vision, and the confidence that they can speak to their age and thus typically “treat their poems as meandering diary entries.” “To be included in this book,” she proclaims, “a poem had to be strong enough …to stand up to all the great poems which precede it.” The reader may or may not agree with her thesis, but the reader will likely puzzle over her inclusion of Robert Lowell’s most confessional “Man and Wife” as one of her standards against which so many lesser poems are to be judged.
But the worth of this book will be found not in quibbling with her choices, for we all would come up with our own idiosyncratic list, but in whether her readings are helpful to us. I think they are, mostly. Paglia’s passion for poetry reminds one of the cliché that often the best response to poetry is to write one’s own poetry. She rightly critiques the many ideologies which have risen in recent years, especially post-structuralism with its confessional cant, precious terms, and unearned condescension, and rightly reveres the gift of the so-called New Criticism with its respect for the text and its effort to return us to what the poet actually said in the way actually said. Nonetheless, she frequently departs from the canons of such criticism for her own impassioned subjective response to the text. I find no fault with this for she is a woman unabashedly in love with her subject. In her analysis of May Swenson’s impressionistic poem “At East River,” she concludes, “For her, the artist is not a better person but someone who makes us see better.” Paglia makes us see better.
Is the purpose of literary criticism to “explain a text”? Too often, whether in classroom or in essay, the critic summarizes the content, points to the game afoot, and adjudicates thumbs up or thumbs down. Recalling Empson’s studies half a century ago that graduate students rated poets by their reputation, not their own capacity to read for themselves and form judgments for themselves, we find that too often literary critics act as if the poem is some fortune cookie which, cracked open by the critic, reveals its secret message. We are grateful to the critic for having made the “message” available to us, but do we understand the poem? Too often, then, literary criticism becomes a testimony to the subjective biases of the critic and less the provision of an entry into the mystery of the creative process. Thus, when we have explained the poem, we have not explained it.
Paglia risks all this contradiction. She affirms the deliberative neutrality of the new criticism, and yet is a passionate partisan for her own perspective. Her reading of Plath’s “Daddy,” for example is both explication de texte, subjective response, and engagement of the strong emotions stirred by the poem (I would emphasize some other aspects of the poem, plus emphasize that Plath’s unspoken complaint against her Father is that he had the bad manners to die and abandon her to her Mother, but that is my reading). Paglia successfully lets us know that war is going on, not only in the themes of the poem, in the poet’s life, but in the reader who also is not allowed neutrality in the end.
Perhaps because I was least familiar with some of her contemporary, hip, experimental poems, I found myself most learning from Paglia’s observations. She values the rich mythos of contemporary pop culture and rightly finds high drama coursing through the most mundane of images. Reading the presence of the spirit in the guise of tangible image is the high calling of the critic, the cleric, and the depth psychologist. This reading Paglia does as well as anyone and, whether one agrees with her or not, she enlarges her reader. Matthew Arnold noted that literary epochs may tend to swing between moments of creative impulse and critical consideration. He noted that, after the decades of high romanticism, he lived in an age of criticism, as do we. Paglia reminds us that criticism is also, in the hands of some, creativity of a high order, and her gift is to keep both poetry and passion in our face.
is a Jungian Analyst in Houston, Texas
where he is also Executive Director of the Jung Educational Center,
and author of numerous books including the forthcoming
Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life : How to Finally, Really Grow Up.
San Antonio Express-News
Paglia's latest passion is promoting poetry
Web Posted: 04/03/2005 12:00 AM CST
Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads 43 of the World's Best Poems
By Camille Paglia
PHILADELPHIA — The Hubba-Bubba pink cover art on her new book notwithstanding, Camille Paglia is courting a lower profile these days.
"Oscar Wilde was a huge influence on me," says the 58-year-old firebrand on a recent Thursday at the Philadelphia College of Art, where she has taught for two decades. "He believed in the strong critic, and I've done that. I'm there in most of my books, boy am I there.
"With 'Break, Blow, Burn,' however, I tried to make myself as invisible as possible."
It might sound like an odd statement coming from the author of "Sexual Personae," which put its stiletto heel on the throat of mainstream feminists and kept it there for much of the '90s. But Paglia insists she's not showing a kinder, gentler side.
After all, "Thanks to Madonna," she says, "the whole pro-sex wing of feminism, which had been ostracized since the '60s, came back with a vengeance. And we won. We won massively. Now, Catherine McKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, you hardly see their names anywhere."
No, by her estimate those battles are now border skirmishes. What Paglia wants to do next is get Americans to read poetry again. And so we have "Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads 43 of the World's Best Poems."
