Sunday, October 22, 2006

Gives Good Blurb

The short, unpleasant history of blurbs began on an appropriately bogus note. The first literary blurb in history was when Walt Whitman extracted a sentence from a private letter from Emerson and emblazoned the sage of Concord's words on the spine of the second edition of Leaves of Grass: "I greet you at the beginning of a great career." Emerson, of course, didn't mean an academic career, but his choice of words seems rather telling in retrospect.

Whitman made this move without even asking Emerson, embarassing his benefactor before his friends. It wasn't so much the actual words that caused chagrin, but the fact that Emerson's uncouth Brooklyn friend would even make the move in the first place. Those days, Americans still had some sense of rightful shame in the face of shameless self-promotion. And publishers didn't assume that readers needed to be told what what to read by a stranger.

Well, we all know what's happened since. Blurbs are now considered universally necessary as promotional moves, even though poetry doesn't sell. The blurbs themselves have evolved. Until the last couple of decades, their role was essentially to praise and describe. Now they seem more about the blurb's authors than the book they purport to promote.

Blurbing poets seem engaged in a continually intensifying contest to see who can come up with the most outrageous act of hyperbole. And where only a short time ago, poets seemed resigned to blurbs as a kind of disagreeable fact of the publishing world, poets now actually seek out the opportunity to blurb other people's books. To have your name attached to a blurb is a sign that you've hit the big time.

And now the fun part. I have before me the single most egregious example of blurbaholism ever to grace the art--the often mentioned but seldom seen blurb Jorie Graham gave to her student, Mark Levine, after picking his book for the National Poetry Series (and yes, I know the story). Anyway, without further ado, here it is, word for word:

"Every now and then, in the eventful, dramatically self-reinventing history of poetry, a new voice comes along which startles by its stunning appropriation of the music, energy, diction, and obsessions of its own immediate moment, yet which is imbued, simultaneously, with a deep knowing connection to the questions and beliefs of the tradition. A poetry filled with that energy of revolution which is born, precisely, of its tense apprenticeship to the voices of previous masters. Debt is such a book. With its brilliant play on all forms of that titular notion--from the spiritual indebtedness we call original sin, to the cultureless greed of our 'national debt'--it moves with torqued grace between the savings-and-loan fiascos of each of our crucial currencies--personal, metaphysical, scientific, historical, political, psychological, cultural, ethnic--(and enacts, at reckless and resounding speed, a holocaust upon political and intellectual and personal correctness by its stark, self-implicating dramatization of the culture of blame). Beginning with the problem of identity--self-creation? soul? the blank space known as citizenship? the number assigned to one's camp card? one's credit card? one's wrist? do we deconstruct? can we?--all the anxious terms of post-romanticism and post-modernism are acted out with astonishing precision and candor by a speaker part Jew, part Palestinian, part intellectual, part consumer, part victim, part terrorist--owner, lover, slave, child--one complex, supple, scary, moving, self-contradicting voice as much the creation of the media, circumstance, history, factuality, as--is it possible?--the creation of some late and inconceivable God."
--Jorie Graham

"I greet you at the beginning of a great career" seems rather quaint and modest now, doesn't it?

I could snark this one until the end of time, but let's do that together, shall we? Join me in the comments section with your snark, and please, if you think you can top this blurb for sheer awfulness, please post your candidate in this thread.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"owner, lover, slave, child"

That's my Mark Levine.

Regards,

Jorie

6:47 PM, October 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm no friend of Jorie Graham, but I believe that poetry snark, now that Jimmy Behrle is outed, is here to bring attention to Jimmy, as a poet. What the fuck? The last blog convinced a few that Jimmy has little awareness outside of MFA-dom. I'm done with this blog. Maybe I'll still read Jimmy's cartoons. This is no longer snarking. Jimmy is unhappy with his position (and some of his friends' positions in contemporary poetry, where poets are only read by other poets, fiction writers, painters and (perhaps) musicians.

That's the truth. Deal with it or don't. We're lucky if anybody is paying attention.

10:33 PM, October 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'm no friend of Jorie Graham, but I believe that poetry snark, now that Jimmy Behrle is outed, is here to bring attention to Jimmy, as a poet."

What the hell are you talking about? Does anyone here understand what this comment means? Does this guy think Behrle is Poetry Snark? (Jimmy would really love that!)

4:48 PM, October 23, 2006  
Anonymous Whorry said...

