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One blurb, two blurb, three blurb, thirty blurbs

By Sina Queyras

Following up on Craig Santos Perez‘s post on blurbs I offer the following snippet from Vanessa Place’s review of Credit, by Matthew Timmons:

Timmons collected thirty blurbs for the book, including blurbs from Craig Dworkin, Rodrigo Toscano, and me. I did not read the book, look at a manuscript or pdf, or have any textual interaction beyond Timmons explaining the project in an email solicitation. It was the concept of Credit that I blurbed, just as it was the idea of Vanessa Place that was wanted for the blurb. My surplus value attested to the surplus value promised by the project. Similarly, most of the blurbs, mine included, suffered from their own lexical excess in the form of puns, digressions, over-use of exclamation points, plagiarisms, and other linguistic wallowings. This was in part due to playing with the idea of the project, and in part inspired by the excess latent in the topic. The credit given Credit was given in the sense of an inscription, like a film credit, like signing-off while signing-on. We did not credit Credit, but credited its credit.

A book as a thing not seen, or even intended necessarily to be owned or read but nonetheless blurbed. Or all-blurbed up. Or excessively, self-consciously blurbed, which kind of knocks the wind out of the act of blurbing.  Or, as Place says, “allegorizes the project of the book.” It also recognizes the book as commodity because as Place says “just as a voucher is an act of credit, so is vouching.” I vouch for thee excessively.

I’m not at all sure that is helpful, Craig, but it gave me a laugh. And it rings true, the way the best things are, which is disturbingly true. (For another review of Credit see Gregory Betts). Of course, thirty blurbs and several reviews later I’m still not about to buy the book. But I would buy Vanessa’s book again. Maybe blurbs are for creating interest in the blurbers?

My last two books are blurbless. I am not a fan of the blurb in general, other than for first books. I don’t care much for writing them either though occasionally do. I agree with Erin Moure’s stance on this, which is that it is important to welcome a new author into the book world. So, for me, a blurb is for first books and its use is to place the book in context. Most recently I blurbed Mina Pam Dick’s Delinquent. This is a poet I had never heard of, but the book spoke to me and I attempted to say why.

The downside to the entire process is that it becomes a form of weeding out  as much as gathering in. Don’t care for the blurber? Don’t buy the book. Love the blurber? Buy the book. I don’t think this is true for most people. Though, as Daisy Fried mentioned in the comment stream, there are names that make one take a chance on an unknown quantity. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Some have a flair for it: the blurbing, and the assessing of unknown quantities. Some, such as Erin Moure, have fun with it where their own books are concerned:

Moure: Where have I heard that name before? I thought she’d left. What on earth is she up to now? –Elisa Sampedrin

Comments (18)

  • On January 19, 2010 at 11:21 am Joshua wrote:

    I think I would pick up a book with a *rare* blurb, like one from a famously reclusive genius (do we have any?) or a non-poet with some clout. Like if Stephen Hawking blurbed a book by Alice Fulton, I would probably think “Maybe she actually IS on to something with this fractal stuff . . . “

  • On January 19, 2010 at 11:58 am Peter Greene wrote:

    Why in the name of Good Gracious would someone with better things to do (Stephen Hawking is a good example, indeed) go about blurbulating? Now, if somebody offered me fifty bucks to blurb on someone else’s work, I might go for it. But I don’t have fifty bucks. If I did, well.

    Hmmm. Perhaps blurbists are unsung in some way.

    I expect most of the blurbs out there are the work of some poor old copysmith, working under fifty anonymousnessess until he dies in harnesses (couldn’t help it – it’s like Tourette’s only premeditated).

    BTW, I just LOVE the lick ‘lexical excesses’. Hee.

    PG

  • On January 19, 2010 at 2:09 pm Mathew Timmons wrote:

    Just for the heck of it – and textual excess – there’s an excessive ‘t’ in Mathew up there – in sentence one – chalk it up to general excess.

  • On January 19, 2010 at 2:35 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    My apologies, Mathew. Feels like I should let the error stand.

  • On January 19, 2010 at 3:39 pm csperez wrote:

    hey sina,

    great post! that project is wonderful…and so true. i’ve conceptualized buying the book…just like i’ve conceptualized buying kent johnson’s DAY…which to me is the true sign of a successful conceptual work.

    i dont think blurbs create much interest in the blurbers…usually blurbers are already known for the most part. or at least i’ve never pursued the work of a new to me blurber based on their blurb.

    i like the idea of blurbs being a way to enter a new writer in the po-world. tho i still like blurbs for all writers, especially if they can speak to how a writer’s 3rd book, for example, is a change/shift/development from previous work. i also think it’s cool when younger writers blurb older writers.

    how do you feel about paragraph descriptions of a book? you know, the ones you sometimes find on the back of books–prob writ by publishers? are those better than blurbs? some books have both, which i kinda like too.

    anyhoo,
    c

  • On January 20, 2010 at 1:29 pm roz wrote:

    I saw the 30+ blurbs for Timmons’ $$$ book posted somewhere and thought they were hilarious! It’s criminal if you can afford that book.