"This took me five years," Paglia says, dressed tidily in a check blazer and jeans. "Along the way I've encountered so many people in the publishing world, in magazines, who said to me, you know, 'I always keep up with the new novels, but not poetry.' These are really literary people, and even they feel poetry no longer speaks to them."
So Paglia has put down her Molotov cocktails and picked up the lyre to sing the praises of 43 poems, ranging from Shakespeare and Wordsworth to Sylvia Plath and Gary Snyder. An essay follows each poem which explains the poet's significance, and then proceeds to describe what is interesting, unique and, yes, pleasure-giving about the poem.
"The childlike pleasure principle is crucial to approaching art," Paglia says. "If you don't approach art like that, then you don't know anything about how it's made!"
In "Break, Blow, Burn," Paglia approaches poetry with a reverence for craft, noting, for example, the way Shakespeare strings a sentence along in "Sonnet 29" to create a palpable tension, leaving it unrelieved until the poem's final rhyming couplet: "For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings/That then I scorn to change my state with kings."
It is no accident that the book's title comes from a poem by 17th-century British poet John Donne.
"I've always loved that poem," says Paglia, "in part because he compares God to a potter."
In addition to craft, the other qualities key to Paglia are spontaneity and improvisation. It's why she has chosen Shakespeare and Joni Mitchell as the two bookends for "Break, Blow, Burn," and it's also why she continued reading poetry past the age when most Americans put it down.
"Poets who had a big impact on me in the '60s were beatniks, these folks who got drunk and messed around and were hobos and eccentrics. But then as colleges began to have more of these creative writing programs, poets retreated to a world of their own. They became more and more insular, and their world became more and more professionalized."
A professor for more than 34 years, Paglia has structured "Break, Blow, Burn" like a class in reading poetry, but it also feels like a strange kind of greatest-hits collection. William Blake rubs shoulders with Chuck Wachtel; California poet Wanda Coleman nuzzles William Carlos Williams. Paglia admits her selection is a bit eccentric, and she wishes it could be longer.
"I searched and searched for the 'right' Bukowski poem," Paglia says, revealing her predisposition to some old favorites. "But I couldn't find it. I found a lot of poems where there is great stuff in the poem, but no truly great poem."
From beyond the grave Bukowski has no reason to sniff, however. Other poets who didn't make the cut include Seamus Heaney, John Ashbery and virtually every living American who has won the Pulitzer Prize. Instead, we get the classics, and happy surprises, such as poems by folks like Paul Blackburn, whose "The Once Over" describes a subway car traveling downtown, its passengers enraptured by the image of a beautiful woman.
"It has been condemned for sexism, as you can imagine," Paglia says. "But this to me is a classic poem of my time. There's a mysterious girl in a beautiful dress, and everyone is staring at her. That's it. That's the entire thing. It's so wonderful, the way he captures that moment, and that's the purpose of reading poetry — which is that it teaches you to notice what over people don't notice. To find significance in the insignificant."
John Freeman is a writer in New York.
Camille Paglia's 'Break, Blow, Burn'
By Moira Muldoon
Sunday, April 3, 2005
"All literary criticism should be accessible to the general reader," Camille Paglia declares in her poetry anthology, "Break, Blow, Burn." Forty-three poems, ranging from the canonical (John Donne, Theodore Roethke, Emily Dickinson) to the decidedly un-canonical (Wanda Coleman and Joni Mitchell), are included here and for the most part her explications of each entry are plainspoken and direct -- exactly the kind of writing that will appeal to the general reader who's afraid of modern literary criticism.
The essays in "Break, Blow, Burn" -- which has been published just in time for National Poetry Month -- contain the sort of moments readers have come to expect from Paglia, the author of "Vamps & Tramps" and "Sexual Personae." She claims, for instance, that the flea in John Donne's "The Flea" is a rapist.
But for the most part, Paglia offers the sort of lucid textual criticism you'd expect from a good college professor. "It's as if the poem's disturbing theme -- the dead and their defeated hopes -- can barely be contained by traditional structure," she writes of Dickinson's use of five-line stanzas -- rather than the usual four -- in "Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers."
Paglia also pays meticulous attention to language, which can produce delightful insights as well as writing that's a pleasure in itself: "Words seem sticky, insinuating, invasive as we are drawn closer and closer to the grotesque scene," she writes of the ghost's speech in "Hamlet."
Not all the essays are as clear or well-argued, though. Paglia's explication of Yeats' "The Second Coming" makes leaps that are hard to follow. "Symbolically," she writes, "the falcon (a royal hunting bird) represents events escaping human control." But she offers no clear argument as to why this is so, other than the fact that the world was tumultuous when Yeats wrote the poem.
