Monday, September 7, 2009

For Jason Schneiderman with Affection: On Blurbs (Part Two)

[As I've said on this blog on more than one occasion, I have a great deal of respect for Schneiderman. I think, in fact, he's doing some of the most exciting work --critical and poetic--I know of in the gay scene. I mean this with no sarcasm: his intelligence is intimidating. But since he asked me to do some synthesizing of my last post, I have no choice but to do so. And in that processing, I can't help and bring out some of the more problematic sentimentalities of his comment, request.]

For someone to say no to a request for a blurb is an affirmative act. It reminds Literature that there are standards. It means, if you are the one refused, that you do not matter. The world can go on without your book. What can reveal itself to be a more liberating critique?


If one should choose to blurb a book, they should then honor all requests for blurbs. There is no reason to reject anyone. Their affirmation of someone else’s words allows them to live past their death. That is the only reason I can imagine Richard Howard continues to blurb unnecessary books. Howard is implanting a memory of himself in as many writers’ heads as possible. He is making himself immortal. He is doing what every human need to do: transform himself into an indispensable god.


Humility is as boring as modesty. It means you need someone else to inflate the importance of your words. It means you’re not worthy of your job. It means you may need to find esteem in a different profession.


Queer poet Jason Schneiderman raises the question of a blurb’s ability to sell poetry books. It doesn’t. This is self-evident. A blurb does something more important: it says that someone who is beloved feels you deserve to be beloved. That is not a gift. It is an imperative.

(I love you, too, Schneiderman, but you need to get over Lewis Hyde.)


You should not be grateful for a blurb. The one writing the blurb should be grateful for your request. Your request says you read their work. Is there any greater gift than that?


A blurb is not about the book receiving the praise. The author writing the blurb uses his affirmation as a way of securing admiration for his younger, less talented self. Most often he does not see anything but himself in the book. His words describe his most often inaccurate image of himself. Through the act of writing the blurb, he is reminded of his youth: the possibility of the Something More beyond his own words. This reminder offers him a meager, but necessary, reason to live. There is always more love. There may be more love if you offer more words.


  1. "It means, if you are the one refused, that you do not matter."

    I am not in the position to be considered worthy to write blurbs, but were I, I can not imagine writing a blurb for even a worthy book which I didn't enjoy, and there are many.

    Also, I think a blurb, in the context of where it appears and not what it means anywhere but on that back cover, serve only to get a person to buy the book based solely on their assurance from a beloved writer that they are not wasting their money or time. Or otherwise, to subconsciously or overtly link your work to another poet's.

  2. Hi,

    I hope you haven't taken your Ph.D. exams yet. :)

    His book The Gift.

  3. I love "the one writing the blurb should be grateful for the request." It seems true. I only asked people I truly admire. Many of them refused.

  4. I've been trying to think of why it is that I don't think that a poet should *necessarily* be grateful for a request for a blurb, and I came up with the image of illumination. If attention is light, then the less established poet is asking the more established poet to shed some of their own light on them. Does the sun have to be grateful to the moon? (did you see the metaphor wrapping up there?)

    But I think that it has to be more individually considered than that. If famous poet A has a horribly rigorous schedule, is teaching three classes while keeping up a tour schedule to rival Miley Cyrus and spent decades in relative obscurity championing a particular aesthetic, then famous poet A does not have to be grateful that first book poet B (who famous poet A doesn't know from a hole in the wall) which is in the style that famous poet A railed against for years. An extreme example, but my point is that a blanket assertion that anyone being asked for a blurb should be excited seems untenable to me.

    I also think that keeping a list of people who have rejected you (and regarding rejection as a form of ingratitude) is harmful to the soul.

  5. Hi Jason,

    My soul is already tainted.

    I went through the uninspired P & P stage and ruined my gums (recession). And my mind. And I didn't even lose weight.

    I have to agree with you: it does need to be individually considered. How could I not, Jason?

    So let's me try: (of course, this is strictly hypothetical, Jason, something like this could never really happen in real life, esp. to someone like me):

    Let's say this: famous Poet A is A Star, and he damn well better be. He's amazing. He's so much better than other stars. Everything he writes is interesting to some degree.