"Every now and then, in the eventful, dramatically self-reinventing history of poetry, a new voice comes along which startles by its stunning appropriation of the music, energy, diction, and obsessions of its own immediate moment, yet which is imbued, simultaneously, with a deep knowing connection to the questions and beliefs of the tradition. Oh yessss! A poetry filled with that energy of revolution which is born, precisely, of its tense apprenticeship to the voices of previous masters. Oh yessss! Debt is such a book. Oh yessss! With its brilliant play on all forms of that titular notion--from the spiritual indebtedness we call original sin, to the cultureless greed of our 'national debt'--it moves with torqued grace between the savings-and-loan fiascos of each of our crucial currencies--personal, metaphysical, scientific, historical, political, psychological, cultural, ethnic--(and enacts, at reckless and resounding speed, a holocaust upon political and intellectual and personal correctness by its stark, self-implicating dramatization of the culture of blame). Oh yessss! Beginning with the problem of identity--self-creation? uhnnnnn!! soul? uhnnnnn!! the blank space known as citizenship? uhnnnnn!! the number assigned to one's camp card? uhnnnnn!! one's credit card? uhnnnnn!! one's wrist? uhnnnnn!! do we deconstruct? uhnnnnn!! can we? uhnnnnn!!--all the anxious terms of post-romanticism and post-modernism are acted out with astonishing precision and candor by a speaker part Jew, part Palestinian, part intellectual, part consumer, part victim, part terrorist--owner, lover, slave, child--one complex, supple, scary, moving, self-contradicting voice as much the creation of the media, circumstance, history, factuality, as--is it possible? uhnnnnn!!--the creation of some late and inconceivable God. Oh yessss!"

4:50 PM, October 23, 2006  
Anonymous Lukecubed said...

The best part is, I have zero idea what to expect from Levine's poems after reading that shitbath.

"This poet... he's special. He's a really sensitive and thoughtful guy. That's what it takes, right?"

5:34 PM, October 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so when do the "I fucked Jorie Graham and all I got was this lousy blurb" T-shirts hit the stores?

9:54 PM, October 23, 2006  
Blogger Snark said...

Wow, the Jorie haters are out in full force. Anyone got any good (bad) blurbs?

1:34 PM, October 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey snark,

Blurbs are so yesterday. Who needs 'em now that you have blogs--the new tool of (self)promotion.


Check out http://www.humanverb.blogspot.com
or just humanverb.blogspot.com
I'm not sure

This is the guy Ashbery picked for the National Poetry Series this year.

It's a CV for a poet looking to establish himself...in academia?...our hearts?...beats me.

But, as he says on his blog, he does work hard--like 20 hours a week as a writing consultant...

So who said blue-collar poetry was dead--I think not!

It just lives in Colorado and has a soul-patch and a blog.

peace

10:15 PM, October 26, 2006  
Blogger Alan Cordle said...

You can't beat the nauseating documents written by Graham and Bin Ramke in support of Graham's latest husband's book:
http://foetry.com/2005/05/never-before-published.html

Here's a sample from Ramke on Peter Sacks: I want to bring this book to our attention quickly because I honestly believe it can do the Series and the Press a lot of good. That is, it seems to me this is the most likely candidate we have ever had our hands on for significant prizes, and so it may be a good idea to have that in mind early. I certainly think that if we take it, we take a certain responsibility to market it-it is a book that should be a finalist with the National Book Critics Circle (a group I belong to, and will nominate the book personally), National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, prizes with the Academy of American Poets and with the Poetry Society of America. Because I know the previous books of this poet, and I know that he has been publishing with the University of Chicago Press, I want to be able to assure him that we will treat the book at least as well as Chicago can. That's why I want to let you know about this now.

OK, so that's not a blurb exactly, but when you read it combined with the obvious collusion with Graham, it becomes representative of everything wrong with contests, blurbs, and general suckupage. Be sure to read the final page of the documents, which is a one page, single spaced excerpt(!) written by Graham that makes her blurb for Levine look like leftovers.

11:35 AM, October 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a blurb that reached the heights of transcendent ecstasy. "Author Gary Geddes blurbed:

“Don’t let Elizabeth Bachinsky’s smart-ass hipster lyrics and tough-girl sentiments distract you from her technical prowess. She knows not only how to hot-wire and fine-tune a poem, but also how to provide just the right blend of sound, image, and torque to make it move. Be transported.”"

If you want to see printed it in the context of Bachinsky, a Canadian poet who gets nothing but raves, check it out here:

http://www.modern-review.com/archives/v_ii/_manister06.html

12:22 PM, December 21, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home