    An independent bookseller once told me that blurbs are useful for retail purposes because they can be culled from or re-quoted in catalog descriptions, e.g. write-ups on the SPD website.

  • On January 20, 2010 at 2:12 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Point taken, Roz. Anything that helps open up books for people is probably a good idea.

  • On January 20, 2010 at 2:36 pm roz wrote:

    Hi Sina,

    Agreed. Though even with the marketing perks in mind, I share your personal feelings about blurbs when it comes to my own work. If I ever get my book published, I’m considering going blurbless on principle, for many of the reasons you’ve stated.

  • On January 20, 2010 at 2:42 pm Don Share wrote:

    Some blurbs are actually not blurbs but quotations from reviews of previous work. So we come full circle…

  • On January 20, 2010 at 3:30 pm roz wrote:

    BTW, I love what you’re doing at Lemonhound. I’m a big fan of commandeering blogspace like this for highly mobile guerrilla curating efforts. And thank you for introducing new Canadians to all of us navelgazers here in the states…

  • On January 20, 2010 at 4:03 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    Thanks Roz. The ongoing interviews on reviewing are very interesting. There’s nearly 30 now, and counting.

    But maybe instead of blurbs we should just start putting words like “cock” or “negative” or “hooters inside” on the covers. Might generate more interest in poetry?

  • On January 20, 2010 at 7:37 pm John Sakkis wrote:

    absolutely. plenty of bookstores won’t buy, libraries won’t order and newspapers/mags won’t review without blurbs, it’s a vouch tailored to assuage the industry…blurb = the book is to be taken seriously (stupid i know)…as far as sales go (non hand-sales) blurbs are almost as important as ISBNs.

  • On January 21, 2010 at 9:29 am vanessa place wrote:

    But the conversation is not about blurbs qua marketplace, is it? Or rather, isn’t that the least demanding part of the conversation? I was interested in the blurb as part of the textual excess, the blither attached to the blather, the poetic remora. A cock, to use Sina’s prompt, is an apparatus in the sense of framing a particular kind of discourse–flarf, perhaps, gay porn, maybe, or simply the babble of constant heterosexuality; a blurb is another. The more interesting question is what we want from these attachments. My favorite part of blurbs is the sweet pathos of my including, in the bid for your attention, the fact that I am the object of another’s affection. The point is that the blurb isn’t supplemental, but institutional, like many pricks.

  • On January 21, 2010 at 11:20 am Sina Queyras wrote:

    “My favorite part of blurbs is the sweet pathos of my including, in the bid for your attention, the fact that I am the object of another’s affection…”

    Love that Vanessa. I have always thought there was a lot of imaginative and/or wishful intercourse on the back’s of books.

  • On January 22, 2010 at 1:34 pm roz wrote:

    Yes that’s very interesting. Credit is something of an exceptional case because it tucks the performance of blurbing right into the folds of its concept. Asking, being asked, the self-conscious excessive adulation. Of course, now that this has been done, it can’t be done again, right? Nobody laughs at a joke the second time around. I like how Vanessa Place in the quote above calls attention to the fact that it was the idea of her blurb authorship that was being solicited. This is certainly true in general. The most important thing on the back cover is the names. The blurb content is secondary. The author is an idea.

  • On January 22, 2010 at 6:06 pm Sina Queyras wrote:

    The author is an idea. Just like these posts are ideas. They are only interesting in how they can be jumped off of. Or what they reflect back. This is interesting in terms of how discussions pile up. Or not. Sometimes a red worm is more interesting than a blurb. Often the blurbs are more interesting than the book. But I do believe in handles, and since the blurb plays that function…

  • On January 31, 2010 at 9:26 pm Jim Finnegan wrote:

    If book sellers demand that books have blurbs it is only another sign of their marketing ineptitude. I’ve amused myself from time to time composing bad blurbs. Here are a few…

    A pity, but I couldn’t bear to go back into these pages even to save my favorite bookmark.

    I noticed there was a bookplate inside the front cover, and under the ‘ex libris’ someone had hastily scrawled ‘Anonymous’.

    May I suggest that not all books need to be printed on acid-free paper.

    I can easily imagine finding this book at a library book sale stamped ‘WITHDRAWN’.

    It’s not a good sign that even prison libraries are refusing donated copies of the book.

    In poetry the less said the better.

    Leaving bookstore that slight pang of buyer’s remorse I felt after spending $24.99 was nothing compared to the full-blown reader’s despair I suffered once I got home.

    It’s often said that poetry is impossible to translate. In this case any translation would trigger an international incident.

    I found my mind flashing on scenes from Fahrenheit 451…it was a real ‘page-burner’.

    Being blind wouldn’t be so bad. At least in Braille my fingertips would have gotten a nice massage if nothing else from this book.

  • On February 1, 2010 at 8:28 am Sina Queyras wrote:

    Very funny. Page burner. Scorch. This could be bad fun you know.

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Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, January 19th, 2010 by Sina Queyras.