THOUGHTS WHILE JUDGING POETRY (#3)
Some blurbing patterns and observations as I go through the process of reading books for judging a poetry competition:
The BIG NAMES (like a Nobel Prize winner) can practice brevity or generality, because who cares what's said -- the point is their names are on the book as recommenders.
Some small names act like BIG NAMES.
Those who are experts in some field but not necessarily in poetry are often the most earnest -- and (relatively) long-winded -- as they craft a blurb that will show that their expertise elsewhere translates in sufficient poetic expertise such that they are legit blurbers for poetry (got that? Good).
It's quite clear that no one is discussing the purpose of blurbs. The point, as I once understood it a long time ago, is that a blurb is supposed to help persuade someone to actually buy the book. Now, poets are getting blurbs from even names which probably will be unrecognizeable to many (yes, Honey, your teacher may be known in your classroom but ...?) -- so who would care that Missy X thinks, to quote from one blurb, "[This book] is one of the most unsettling, timely, and technically marvelous new books I've read in a long, long time." But no one is really thinking to check this practice because (1) poetry doesn't sell much anyway and (2), to paraphrase that saying, The most famous poet is anonymous.
Another result of the above is that people don't bother to note, Conflict of Interest!, when authors blurb other poets who are published by the same publisher. Then again, I don't know why I bother nota bene-ing this when poets blurb folks they've slept with (not referring now to the books I'm reading but to other past incidents) .... Or maybe this is more honest: to wit -- if a poet blurbs another poet with whom s/he's had sex, is it likely that the lay was great? Now, what's the correlation between great sex and great writing? It's a reverse correlation, isn't it, when it comes to poetry....forgive Moi, I digress...
Actually, maybe there's another result of blurbs (whether or not such helps in selling a book). Someone once said that certain places don't review books that don't carry blurbs.
Does John Ashbery really hold the Guinness World Record for having provided the most blurbs? Coz lovely Denise Duhamel seems to have a shot at that record...!
One can tell if a blurber gave a close reading to a manuscript -- a give-away against a close reading is if the blurber uses the blurbing opportunity to fight one of the many tedious battles in the poetry world, e.g. something that starts, "If you think New Formalism is dead....." bla bla. If I never thought Formalism, old or new, is dead, does this mean I shouldn't continue reading the blurb? But a blurb that actually engages matters specifically in the book at least is respectable.
Many blurbers confuse "engages matters specifically in the book" with quoting excerpts.
I don't understand why many don't understand that the least effective blurbs are those that are offered by poets who *share community(ies)*. (Oh, I implicate moiself in this, too, but: think about it, will you!)
Still, most blurbers, I sense, are actually sincere in trying to be helpful and honest with their blurbs. I feel like I should praise these good-hearted people (and I do), but I also feel, um, pity and such sorta overwhelms the praise-gratitude I'd be inclined to give these people for trying to help out. Perhaps it's because the matter of blurbs is one of the many reasons that make me feel that poets need to have more pride than to allow themselves to abide by, instead of challenge, certain practices on how we're supposed to promote poetry.
I should get back to my BLURBED BOOK PROJECT....if only because THIS may be a false start to it. The adoption really upended this project, among others.
There's enough hot air in blurbs to create an alternative energy industry -- at least to power things like my son's holiday present of hand-made rockets. We set this one off recently at one of vineyards supplying the HIGHLY-RECOMMENDED!(I promise that "blurb" comes without prior sex even though their wines are great facilitators of such) Dutch Henry Winery: