It’s the Blurby Awards!

It’s that time of year when we as a society look back at the previous year’s excellence and accomplishments in film, television, and music. However, one cultural field is often overlooked by critics—blurbs! That’s right, it’s time for the Blurby Awards, honoring excellence in blurb writing for poetry books. So without further ado, we at CalJoPo give you 2011’s best blurbs.




“It would take a miracle to perform this pageant. For a start, you would have to reanimate Charlotte Brontë, Adolf Loos, and Ronald Reagan, and you would need an ungodly amount of wax. Most of the action is obscene, and therefore takes place offstage. The actors enter and report on scenes of spectacular violence that go on all the time every day. The audience is part of the spectacle too. We are all transformed into images somewhere in this script. At one point, all of Hollywood appears onstage in the form of dead horses, perhaps because Hollywood film continues to rely on narrative conventions that it exhausted long ago. The entire world also appears, played by a boy who, in a series of rapid costume changes, puts on increasingly pretty dresses.” — Aaron Kunin on Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate by Johannes Göransson (Tarpaulin Sky)




“OK, people, I have to be honest with you. James is just too humble. He didn’t suddenly ‘get lucky’ by having two manuscripts accepted for publication within six months of each other. No. Instead, the world of poetry has finally caught on to his mad genius. And I don’t use that word lightly. I like to compare reading his poems to being dragged into the ocean by your ankles. As if you are tethered to an enormous manta ray that pulls you fathoms down. Yes. You’re terrified, but you can’t help but notice all the eyeless flowering creatures along the way. You swerve, weightlessly, in between sea volcanoes and yes, you’ll burn your cheek or perhaps finger tips, but only because you must hurt, a little, in the face of such beauty.” — Kristin Bock on The City from Nome by James Grinwis (National Poetry Review Press)




“I took the pill that shrinks you down. I gave the book the treatment that turns a book into a 3-dimensional self-contained universe within a universe. I climbed in and began to walk around. It took me a while to catch on. I was a little too busy being awe-struck by what I was finding. I was dazzled and struck blind every way I turned. The agencies of our imaginations have to be tended. In The City from Nome we’re challenged to tune ourselves up into haunted and strange high registers.” — Dara Wier on The City from Nome by James Grinwis (National Poetry Review Press)




“A poet adept at folding elegant, poetic cranes from the rough newsprint of everyday life.” — Christopher Citro on Having a Little Talk with Capital P Poetry by Jim Daniels (Carnegie Mellon UP)




“Mr. Murray’s verse wears, from the waist up, a cosmopolitan, Philip Larkin-like wit. From the waist down, it dresses in worn dungarees and mud-caked boots. There’s a sense of rural astringency . . . Mr. Murray employs both rhyme and meter, but variably—he’s like a man walking a large, randy, omnivorous dog on a retractable leash. He can cinch his words tightly in an instant; he owns one of poetry’s most sensitive verbal choke collars . . . ” — Dwight Garner on Killing the Black Dog: A Memoir of Depression by Les Murray (Farrar Straus & Giroux)




“To read this book is to read Whitman again, only it’s a hundred and fifty years later, and he’s a young woman this time. The Alphabet Conspiracy throbs with the lifeblood of democracy: all people are the same here, and all times, too. I love Rita Mae Reese for the sweetness of her lines, the calm optimism of her spirit.” — David Kirby on The Alphabet Conspiracy by Rita Mae Reese (Red Hen Press)




“While Rimbaud talks about the path to poetry through delirium, Kiwao Nomura tries to shed poetry in the midst of delirium. As if trying to witness a creation of new poetics at its end, he reiterates his wanderings in delirium—which is perhaps an event that elucidates what modernity is.” — Shuri Kido on Spectacle & Pigsty by Kiwao Nomura (Omnidawn Publshing)




“I don’t know where else you could contract the plague in these words but by ten TVs at once. On the TVs play: Salo, the weather channel, 2x Fassbinder (any), Family Double Dare, ads for ground beef, blurry surgical recordings, porno, porno, Anger (all). . . . Burroughs and Genet and ‘Pac are dead. Long live Göransson.” — Blake Butler on Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate by Johannes Göransson (Tarpaulin Sky)




“Despite it’s otherworldly title, Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars is inextricably rooted in a reality that nevertheless has the capacity to astound. Yes, she takes us cavorting in the cosmos to ponder questions of magic and mortality—but, back on earth, her wrenching sequence on the death of her father is a tour de force of unleashed pain and reflection. Experiencing this extraordinary work, and wondering how best to summarize its deep shimmer, I kept returning to one of the volume’s most ambitious poems. Its title is just how I feel about Tracy K. Smith’s latest triumph: ‘My God, it’s full of stars.’ ” — Patricia Smith on Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith (Graywolf)




“Ultimately, the lyrics in Hoodwinked read as odes to mortality. They marvel nonstop, unsentimentally, and with necessary ambivalence, at the world as given and the human inability to consistently rise to the exhausting challenge of making every second count. These poems constantly acknowledge that ‘all flesh is grass.’ They make us hear the wondrous, terrifying hum of impending obliteration, while at the same time never growing immune to beauty, never ceasing to be curious about what the grass itself makes of our common temporal conundrum.” — Amy Gerstler on Hoodwinked by David Hernandez (Sarabande Books, Inc)




“Spick and span, cut and dry, shake and bake, and now Elaine Equi introduces Click and Clone. These poetically altered texts punch holes into the multiverses of pop and splendor, short and longing, prose and dreams. Equi says that art can no longer imitate life, it just needs to keep up. As they might say at the racetrack, she leads by a verse.” — Charles Bernstein on Click and Clone by Elaine Equi (Coffee House Press)




