The Blurb as Argument Platform
Yesterday I saw a blurb on the back of a book of poetry that, in praising the book at hand, leveled a charge to the rest of (or “most” of) American poetry. I’m always intrigued by blurbs that do such things. The most common is a version of “this poet is one of the best poets of the generation” thing, which we’ve all learned to just kind of tune out and go on.
But this one was of a different order, as it leveled a direct charge at pretty much the whole of American poetry. I’m having to edit it a bit, as I don’t want to name the book, because I don’t have an argument with the book itself, and I don’t want to name the writer of the blurb, for the same reason. What I’m interested in is the charge itself. Here it is:
“In [this] masterful … collection [the poet] is concerned, above all, with the ramifications of a new global culture that most American poets have thus far ignored and neglected, partly out of incomprehension, partly out of fear. By setting [himself or herself] against such timidity, [the poet] offers [his or her] most sustained and experimental reckoning with matters of cultural and social witness.”
It’s high praise, and perhaps this book is up for it, I don’t know, I haven’t read it yet. But the rest of the blurb, where the blurb writer chastises the rest of American poetry, has me wondering. Is it correct?
1. Should all American poets have “the ramifications of a new global culture” as their direct subject matter?
2. If they don’t have “the ramifications of a new global culture” as their direct subject matter, is it because they find it partly “incomprehensible” and that they are partly “fearful”?
3. Are American poets “timid” in this respect (and by inference, timid in general)?
4. Are “the ramifications of a new global culture” the only way to reckon with “matters of cultural and social witness”?
There’s an argument going on in this blurb. So, then, what do you think of the issues raised? Is the blurb writer correct? Is it simply hyperbole? Should we ignore it? Well, then why is it there as the first blurb on the back of the book? The publisher must want is to read it and to take it seriously. Right? (Even if, by inference, most of the rest of that publisher's catalogue is part of the problem that this book is here to correct.)
I haven’t done a statistical analysis of American poets to be able to get to the specificity of what “most” means. I mean, who could really know what most American poets write without reading all the books by American poets, which is statistically impossible. But I feel intuitively that the blurb writer is wrong, especially with the “ignored” and “neglected” bit. In a lot of the poetry I read, I feel there IS an engagement with “the ramifications of a new global culture” going on all over the place. Perhaps there’s a specific way that the writer of the blurb thinks such things should be witnessed, that the writer doesn’t see going on. That could be true. But that’s not a lack of engagement, that a manner of engagement.
And then there’s, of course, the question of the role of poetry in general, as in question number one, above.