Monday, April 18, 2016

Poetry Book Blurbs: Cornelius Eady's Tireless Promotional Work

Sample of books containing book blurbs by Cornelius Eady

He's recognized as an acclaimed poet, as a musician, as the co-founder of Cave Canem, and as a mentor for countless poets. But one important, recurring, almost behind-the-scenes service that Cornelius Eady provides on behalf of contemporary poets has to be book blurbs. Over the last decade and a half or so, his appraisals have appeared on the backs of several debut volumes of poetry.

One of my favorite books -- Leadbelly (2005) by Tyehimba Jess -- includes one of my favorite all-time book blurbs. That blurb was composed by Eady and goes: 
Be careful; you hold in your hands a world. I suspect this book, about one man's journey through the blues, is as close as a book of poetry may get to describing what it means and what it costs to have this music in your veins. 
I read and re-read that blurb way too many times over the years. 

Many, though not all, of Eady's blurbs appear on books by Cave Canem Fellows. As the founders of the organization, many poets likely look to Eady and Toi Derricotte, who has also provided many blurbs, when seeking statements to complement or assist in promoting their works.

Book blurbs are part of the paratext or supporting material around the so-called main composition. At this point, commentary on the back of a book linked to the name "Cornelius Eady" represents a notable paratext. In the world of contemporary African American, Eady's presence on the back of a book signals that an individual volume is linked to a much wider black poetic network.      

There are longstanding debates among people in the publishing industry on the value of book blurbs. How much do book blurbs matter? To what extent do they include potential book buyers? What is loss and gained by judging a book by what's on the front and back covers? While folks debate those questions, I imagine that the poets who request and receive positive statements from Eady for their books experience feelings of personal satisfaction and validation. Those feelings, though hard to quantify, are significant.

Among the many volumes I own, I noticed Eady's blurbs on books by Lyrae Van CLief-Stefanon, Terrance Hayes, Adrian Matejka, Jason McCall, and others. Eady belongs to an unofficial group, which includes Derricotte, Nikky Finney, and Yusef Komunyakaa, who have produced a large number of book blurbs for poets who came of age during the late 1990s and early years of the 21st century.     

Eady continues to have a distinguishing career as a poet, but he also deserves attention for his tireless promotional work.

A Notebook on Cornelius Eady

1 comment:

Laure-Anne Bosselaar said...

One MORE thing Cornelius does with such selflesss generosity!