While the essays are largely accessible to the general reader, Paglia writes in her introduction that "Commentary on poetry is a kind of divination, resembling the practice of oracles, sibyls, augurs, and interpreters of dreams." The result, quite often, is writing that veers toward the oracular and the didactic. Many of her explications grew out of her work in the classroom, and rarely does her prose escape sounding teacherly.
In her first essay, on Shakespeare's Sonnet 73, Paglia writes: "The sonnet's three submerged quatrains are like fleeting, elegiac self-portraits: the poet as a year, a day, and a fire. . . . There is no reference here to God or an afterlife. Consciousness itself is elemental, an effect of light and heat that dissipates when our bodies are reabsorbed by nature."
Compare this to the great poet and Shakespearean scholar John Berryman's take on the same poem: "What renders it pathetic, in the good instead of the bad sense, is the sinister diminution of the time concept, quatrain by quatrain. We have first a year, and the final season of it; then only a day, and the final stretch of it; then just a fire, built for part of the day, and the final minutes of it; then -- entirely deprived of life, in prospect, and even now a merely objective 'that,' like a third-person corpse! -- the poet."
Consider the style. Paglia sounds like a professor speaking to students who are busily scrawling notes that probably won't make much sense to them the next day. Berryman is entranced by the poem and invites his readers into his excitement, allows them to see his thinking unfold. Paglia says all criticism should be accessible, and God bless her for it, but shouldn't accessible criticism help the reader learn to think about poetry? Shouldn't great criticism allow the reader a glance into the mind of the critic, so that the reader can see how the critic formulates her arguments, and thereby learn how to formulate her own arguments -- and no longer require an oracle?
As far as instructive writing goes, Paglia's is good. She brings in pertinent details from the poets' lives and eras, she provides the kind of solid groundwork that professors use to launch classroom discussions and she carefully defines her terms ("a quatrain is a set of four lines") -- though they're not always the terms one might wish she'd define. In her explication of Sonnet 73, she writes, "The insertion of 'in me' to start each quatrain gives the poem immediacy and urgency and encourages us, whether justified or not, in identifying the speaker with the poet (1, 5, 9)."
Perhaps so -- but what does it mean for a poem to be urgent? That's the kind of question that can puzzle and mystify the general reader. That's the kind of question that needs to be answered in plain language instead of pronounced divinely.
Moira Muldoon is a poet who writes the 'A Girl Walks Into a Bar . . .' column for XL Ent.
A poet battles -- and breaks free
In an excerpt from her new book, "Break, Blow, Burn," Camille Paglia takes on Wanda Coleman's poem "Wanda Why Aren't You Dead."
April 6, 2005 | Click here to read "Wanda Why Aren't You Dead."
A poem struggles to be born. The poet's mind is invaded by a raucous gang of nags, snoops, gripers, and doomsayers. Wanda Coleman's eponymous protagonist at first seems invisible. But the haranguing voices, with their multiple points of view, gradually sketch her ghost portrait, like a shimmering hologram. Making us share her exasperation and despair, she gains substance and presence until by the end she looms like an avenging Fury, beating off all opponents and willing the poem into existence.
Coleman's vernacular is so alive it practically jumps off the page. The snatches of boisterous conversation, as if overheard on the street or through a window, become hilarious through sheer excess. We get slang and profanity ("ain't," "goddamn") as well as African-American syncopated speech rhythms and idiomatic verb forms (a man "want" rather than "wants"; "girl, you crazy"; "you too serious"). There's a strange effect of claustrophobia yet speed, produced by the absence of stanza breaks and full punctuation. We can't escape the chattering racket. Language is an affliction or epidemic. Eleven questions (including the title) stream by without a question mark because the interrogators don't really want answers. Their loaded questions are acts of hostile encroachment -- or at least that's how the poet processes them in her cynicism and fatigue.
Coleman's persona adopts a stoic silence like George Herbert's in "The Quip," where the poet is derided by worldly temptations. Herbert italicizes his inner voice ("But thou shalt answer, Lord, for me") because it's unheard -- or rather heard only by the reader. Coleman too uses italics to signal her inner voice of resistance to materialism and status envy: "wanda why are you so angry." But Herbert's serene, priestly detachment is impossible for a single mother with "a ready-made family," deemed by others an obstacle to romance. She's enmeshed in practical responsibilities.
This poem is a classic drama of an individual pitted against the tyranny of the group. Coleman's protagonist is in transition between generations, races, and social classes. Little solidarity is evident within her home community, which is portrayed as competitive and coercive. Her habits and nascent wishes snake through the grapevine for review and debate by a catty chorus of family, friends, lovers, neighbors, and coworkers. Whatever her aspirations or achievements, she is doggedly judged by her appearance and male attachments. Even wellmeaning advice becomes subtly undermining.
