The Joy of Writing Blurbs

J.S. Porter Me with hair, typing/writing Photo by David Wagg

I believe that basically you write for two people; yourself to try to make it absolutely perfect, or if not that then wonderful. Then you write for who you love whether she can read or write or not and whether she is alive or dead.

–Ernest Hemingway

for David

By J.S. Porter

Before beginning to write, I hear voices in my head.  The first voice says, “Write.” The second voice says, “Why bother?”  And then, “Who are you going to write for anyway?”

The first voice goes silent for a time and then says, “Write for the dead, for the ones you love, for the dead ones you love, and those living.”  Then the first voice gathers energy and personalizes, “Write for your father and your grandsons.” Something like this back and forth, this self-interrogation with voices, happens when I bring fingers to keyboard. I need to convince myself that there is a reason to write.

Even when I convince fingers to strike letters, doubts about the text’s worth or its longevity nag at me.  I think of the fate of most writers’ work –not the Shakespeares—but the Joe -and- Jane scribblers in whose company I place myself: here for an instant, and then forgotten.

I think of Jesus writing only once in his life and in an element as open to oblivion as words in sand, at the mercy of wind or water. Is that the destiny of most words, especially my words? They’re blown away or washed away?

The one joy of writing, the one sort of writing I don’t need to convince myself to undertake and where doubt is at its weakest, has to do with writing blurbs for other people’s work.  I take special delight in the recent blurb Shawna Lemay uses on her website for her book Asking:

Lemay gives the impression that she’s seeing the world for the first time after decades of deep reading and deep thinking, finding just the right words to report on her discoveries.”

“And that is what her writing is: stirred and mixed and very simple.  And, yes, beautiful. The beauty is in the depth of her vision.”

J.S. Porter, The Nancy Duffy Show

Blurbs are a joy to write.  I’ve written blurbs (front cover, back cover, inside cover, or on publishers’ websites) for Margaret Atwood (2), Susan McCaslin (2), Marilyn Gear Pilling (2), Michael Higgins (2), Robert Fulford, Eva Tihanyi, B.W. Powe, Frances Ward, Robert Adams, Timothy Taylor, Michael Redhill, Di Brandt, Sarah Hall, Royston Tester, Leona Gom, and M.A.C.  Farrant whose The Strange Truth About Us intercuts empty space with print, voice with silence, as it explores possible futures, dire and uplifting.

I recently wrote a blurb for David Zieroth’s Facebook site on his Alfred Gustav Press chapbook series, Series 17, on Marilyn Gear Pilling’s Estrangement:

Marilyn Gear Pilling’s Estrangement is a small masterpiece. It breathes life into ashes. It plunges deeply into grief, guilt, memory, friendship, mortality, and love.  Strangeness and splendour leap off the page.

Marilyn’s chapbook has to do with her deceased friend Rosalind, a woman of athleticism, intellectual rigour, and commanding presence. She was complicated, Marilyn’s relationship with her was complicated, and Estrangement does justice to the complexities. (The thought has just occurred to me that Rosalind may have been named after Shakespeare’s Rosalind in As You Like It. She had the intelligence and agility of Shakespeare’s heroine.)

Black Moss Press in an earlier Pilling work – The Bones of The World Begin To Show—also used my words:

In these intimate story-poems, Marilyn Gear Pilling caresses stranger and kin, dog and horse, the living and the dead. Like the rooster, she cracks open the day. She invites readers to love the freckled world, every last blemish and bone of it.

I think embroidering on texts is at the heart of what I do whether it’s writing on someone else’s words or trying to write my own. But writing doesn’t come easily to me. I do it reluctantly. Do I really have something better than silence to offer, better than an empty page, better than what my betters have already done?

That’s how I feel about writing, although I take boyish pride in numbers – the way a kid keeps track of baseball statistics. I’ve written 80+ blogs, over 100 book reviews, about 20 columns, 60 articles, and 21 blurbs.  I enjoy messing around with language, making notes, and reading.

I enjoy my blogs for The Nancy Duffy Show, my columns for Dialogue Magazine, and my essays for Hamilton Arts and Letters. Is that because Nancy, Janet, and Paul & Fiona—each so warm and receptive— give me a reason to write? “Write as the spirit moves you,” Nancy says.

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