Saturday, March 26, 2005

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.

-- Clive James, reviewing Camille Paglia's Break, Blow, Burn in this weekend's NY Times Book Review.

No comments: