The Censor Is Rested
Like that aging new kid on the block—book trailers—back cover blurbs have become a genre unto themselves. Or at least it’s fun to read them that way—as prose poems that catch the blurber trying to write something positive about the work that is at once personal and universal. Some blurbs are dreamy and tangential, others pull no punches and opt for brevity.
The Blurblr will be looking at all kinds of blurbs with a stare and a wink, considering blurbs as discrete works of art as well as looking at the book being talked up to see how the blurb fits. Does it fit, and how well does the book wear it? In this first installment of the Blurblr, we’ll look at a book whose blurb turns convention on its ear.
K. Lorraine Graham’s new book, The Rest Is
Censored (Coconut Books) (indirect link; scroll down), sports just a single blurb. Catherine Wagner wrote it, and,here, she writes in the form of a note to the author; a coiled, taut syntactical puzzle of a note. More than most blurbs, this really does read like a prose poem—one that’s been comma-endeared/commandeered by punctuation. Wagner has a surfeit of commas in her bag of tricks, and she drops them like breadcrumbs. Whether they lead or obfuscate is irrelevant; they’re carefully designed to hook the adventurous browser. Although there is a risk that Wagner might turn readers off, it’s more than likely that a reader who scares easily wouldn’t have made it this far.
So what does Catherine Wagner say? Well:
Lay the pieces of languaged life of your, next to one another, they were moved from, they moved, me. If I don’t misunderstand you, KLG, you are coding these pieces of languaged, life, as poetry. It is very good poetry. I think, of poets who bring a day, into the poem—Leslie Scalapino, Larry Eigner, Joanne Kyger—Lorraine Graham on a bus in California—and I am given pause, is changing, misunderstanding can, get to, life through, this.
One thing’s for certain: This is very good poetry, according to Wagner. This thesis, buried in the center of the blurb, fans out into enticingly confusing sentence fragments. I like to think of the commas as stand-ins for words that have been censored, in the spirit of the book’s title. “Lay the pieces of languaged life of your,” what? The comma becomes the equivalent of a strikethrough or a black smear of redaction. Or does it become an open field of choices, for the reader to fill in once they’ve read the book?
The last sentence of the blurb is particularly laden with mysterious gaps replaced by commas. Wagner isn’t so much commenting on the book as she is talking with Graham about the book—we’re lucky enough to be privy to one half of a dialogue between two such talented writers. There’s nothing like “misunderstanding” to get through this life, this “languaged” life.
I think both Wagner and Graham would agree that there is no, life but, languaged, life, and while Graham is writing on the bus, perhaps Wagner’s commas are the bus stops. Language gets on; language gets off. Wagner is given pause, and so is the reader, trying to make sense of the “coding” of these pieces of “languaged life.