Who's Afraid of Belinda Blurb? & A Bad Case of Epigraphilia
(click image to enlarge & read text)
publisher b. w. huebsch wasnt. in fact, he wanted to include "the picture of a damsel--languishing, heroic, or coquettish — anyhow, a damsel on the jacket of every novel" (The book above is gelett burgess's "Are you a bromide?"--1906). poor belinda blurb.
someone asked me the other day what i was working on: "i'm writing a blurb," i replied. ("i'm blurbing." just sounds dirty.)
this is the third blurb i've ever been asked to write. the last blurb i wrote was for kaia sand's REMEMBER TO WAVE (tinfish press, 2010). we'll see if the one i just finished will be accepted by the editors.
q: why are blurbs so hard to write? does anyone out there have any advice on how to write a blurb? what is the purpose of a blurb? what do writers who ask for blurbs look for?
whenever i am asked for a blurb, i offer to send a languishing, heroic, and coquettish picture of myself (i have a new author photo that kinda resembles this one) but no one ever accepts my invitation. poor belinda blurb.
Lately it seems no book of Canadian poetry can be put to bed without an epigraph to tuck it in [...] It’s hard to know what to blame for this. Until Eliot and Pound, epigraphs were rarely associated with poetry. [...]
Whatever the reason for its popularity, the epigraph’s spell has never been stronger. Poets use them to seed sub rosa themes, to create theoretical contexts, or to nudge readers toward moods around which their collection has been structured. As an editor, I’ve seen poets drive themselves crazy in their search for the “perfect” epigraph. The device is regarded as the nub of the matter, the absolute condensation of a book’s intellectual and emotional intent.
The truth, as is often the case, is a little less dramatic. Epigraphs are the poetry world’s emoticons: quick-fix inflections. Poets overestimate their necessity and significance. What they think is a tiny profundity engine is nothing more than a curio, a found object charged with private associations. This is why so many epigraphs appear undigested and attention-begging. [...]
Epigraphs emphasize poetry-making as a thing of touchstones. They solve our anxiety of influence by flattering it. But poets are getting carried away, like Borgesian scribes compiling an infinite commonplace book. Not to say gems aren’t being unearthed [...] But these are exceptions. As a rule, our collective well-readness is withering away into name-dropping.
I’m not calling for an outright ban, just a little more judiciousness. Like any choice quote, a good epigraph whets a reader’s appetite by sharpening their curiosity. Simple and unpreening, it brandishes a let’s-cut-through-the-cant suavity. [...]
is suavity a word? i've been thinking about epigraphs mainly cuz people tease me about how many epigraphs i use in my books. my first book contains eight epigraphs; my second book (forthcoming this year) contains ten. i love emoticons ;)
my favorite epigraph of all time comes from geraldine kim's POVEL: "Beginning texts by quoting someone else." attributed to "--ME."
q: do you have a favorite epigraph?
for me, i philia epigraphs for two reasons that can be labeled 'genealogical' & 'pedagogical.' epigraphs give me a chance to point towards my poetic genealogy--to pay homage to those poets who helped shaped my work. my first book contains quotes from vicuna & oppen, cha & oswald de andrade, celan & cesaire--to name six.
also epigraphs give me a chance to teach others about writers they might not have heard of. in my second book, i quote two pacific islander writers that i hope folks will be interested in checking out. i quote alfred arteaga & myung mi kim & nathaniel mackey for those who might want to explore 'ethnovative writing.' i quote muriel rukeyser.
but perhaps starnino is right, perhaps i overestimate & flatter myself.
q: do you epigraph? why? what do you think of starnino's claims? are epigraphs really that bad? who do you blame?
Craig Santos Perez is a native Chamoru (Chamorro) from the Pacific Island of Guåhan/Guam. He is the co-founder of Ala Press, co-star of the poetry album Undercurrent (Hawai’i Dub Machine, 2011), and author of three collections of poetry: from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish Press, 2008), from unincorporated territory [saina](Omnidawn, 2010),...