Break, Blow, Burn: Day One

I don't know if I was ever in love with poetry but, if I had been, the feeling disappeared a long time ago. I remember way back in high school or even college, that I had some slight attraction to the "Romantic" poets Byron, Keats, and Shelley. Keats being my favorite, although I'd be hard-pressed to recite a single line of "Ode on a Grecian Urn," or come up with a second title of anything he's written.

The last poem I recall reading was probably a few years back, when I was greatly interested in the life and work of Oscar Wilde, and read his Ballad of Reading Gaol.

But there has always been some spark that draws me to poetry, just to tune my nature to the power and beauty that can exist when two words combine to create resonance. I fear, as I work on my novel, that there is a feeling that if you shovel enough prose into a book, your point will definitely find its way in there. And, admittedly, there is more opportunity within the long expanse of a novel to get away with such transgressions. Although my preference is to tighten the book and trust that fewer, more carefully chosen words will always serve me better.

So, my interest in becoming a better student of poetry is to serve my desire to write novels and reinforce the notion that less is almost always better.

That said, it's been hard for me to find a suitable entry point to poetry. Most of the modern stuff I've heard at spoken word events and open mic nights never felt like the carefully crafted prose I desired. They just seemed like diary entries with cadence. I also never really felt that I developed enough of a love for poetry to push my way through hundreds of pieces of coal to find one diamond.

When Camille Paglia's "Break, Blow, Burn" came out, I immediately bought the hardcover, and had her sign it at her book tour stop in Oakland. I've always loved Paglia's views on pop culture, politics, and the need to build a curriculum with art taking center stage. (Trivia: My first-person story about coming out online appeared in Issue #666 of The Advocate, which featured Paglia on its cover with the headline "Attack of the 50 ft. Lesbian)

The book came out in 2005 and has sat ever since on my shelf, only opened that once to allow Paglia to sign it. So, for National Poetry Month this year, it seems a good opportunity to finally dive into it, and make it a bit of a community project here. The stuff I'll write will be my own feelings about the poems, delving into the context and criticism given by Paglia, and whatever else happens to come out in the essays.

In the introduction to "Break, Blow, Burn," Paglia establishes that she is an advocate of close reading, which is the methodology also endorsed by Francine Prose in her 2006 book, "Reading Like A Writer, which I also read and enjoyed. She writes that the destruction of New Criticism by post-structuralism was "a cultural disaster from which higher education has yet to recover."

Her introduction covers her academic path, people who influenced her and, of course, her love of current media ("Those who turn their backs on media ... have no gauge for monitoring the metamorphosis of English.").

While Paglia is shocked at the state of modern poetry, finding today's most honored poets known more for their body of work than any individual pieces, the biggest takeaway is how seriously she takes the craft of poetry as well as its study.

Her advice to readers is to get to a place where everything else slips away and you can "Let the poem speak." Enable it to come to life within the white space on the page.

So, for the next 29 days, that is what I intend to do. Following the schedule printed here, I am going to immerse myself into the world of poetry.

I'm excited by the prospect, inspired by my teacher, and curious to see what will happen over the course of the next month.

So, today, I would encourage people to write about their journey with poetry. How did you get to where you are today as a poetry lover, hater, writer, or critic? What role does it play in your life?

And, tomorrow, we start the month off with Shakespeare, examining Sonnets 73 and 29, The Ghost's Speech.


rainbowboi's picture

My 'journey with poetry'

Well...I used to hate poetry. Why not just say what you mean? Why do you have to be all cryptic about it? That's how I used to feel and I guess I still kind of do feel that way. But at school this year, during first semester, we read a lot of poetry in English class, including many from her book. Reading those poems and really getting the opportunity to analyze and discuss them in a class made me appreciate poetry much more than I ever had before. It's still not something I would necessarily choose to pick up and read (unless it's a Shakespearean play maybe), but I definitely have come to enjoy it more than I used to. The feeling I get when I realize what the poet is saying is so satisfying to me--it's as if I have just solved a little puzzle. Still though, I would much rather they just say want that meant, instead of making the reader work for it.