Everything about her needs to be fixed -- according to the meddlers whose critiques she has dangerously begun to internalize. Her hairdo isn't black or hip enough. She's too fat, and her feet are too big. Her pay's mingy, her apartment's a dump, and despite all that, she should lighten up! Her sex life is under withering scrutiny: she's used goods, with dependents in tow. She's uppity for shunning black men -- a cunning provocation, of course, if it comes from a black man trying to seduce her. Even her exotic name is reductively redefined ("that's a whore's name"), making her scrabble for every iota of identity. She's bullied to embellish: any kinkiness -- bisexuality, promiscuity, sadomasochism -- would be better than her humdrum self.
Her tormentors' baiting insinuations mire her in subtext. "I think you need this" is a pusher's tagline coming from an intimate: drinks or drugs are just the elixir to normalize her -- or rather to make her receptive to the speaker's hidden agenda. Banal or squalid scenes are glimpsed as if by strobe light -- episodes of insensitivity, forgetfulness, or bad or careless sex ("i didn't know i was hurting you / that was an accident"). Medical crises make the body yet another betrayer. "I don't think they'll take that off of you": moles, tumors, and unplanned pregnancies all look the same to an arbitrary, impersonal health system.
Strangers patronize: "wanda what is it like being black" -- as if she were an anointed spokesman for her race, ready to recite on cue and condense an epic to an anecdote. The bystanders' most presumptuous claims -- "i know what you're thinking" and "i don't think you really mean that" -- evict her from her own mental space. The pestering voices are as mechanical as a broken record: "if i were you were you were you"; "that that that / that that that." Fill in the blanks. The real "hell hole" is not her shabby flat but the echo chamber of her overwrought brain. Words dull and drain or infest with clichés. The poem's refrain is her anger, alleged by third parties. Though we don't hear her responses, the climax -- "wanda you're ALWAYS on the attack" -- becomes intelligible by increments: anger is her energizer and defensiveness her armor, allowing her to think and write.
In the poem's visual design, the dense mass of negative comment rises like a black slab, a Tower of Babel. At the end, escaping lines float free, as if the poem were taking breath. Slowly gaining distance, the poet muses, "wanda wanda wanda i wonder / why ain't you dead." The wonder is that she survives and thrives. The poem asserts the life force amid daily wear and tear, small humiliations and frustrations. She endures, a Wonder Woman who can't vanquish enemies but knows how to deflect their bullets off her magic bracelets. Yoked to duty and routine, this Wanda can't wander like Walt Whitman but must hold her ground as she fends off the guilttrippers, parasites, and con artists. But she turns the painful struggle for selfhood into deliciously quirky comedy. The poem's lashing lines resemble "snaps" in an old African-American game, the "dozens," where duelists trade mock insults ("Yo' mama's so ugly, she'd scare moss off a rock"). It's an exercise in mental toughening: when the worst can be said, reality seems less harsh.
Chanting "wanda" nineteen times, the poem is like an exorcism, banishing impish spirits that grasp and scratch. Who is Wanda? The poem answers for her, as she wickedly parodies her detractors' voices. Their yammering stops with the door slam of the last word ("dead") -- the line recapitulating the more formal, teacherly title ("aren't" rather than "ain't"). The poet is definitely not dead: her salvation is her grit, resilience, and commitment to art making. This poem would be explosive in performance, with the poet's grumpy, sarcastic persona barreling through hindrances, then pausing a beat before bursting free. She has regained control of language and made it hers.
From the book "Break, Blow, Burn," by Camille Paglia. Copyright (c) 2005 by Camille Paglia. Published by arrangement with Pantheon Books, a division of Random House Inc.
wanda when are you gonna wear your hair down
wanda. that's a whore's name
wanda why ain't you rich
wanda you know no man in his right mind want a
why don't you lose weight
wanda why are you so angry
how come your feet are so goddamn big
can't you afford to move out of this hell hole
if i were you were you were you
wanda what is it like being black
i hear you don't like black men
tell me you're ac/dc. tell me you're a nympho. tell me you're
wanda i don't think you really mean that
you're joking. girl, you crazy
wanda what makes you so angry
wanda i think you need this
wanda you have no humor in you you too serious
wanda i didn't know i was hurting you
that was an accident
wanda i know what you're thinking
wanda i don't think they'll take that off of you
wanda why are you so angry
i'm sorry i didn't remember that that that
that that that was so important to you
wanda you're ALWAYS on the attack
wanda wanda wanda i wonder
why ain't you dead