Monday, April 16, 2012

blurb wars revisited: The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobsen

Five Islands press; Advance Information: Exciting new poetry

Let us imagine someone, me, who is doing a PhD on narrative poetry, and is therefore interested to learn that FIP are releasing a “Novel in Verse”. Let us imagine him reading the advance information for this book supplied by the publisher ( I’ve added the quotes I'm discussing to the bottom of this post). What does he learn about the book?

It’s a novel in verse, with narrative sweep and drive and it’s true poetry, with some familiar adjectives stuck on the end (Brilliant, poignant, disconcerting magical and irresistible). And the poet has won some prizes.

How does that give me enough information to decide whether or not I want to read it? (I will, but not because of this advertising.)

What this flier doesn’t say about the book is revelatory about the publishing of Poetry. Apparently telling me this is a "novel in verse" is all I need to know to part with my money.

We are not told the content of the narrative, the style of the narrative nor are we told what type of "verse" is being used. Could you sell a novel by advertising it as a “Novel in Prose” and leaving it there? You’d expect at least a one sentence plot summary?
Surely you’d at least assume the potential reader (me) wants to know what this novel is about ? “Romance holds hands with science and takes to the ocean” is the nearest we get. (Visions of underwater sex reinforced by the cover?).

And what kind of “Novel”. A narrative? What kind of narrative? (conventional: The Monkey’s Mask/ different: For all we Know/”experimental”: Deep Step Come Shining) What kind of verse? Chopped prose, Tennyson on Ecstasy, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Poetry…. as formal as Freddy Neptune?

Why is it that the people who are supposed to be selling this book seem to think these questions are irrelevant to a potential buyer?

And what do they offer instead?

Three generic blurb quotes (see below) and a biography of the poet?

A risk-taking work of rare, imaginative power. What could that possibly mean? It might describe Flann O’Brian’s The Third Policeman or Pound’s Cantos, but we’re getting close to the hundredth anniversary of The Waste Land and there was a risk-taking work of rare, imaginative power. Should I expect something of the class of Deep Step'? The Waste land, Briggflatts, the Anathemata?
What could “risk taking” and “rare imaginative power” possibly mean without some kind of context. And why is "risk taking" admirable? Drug addicts take risks.

As for the narrative drive of the novel with the perfect pitch of true poetry. With no information about the plot or the style of narrative which novel? Ulysses? Murder on the Orient Express? How is "the novel" anymore a meaningful category than "a novel in verse"? What could narrative "drive" or "sweep" mean? War and Peace on Benzedrine?

As for the perfect pitch of true poetry …..answers on a post card please…why is it considered meaningful to use the phrase “true poetry’ on the back of a decent writer's work? it sounds like something one of my grade eights might write about her favourite bit of poetry in Dolly magazine or one of the "comments" posted on Authorsden.com.

So let us assume that the publisher actually wants people to buy the book. The question then is why do they present it in such a way? It may well be the most exciting thing to be published in Australia since The Monkey hit the stands but how would you know from this information?

The quotations below are the three in question. The rest of the flier simply has a paragraph about the author. And if my grumbling makes you curious go buy the book. (-:

The Sunlit Zone is a moving elegy of love and loss, admirable for its
narrative sweep and the family dynamic that drives it. A risk-taking work of
rare, imaginative power.

The Sunlit Zone combines the narrative drive of the novel with the perfect
pitch of true poetry. A darkly futuristic vision shot through with bolts of
light. Brilliant, poignant, disconcerting.

Adrian Hyland, author of Kinglake 350 and Diamond Dove

This novel in verse, at once magical and irresistible, draws us into a vivid
future. In Lisa Jacobson’s telling, the Australian fascination with salt water
and sea change is made over anew. Romance holds hands with science and
takes to the ocean.

Chris Wallace-Crabbe, author of The Domestic Sublime and By Title

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