I’ve been blessed to have articulate blurbs for my books from people I admire, James K.A. Smith, Scott Cairns, Malcom Guite, to name only the most well-known, and so I try to pay it forward, writing accurate, compelling blurbs of books I believe in when asked. Lots of times, I can’t do it because I don’t actually love the book in question. I try to be honest about this and never seem to get behind a book I can’t, you know, get behind. Last week alone I turned down two publishers who wanted blurbs for forthcoming books that I just couldn’t put my name to. Hopefully, if I stay principled about this, it will mean someday I have a list of books I really believe in. Recently, I’ve blurbed three: Jeremiah Webster After so Many Fires, Laura Reece Hogan Litany of Flights, and Ben Palpant The Stranger. Of the most recent, here’s what I wrote.
Ben Palpant’s poems in The Stranger breakdance through both biblical and literary history, remixing tunes from Tennyson and Gwendolyn Brooks with samples from the pop band Starship and the Divine Office. But those juxtapositions are not this strong collection’s best surprise. Rather, it’s the big quiet after each poem ends in which we mouth both How true and Hallelujah. This book is at once a daring and a tender undertaking.
For me, this is all the more interesting because another project of mine, Philip James Bailey’s Festus, whose huge draft I sent off to my publisher at Edinburgh University Press just this month, was the first book in the English-speaking world to use blurbs. It seems to have invented the practice. I’ll write something about this one of these days sinceit is–both obviously (blurbs are ubiquitous) and invisibly (no one knows they have Festus to thank) one of that poem’s most enduring legacies.
This week, I am participating in a panel discussion on Zoom called “What’s the Best Luxury Album?” It is exactly as it sounds: we have 5 panelists and a moderator arguing about which record is best from this beautiful band. I’m representing S/T from 1999, which you can’t listen to anywhere apart from physical media, so I have my work cut out for me. The whole thing got a signal boost when Christianity Today ran this wonderful essay about the band (by an SPU alum) including our link in the tagline. Should be good fun. Free to all. Stop by if you want to talk about music.
Weatherland by Alexandra Harris. Everyone I know gushed about this book when it came out and I had (rare for me) the good sense to scrawl it down on my wishlist and thank goodness. What a wonder, and what a sensitive publication by Thames and Hudson; this thing is beautiful in every way a book can be.
The best essays I’ve read in a good while were this one On Demons, which changed my thinking about a number of topics and this piece on Punk Priests, which I mentioned above. I also appreciated William Logan’s new poetry column, as usual.
I owe the genesis for this poem to my colleague at SPU MFA, Lauren Winner. She gave us all a writing prompt, after having read Julian of Norwich, directing us to a certain passage and instructing us to think about the notion of “descent.” I took her instructions very literally, and wrote this piece that day, publishing it in the new issue of Trinity House Review. You can read my new poem right here.