Camille Paglia Break, Blow, Burn:
Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three
of the World's Best Poems.
Pantheon, 272 pages. $20

Does Camille Paglia contradict herself? She certainly does contain multitudes. How better to describe a homosexual atheist who has so much good to say about Roman Catholicism? A feminist who outraged feminists by claiming that, if raped, she would “dust herself off” and get on with things? A strange and controversial critic of art and culture with the almost comic brashness to call her most beloved poems the “world’s best”?

Well, a few adjectives spring to mind, but none are quite fair to the odd—albeit inconsistent—pleasure to be taken in reading her new book.

Paglia spent her girlhood in Endicott, a New York factory town, among “speakers of sometimes mutually unintelligible Italian dialects.” Her love of...

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