Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Blurb and Be Blurbed: or, as ye blurb . . .

Blurb is not an attractive word. Visually it is at best whimsical, a bulging clown. Audibly it is the anti-onomatopoeia. A bl-ur-b is written in praise?
But it is.

From Wikipedia: "The concept of a 'brief statement praising a literary product' dates back to medieval literature of Egypt from the 14th century. The concept was known as taqriz in medieval Arabic literature." From medieval Arabic literature to God’s ears.

Movie blurbs are laughable—there are so many “best” movies of the year according to blurbs, Oscar ballots could be bound books rather than short lists.

As for fiction, I once heard an author—a good writer—at a reading—state he didn’t have time to read the books he blurbed. Maybe he was being flip?

It’s blurbs on back covers of poetry collections that interests me here, although I never gave them much thought until I had to ask poets to “blurb me.” I asked five and four agreed. (Their comments are at the end of this entry.) I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t admire their work and when I read the comments, I found temporary residence in another world where Sarah Sarai is a temple goddess of 3,000 loving arms and one heart, where chocolate is iridescent, where seersucker is the fabric of royalty.

The Future Is Happy is a first book. The fact that four poets were willing to link their names with mine made my present happy.

I don’t know that blurbs are necessarily useful or even necessary in helping me select books I like. Even if admired and beloved John Ashbery or Rita Dove recommend a book I’m not necessarily going to buy or like it. Taste is individual.

An acquaintance commented, on a social networking site, “Attention poetry publishers: when sending promo for a new book, don't even bother sending blurbs. Blurbs are bullshit and everyone knows it. Send sample poems and some kind of description. Really. A movie trailer shows scenes from a movie, right? Common sense. And poetry books are way more expensive than movie tix.”

My reaction was immediate and kneejerk, not to the sentiment (such as it is) but to the sweeping generalization. “Blurbs are bullshit and everyone knows it.” Are they? They reveal writing quality of the blurber at the very least, but also can convey a sense of WHY someone liked the book. Even briefer, they give a sense of the book.

This same poet added, “I just think it's a stupid custom, largely unquestioned although everyone I know mocks them.” EVERYONE?

Anyway. I'm not a total idiot. Every field is fixed at times by which I mean, some poets write praise they don't mean. I have read stupid blurbs of generic praise. I have doubted some poets ever internalized Camp Fire Girl, Girl Scout or Boy Scout codes of honesty.

You know. I was going to write my reaction to the blurbs on my book but realized I would be blurbing the blurbs which might invite another blogger to blurb the blurbs of my blurbs. Search on the BlazeVOX [books] catalog for a blurb written by one Sarah Sarai (for Charles Freeland’s Eros & (Fill in the Blank).

And, ta-dah, here are mine:

Sarah Sarai’s poems are charged with the terrible presence of the now and the dangerous fact of words. This is poetry as it should be. Scary, strange, generous, intensely in a physical world while illuminating an unimaginable spiritual world. This is writing that sings. The song it sings is the song of our hearts.

—Jack Wiler (Fun Being Me, I Have No Clue)
With both wit and tenderness, Sarah Sarai rigorously navigates the dialectics of knowledge and not knowing, thinking and being, the fantastic and the quotidian, the spiritual and the earthy, in language that is by turns crisp and lush. These are heady, whip-smart, funny and moving poems in which time becomes fluid and vertical—high-rise pageant of art, ephemera, filigree and memory through which our physical and temporal bodies spark and fall much too quickly.
—Lee Ann Roripaugh (On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year; Year of the Snake; Beyond Heart Mountain)
How often we hear it: "No ideas but in things." But Sarai throws pie in the face of such doctrine, and a tasty pie it is. Here, abstractions such as connection, morality and "sloppy forgiveness" form the crust of her work. But the filling, juicy with the polymorphous perversity of a living breathing world, teems with a compote of voices, textures, colors. Socrates, James Brown, Anna Karenina are tossed together with bebop, chili peppers and "100 billion neurons nipping maybe 268 mph." So much to chew on! The poet serves it all with an uncommon heart and broad-ranging intellect. The result is writing which is naked, urgent, frisky and sublime.
—Nina Corwin (Conversations with Friendly Demons and Tainted Saints; Inhabiting the Body: A Collection of Poetry and Art by Women-editor; Fifth Wednesday Journal-poetry editor)
Sarah Sarai’s poetry is hot-wired and hip-swivel all the way up the spine! Emily Dickinson is Jewish and Moses breaks tablets for stellar sex. She’s retained the best of modernism (especially that syncopated variable foot Charlie Parker bop in the word-love) and moved onto new red earth for her own vision. Eat this book! It’s terrific.
—Doug Anderson (The Moon Reflected Fire; Blues for Unemployed Secret Police; Keep Your Head Down-a memoir)

Buy The Future Is Happy from Amazon or Small Press Distribution.

Links to reviews are HERE!


See also: Polonius on Acid (re: art of the blurb)


  1. These blurbs make me want to read your book! I appreciate blurbs, I look at who wrote them, read them, then turn into the book to see what strikes me. It's a trio why I buy books, sometimes a quartet if I know the author. No blanket statements on blurbs!!

  2. Thanks much!
    And yeah, no blanket statements. Maybe a blurb is beside the point for Ashbery (although I'd write one for him) but it's something of a help for the rest of us. And there's also that suggestion to write your own. Many ways to go about it!