Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ban the Blurb Fodder!

“John Ash could be the best English poet of his generation.” (Peter Campion, Poetry)

“The greatest living poet in the English language.” (Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian, on Geoffrey Hill)

“Tamar Yoseloff is emerging as one of the best poets of her generation.” (Thomas Lux)

“She is perhaps the most subtly skilful poet of her generation, the most profound, the most modest, the most moving.” (Kenneth Rexroth, New York Times, on Denise Levertov)

“[This chapbook collection] resembles, in its internationalism, nothing so much as T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, but with one significant difference: Hirschhorn is a physician, a healer.” (Jonathan Holden, Poet Laureate, Kansas, on Norbert Hirschhorn’s debut chapbook)

“The most original poet of his generation.” (Carol Ann Duffy, The Guardian, on Ian Duhig)

“Pinsky has given us one of the outstanding bodies of work in English-language poetry.” (Justin Quinn, The Boston Book Review, on Robert Pinsky)

All the poets discussed above are fine writers, but isn’t it about time “of his/her generation” became a banned phrase in reviews? And indeed any phrase suggesting that a contemporary poet is the greatest, or "one of" the greatest, or even "perhaps" the greatest, there has ever been?

12 comments:

apprentice said...

I agree with you, I think it's an accolade that can only be awarded by the next generation.

I also enjoyed your piece on revising a poem.

sefton said...

I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I firmly believe this insight on your landmark blog might be the most important breakthrough of our generation.

Rob said...

Cheers, apprentice.

sefton - what you've just said is perhaps the most important moment in a comments box since time began. And in the future too.

Cailleach said...

Cliches... why is it that a poet will strive to make new word connections in a poem, but blurbs sometimes seem more like the bits that a poet cut out! ;)

So, what you're saying is, now wouldn't be a good time to ask you for a blurb for a forthcoming book? ;)

Andrew Shields said...

There'a a wonderful poem, "Antiblurb," on the back cover of A. E. Stallings's book "Hapax."

Rob said...

Barbara - I don't mind blurbs in themselves, but I'm sure you can find someone more illustrious than me to give you one - with all those famous Irish poets around. The trick is to get something positive and memorable that doesn't set you up as the new Shakespeare of your generation.

Andrew - I've read Antiblurb and enjoyed it, although I can't remember where I read it.

Dave said...

Right on, Rob. I would've thought this kind of unrestrained enthusiasm a peculiarly American thing, though, so I'm glad (?) to hear you have it over there, too.

SarahJane said...

Generalized superlatives do seem to be flung around liberally, and could come back to haunt those who do it. Why not specify the praise with something like "she makes the best use of the word 'pestiferous' I've seen in a decade." You can bet I'd pore through the book trying to find out how.
smile

George S said...

Well, I have written a number of blurbs. Why? Because I was asked to and because I thought the books worth supporting. It was a way of helping the book. I have made them specific to the poets and not general because general ones tend not to be useful. Nor have I said anything I thought untrue. I presume no one here will now ask for a blurb from anybody when their first (or second) book appears.

Rob said...

George, your reasons for offering blurbs seem good to me, and I know from reading your blog that you are generous in that regard.

Blurbs are part of life. It’s hard to imagine any book these days, from a debut poetry pamphlet to a best-selling novel, without a blurb.

Perhaps the title of my post, “Ban the Blurb Fodder!” gives the wrong impression. My objection isn’t to blurbs in themselves but to the kind of phrases quoted in my post. Indeed, while they were used as blurbs, most of them originated in serious reviews in serious publications.

I have a blurb written in my pamphlet collection – by Hamish Whyte, poet and editor-in-chief of Mariscat Press. This was a valuable endorsement for a debut writer, as anyone casually picking up my book (I’m not sure how often that happens!) will see a few lines written by a respected publisher. It might even lead some people to open the book. What he wrote was kind and I’m grateful he took the time to do it.

I’ve grabbed a few books at random from my shelf and, to redress the balance, here are some well written blurbs:

“A quick mind abroad alone in the ever-changing natural landscape. The language country-rooted, specific, of clear observation: a sophisticated, refreshing country brew.” (Tom Leonard on Jen Hadfield)

“His work offers pleasure, argument and a complex expression of feeling.” (James Sutherland-Smith on Michael Schmidt)

“A poet of cities in growth and in dereliction…His knowledge of urban landscape is formidable, and expressed with an originality of touch which makes these poems, at their best, revelatory.” (Helen Dunmore on Roy Fisher)

These say something worthwhile and informative about the poets in question without proclaiming any of them to be the greatest of their generation. If any of them turn out to be among the greatest, future generations will know soon enough.

George S said...

Oh, it's just that it is usually the blurbs on other people's books that people don't like, Rob. A natural enough human failing and worth bearing in mind.

Rob said...

That is a fair point, George. Humility is a hard virtue to practise.