    Even the blurbs he offers. (You see where I'm going with this, Jason)

    Which makes Poet B want one, too.

    So Poet B knows that his work doesn't deserve Poet A's blurb (and this isn't out of self-deprecation; it's out of simple fact.) But he does it anyway. Masochist fun?

    Poet A agrees to consider; Poet A says no.

    Poet B is hurt, he weeps for 30 seconds, and even thinks to himself maybe I should stop writing.

    Of course, Poet B doesn't. But all of a sudden he realizes something is at stake. The blurbs matter. They do matter. He hates and is thankful to Poet A.


    Maybe I shouldn't keep a list of my rejections. But Poet A should add another shameless groupie to his list. It's always good to have yet another fan; something any writer should have gratitude for. Poet A should in fact make a list of fans. That can't be bad for the soul, can it, Jason?

  6. I don't know... my experience is akin to what Aphrodite says to Helen in the Iliad: "Do what I say, or I'll hate you as much as I love you now." In my experience (town hall meetings aside), you have to know someone fairly well, or be fairly invested in them (ok, town hall meetings back in the mix), to truly hate them. As I often advise my friends who are being consumed with anger, jealously, rage-- decathect as best you can. I think disengagement can be good for the soul, when resentment is consuming or tainting.

    So, if Poet B can still love Poet A's work with the same fervor that drove her to ask Poet A for her blurb in the first place, then no harm no foul. But if Poet B find that she now bears a grudge towards Poet A, and that she now resents Poet A, her fame, her work, and her general ingratitude at Poet B's request, then we have a problem.

    I think that keeping a list of rejections constitutes a revenge fantasy-- the idea that the rejecter(s) will someday be sorry and realize what a terrible mistake they made. But as Orwell points out, a revenge fantasy is a fantasy because in the fantasy, the wronged person thinks that revenge will restore him to the person he was before he received the wound that he wants to be revenged. None of us can undo our hurts, or redeem them, or return to wholeness. When we want other people punished so that we can be unhurt, it gets bad-- both for the resenter and the resented. But mostly because we can't be unhurt. We must remember, but we mustn't wallow-- and the line between the two can be slippery.

  7. Hi,

    Sometimes I get nervous about responding to comments, Jason. This is because I don't 1.)dowown out your intelligent words with too many of my own words and 2.) I don't want to write too little because it comes off as curt and unengaged--both of which I'm not with you.

    At the same time, I do want to make one point. It seems to me even thought it's not named explicitly in your comment that you see my last post as an act of revenge (ie naming Cyrus Cassels, Bob Hicok), no?

    When I wrote that post, I wanted to name partly because I feel there is such a mystification with publication and the creation of a book and PoBiz in general. (This isn't at all to say there is in part an unconscious revenge factor)

    I wanted to name to be more "credible." It was NOT for the sake of Honesty--something I think that people who like my posts sometimes applaud for the wrong reasons.

    There's always in so many blogs a caginess which I find unattractive and useless.

    Not that the hypothetical fun we've been having isn't worthwhile, but I wonder if it wasn't for the naming that we would have gotten there.

  8. P.S. I agree with almost all of your points in your last comment.

  9. Ok, so since this interchange began a hundred years ago in blog time, I'll just say that I don't think you were engaged in revenge when you named names-- I think that you were being honest, and that it's why I'm not a journalist-- I believe in privacy and gossip, and really gossip is no fun if there's a public record, right? I admire you for naming names in the interest of veracity-- like when you got onto Poet O, it creates a frisson of excitement (who's he talking about?) that creates an inside and an outside--those who know who you mean (your intimates) and those who don't (your out-timates)-- and those who want to work their way from the outside in. But still, I'd hate to never get an e-mail (because someone had the wrong address, an old address, I deleted in haste, I thought it was spam) and then get called out for ignoring young writers. So yes, I think you were right to be clear of whom you spoke, and no, I don't think you were revenging yourself on anyone.