Sunday, November 4, 2007

Blurbs-Generousity and Insurgency

One of the ways we find out what our poetic peers really believe about our work is when blurb time comes.

The blurb is really a small affirmation that your work is on the right track-- but this naive reasoning of often befuddled by the reality of connections and politics.

Poetry-land is a land of contradictions.

Poets often criticize the prevailing culture as one of connections, money and bourgeois values.

I do not know how many times I have seen that 'look' from poet friends when they hear about the concerns of the great unwashed. But Poetry-Land has its own profound values.

Personal Generousity versus Self Interest

Poets in many ways are lovers of the idea of personal generosity, but it is rare among poets. When Ron Silliman reviewed our Cracked Slab Book's anthology he was amazed at our generosity including many voices most of whom are not our friends. But it seems to me that the lack of generosity is one of American poetry's main problems and this get me backs to blurbs.

I am reasonably well known poet, I have published one collection of poetry which was well received and an anthology which has been well reviewed and highlighted 45 great poets in Chicago. I have published over 100 interviews on which allowed many poets to be seen on the Internet and maintained that myself. I am in no way an unknown poet so when I went out for blurbs I thought I might do ok?

Being Irascible

I know that I can be a little prickly and that I enjoy piercing the fat soft academic poets who fill our art form with so much hot air and blown wind.
There is nothing more indicative of the problem with contemporary poetry than the poet who spends his or her time at Ragsdale or Mac Dowell, goes back to their academic job teaching two classes a semester and turnout less than one book a year. While their poetic antedents lived marginal lives these poets sit squarely in the center of the establishment.
Many great poets work full time non academic jobs or work as adjunct professors for little or no pay, run presses, turn out books, articles, translations and do it all for the love of the art form. The hunger remains in the second group and the fatness fills the first group. This has been an ax of mine to grind the fatness shows up in the poetry.

I enjoy championing the young or hungry poets who are doing the real poetic work so I did not expect universal acceptance of my request for blurbs for my new book Immediate Empire which is a collaboration with my wife Waltraud Haas who did the artwork.

The Blurb Process

I went out to 6 poets, 2 friends and 4 poets whom I admire. Three poets responded to my request for a blurb which is pretty good; Kevin Killian one of the poets I admire--sent the most generous of blurbs which I am most grateful for receiving. He and his wife Dodie Bellamy are easily the best example of generous poets and if our art form had more of them we would be blessed. My friends Simone Muench and Bob Archembeau gave me really insightful blurbs and I am thankful to them for their support. But three poets whom I admire and know turned me down...

Many poets have been very generous to me in my life; Alice Notley let me sit in one of her seminars at the Walt Whitman Center a few years' ago that helped with my first books final edits.
Robert Creeley did an interview with two weeks before he died and Peter Gizzi gave me a blurb for my first book and for The City Visible:Chicago Poetry for the New Century Cracked Slab's Anthology.
These poets are also very busy took out of their important work time to give of their time to a poet, me, who admires them and they remembered that community is important---even though I was never their student and I could really do nothing for them.

I will always be in their debt.

What was interesting was the negative responses. I am not going to embarrass the 'rejectors' by naming them because I love and respect their work --- but here are some of the responses keeping in mind I sent the email in late September over 5 weeks ago;

Poet #1
  • "I just got to your email sorry I cannot do a blurb as I am so busy" "but please send me a copy of the book" (So this poet wants a FREE copy of the book but won't do a blurb)

Poet #2

  • "I am currently in Hungary teaching (as if the Internet does not work in Hungary) and I cannot get to it now but send me a copy of the book" (So this poet also wants a free copy but cannot write because he/she is in Hungary.)

The question I have is why not just say "I don't want to write a blurb for you now" or " I won't write a blurb for you because their is nothing in it for me" or "You were not my student so too bad".

Poetry and Poets even the famous ones never make allot of money. Our art form is wonderfully entrepreneurial. Think about the great presses and magazines that today exist because of generousity of poets and passion for the form;

Aufgabe Magazine (e Tracy Grinnell) Kenning Editions (Patrick Durgin), Action Books (Joyelle Mc Sweeney, Johannes Gorensson), (Cracked Slab Books (Me and Bill Allegrezza), Dancing Girl Press, Antennae Magazine (Jesse Seldess), i.e. Press (Catherine Daly), Blaze Vox Press (Geoffrey Gatza), Ugly Ducking Presse (Matvei Yankelvich) and so many others are putting out some of the best work in poetry and this is all possible because of the generousity of these poets who with a little money make poetry better.

So keep an eye out for my book The Immediate Empire from i.e. press and the next time someone asks for a blurb just do it even if you are in Hungary- because it is an honor not a task to be avoided and as the Sisters used to say why not light one candle rather than curse the darkness?


Anonymous said...

Hi Ray --

Given how many chances you and Bill took with Cracked Slab -- I mean, you went out on a limb and made that anth without any kind of establishment "stamp of approval"... I kind of wish you had skipped the blurbs. They (not yours in particular) are just bananas at this point.

Here's one, just randomly off my shelf:

"If death could be undone by love -- that deathless human wish -- if death could be undone by formidable mindfulness and immaculate craft, these poems would revive the dead. The miracle they do work is nearly of that scale: they forge and forge on our behalf a model of the soul."

This is pretty much the limit-point of insanity. It's the point where "being generous" becomes this insane world of POWER. I GIVE YOU POWER TO RESURRECT THE DEAD.

Anyway, I'm sure your blurbs are not this assinine. But still, I kind of wish you had opted out. You need something on the back cover -- so IMO I think you should have solicited someone -- e.g., Simone, or indeed me -- to write a substantive interpretive -- as opposed to blurb-evaluative -- thing that filled the back cover.

Yours, querulously


Raymond Bianchi said...

point well taken

Raymond Bianchi said...

there were no risks taken with The City Visible- all is opinion who is the establishment? Ron Silliman? He loved the book the only people who were upset were those we chose not to include or those who we overlooked without malice.....

Didi Menendez said...

I had similar problems when I asked for a blurb. Some did not even bother to respond back to me. It is sort of painful. Especially since I have published every single one of them....and more.

Didi Menendez