“Filip Marinovich’s second book spans the Otts, the outs, and many outposts. Travel with Filip and meet the phantoms of airplane chewing gum and beat on a drum with a Molotov cocktail. ‘What’s happening? What is happening to me?’ The poems of Filip Marinovich, that’s what! This book makes me cry, then laugh, it’s awful, it’s fantastic! Joy is in the movement he says and there is an inexplicable physicality between each word! Have you been here? Ever visit such a place? In one sitting you will read it and want every book to possess such tangential magic! I’m stupid with love for the genius of Filip Marinovich!” — CA Conrad on And If You Don’t Go Crazy I’ll Meet You Here Tomorrow by Filip Marinovich (Ugly Duckling Presse)




“We have in Vogelsang a poet furious with history but attempting a mad escape. It’s a swollen poetry, maximal at the least and packed with his rare rage. Sexual, sizzling really, and full of indestructible stories of fragility.  Local as Pop art, it has international shadows—demotic, properly tilted, and glowing. The stories are ardent; the double binds are musical. The museums in his poetry are perturbed or disturbed spaces, and the language of surveillance and trembling is upon us: the poetics of a panicked or manic Kafka.” — David Shapiro on Expedition: New and Selected Poems by Arthur Vogelsang (Ashland)




“Kafka’s bureaucratic ephemera and Smithson’s grand earthworks morph in Susan Briante’s hands into these dance-like poems, complex and elegant architectures of gesture, a New Babylon of corridors between Texan birches and the strains of Lou Reed’s guitar. Briante is a detritus artist, a gleaner working in the banal of the contemporary world, molding the pieces she finds into vivid mosaics. In Utopia Minus Briante claims her lineage, mapped through dried out gutters in which real human bodies, somewhat uncomfortable but very much alive, float upon a raft made of reassembled bits of downcycled American cities, east mating with west, big colliding with small.” — Rachel Levitsky on Utopia Minus by Susan Briante (Ahsahta Press)




“The poet feasts on the sights and sounds of bees, plums, and young musicians and ponders simultaneous forms of consciousness. Molecules inspire thoughts on matter and the perpetuity of motion and change; evolution’s slow parade summons recognition of life’s ‘wanting to live.’ Hirshfield writes with a mystic’s joy and holy radar about the ‘visual heat’ surrounding a person in love and how ‘moonlight builds its cold chapel.’ ” — Donna Seaman on Come, Thief by Jane Hirshfield (Knopf)





“As ever in these situations, the characters must keep telling who they are in order to recall who they were, to discover who they will be: this mother and son are escaping Everything, even each other, and of course all they flee is all they find. Crisscrossing a USA of nightmare museums where Edward Lear is King and the Queen of Heartache is Alice, of course they’re in heaven if only they could stop anywhere, somewhere… America has given B. K. Fischer the Dream and she gives back all she woke to find: Mutiny Gallery! Her visionary poetry is a good mother’s song, her novel a bad boy’s scream. As another of those, I salute her and the revels I long to join.” — Richard Howard on Mutiny Gallery by B. K. Fischer (Truman State UP)


A Beautiful Name for a Girl is a hypnotic and ravishing house, filled with trapdoors, curtains made out of the hides of changelings, and windows on the verge of shattering pain. Up and down the staircase, disappearing acts—like girls—‘grow big without you.’ Kaschock’s poems ‘avow / a new architecture,’ rooted by mothers cooking up a snuff that is both breath and its endless vanish. If Houdini himself had feasted on these mothers’ snuff, I have no doubt he would’ve thanked god for Kaschock and in her honor called his most mystifying trick the beautiful name that is ‘girl.’ ” — Sabrina Orah Mark on A Beautiful Name for a Girl by Kirsten Kaschock (Ahsahta Press)


“She will twist up your heart into your next heart. Settle in. There are three dead people in her.” — Zachary Schomburg on The Grief Performance by Emily Kendal Frey (Cleveland State University Poetry Center)


“What I love most about Vogelsang is his mind, prophetic, wild, loony; and his language, rapturous and ironic. The two work together, indeed they are one—the mind, the language. This is true of much poetry, but it is steadily true of Vogelsang, who is the purest poet I know. I have a feeling (a thought?) that Vogelsang is stretched out over a boiling globe, that he’s trying to enact some control over the chaos he lives in, we live in, that he reflects that chaos in his poems, that he enacts (rather than re-enacts) that chaos, which sometimes seems like the true madness, even the true horror, of existence. He has reached a new level of lyric elegance and has become an absolute master at what he does.” — Gerald Stern on Expedition: New and Selected Poems by Arthur Vogelsang (Ashland)


“These short poems by Anna Swir, keenly translated by Piotr Florczyk, have the urgency and clarity of a poet staring back at a burning building from which she somehow escaped, except the building is Poland and she is looking back in memory, talking to its war-torn corpses, and to us, the lucky recipients of these explosive poems.” — Edward Hirsch on Building the Barricade by Anna Swir, trans. by Piotr Florczyk (Calypso)


“Rita Mae’s work artfully addresses itself to the way children are taught to enter—and then become trapped by—a world constructed of language.” — Mark Doty on The Alphabet Conspiracy by Rita Mae Reese (Red Hen Press)


“Rachel Richardson’s Copperhead is a gorgeous river song fast-rising above the heart’s levee. As sensuous, cerebral, and mysterious as thick layers of hanging moss over muddy water, this ear-catching debut of poems performs in its language a semimagical charm of memory, seduction, and redemption. My suggestion: avoid all evacuation routes and stay put. Richardson is a remarkable talent who teaches us to faithfully read the signs that make us broken and beautiful.” — Major Jackson on Copperhead by Rachel Richardson (Carnegie Mellon UP)