Established writers like Margaret Atwood are asked constantly by publishing houses to submit blurbs for other people’s books. But Atwood says she’s no longer in the business of fulfilling those requests.
Even so, she doesn’t decline the requests with a simple, brief message; instead, she uses poetry, by sending out the following poem, titled the “Ode to No”:
Letter sent in reply to requests for blurbs
(I blurb only for the dead, these days)
“You are well-known, Ms. Atwood,” the Editor said,
And we long for your quote on this book;
A few well-placed words wouldn’t bother your head,
And would help us to get in the hook!”
“In my youth,” said Ms. Atwood, “I blurbed with the best;
I practically worked with a stencil!
I stewed quotes about with the greatest largesse,
And the phrases flowed swift from my pencil.
Intelligent, lucid, accomplished, supreme,
Magnificent, touching but rough,
And lucent and lyrical, and plangent, a dream,
Vital, muscular, elegant, tough!
But now I am aging; my brain is all shrunk,
And my adjective store is depleted;
My hair’s getting stringy, I walk as though drunk;
As a quotester I’m nigh-on defeated.
I would like to be useful; God knows, as a girl
I was well-taught to help and to share;
But the books and the pleas for quotes pour through the door
Till the heaps of them drive to despair!
So at last I’ve decided to say No to all.
What you need is a writer who’s youthful;
Who has energy, wit, and a lot on the ball,
And would find your new book a sweet toothful,
Or else sees no need to be truthful.
Such a one would be happy, dear Editor, to
Write you quotes until blue in the brain.
It’s a person like this who can satisfy you,
Not poor me, who am half down the drain.
So I wish you Good Luck, and your author, and book,
Which I hope to read later, with glee.
Long may you publish, and search out the blurbs,
Though you will not get any from me.”
A hard copy of the cheekily self-deprecating response can be viewed here.
Atwood, on her site, explains that she uses the ode because she no longer has the time to handle the influx of books she’s asked to read and blurb, not to mention choose which ones she wants to blurb for: “It takes a long time to make a well-informed choice,” she writes. “Choosing between books is akin to choosing which of your two sisters should be your maid of honour… no matter what you do, someone’s bound to have their feelings hurt. So my answer is no, to everybody.”