to blurb or not to blurb?

Have you ever been asked to write a blurb for a new poetry book or read one that turned you off? Here’s some light-hearted advice from Scottish poet Helena Nelson.

“Pile of Poetry” by Nichola Martin.
by Helena Nelson

This book is not bad.
A number of these poems feature the poet’s dog: George.
The author’s mother recommends this book.
Boris Johnson recommends this book.
Most of the poems are quite short.
Poetry is not for everybody.
These poems are accessible if reasonable adjustments are made.
Many of these poems were written while dusting.
The poet applied three times for funding to assist in the completion
of this book.
Please buy this book.
The poems in this book have universal resonance some of the time.
Includes five villanelles and three sestinas.
There is a glossary of difficult words for readers new to poetry.
The poet skillfully employs seven types of metonymy.
The main theme is death.

~ from Down with Poetry! (Glenrothes: HappenStance, 2016)


Blurbing new poetry books is a tricky business. Your task is to help sell the book, but how do you do justice to it without sounding too cliché or over the top?

I always read the blurbs on the back covers of new single poet collections and sometimes find them pretentious, intimidating, even unbelievable. I sometimes run away screaming. And I’m someone who actually likes poetry.

At the Scottish Poetry Library, Nelson said this about her poem:

In Issue 25 of The Dark Horse (2011), there was an article called ‘The Blurbonic Plague’ by the late, lamented Dennis O’Driscoll. It was about the awfulness of much of the text on back jackets of new poetry books. This struck a chord close to my heart, and also gave me the courage to form a deliberate policy for HappenStance Press, which ever since has been officially ‘anti-blurb’. When I issue books and pamphlets, the text on the back cover never includes words like ‘new and exciting’, and I don’t commission blurbs or, worse still, get poets to write their own. But then what do you write? The truth? Frequently that won’t do either. It’s easier to say what not to write, and have some fun with that. So I made a list, some of which turned into this poem.

I thoroughly enjoyed her list and her wry humor (some of the suggestions could also apply to things one should not include in a manuscript submission cover letter).

Truly, what could be more enticing (esp. to a potential non-poet reader) than a platter full of shop talk? We all eat metonymy, synecdoche, asyndeton and caesura for breakfast, right? 🙂

And they say poetry is a hard sell . . .

Actually, I think Nelson is definitely onto something with her “anti-blurb” stance. If a blurb can make you laugh, wouldn’t you be more apt to buy the book? Hold the mega hype, please.

Here is Nelson reciting the poem:

How do you feel about book blurbs? How seriously do you take them?


Helena Nelson (Nell Nelson) is the originator and editor of HappenStance Press as well as a poet in her own right. Her first Rialto collection Starlight on Water was a Jerwood/Aldeburgh First Collection winner. Her second was Plot and Counterplot from Shoestring Press. She also writes and publishes light verse – Down With Poetry! (HappenStance, 2016) and Branded (Red Squirrel Press, 2019). In 2016, she published a HappenStance best seller: How (Not) to Get Your Poetry Published, a book that collects the insights and useful ideas she has gathered over the last twelve years in poetry publishing.

She reviews widely, writes a publisher’s blog regularly, and also curates the pamphlet review site Sphinx Review.


The lovely and talented Tanita S. Davis is hosting the Roundup at {fiction, instead of lies}. Waltz on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. Happy March!

*Copyright © 2023 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

Julia Donaldson: Smile at the Camera!

Take a sip of milk and nibble on a cookie. Today we’re sharing a poem from Julia Donaldson’s Crazy Mayonnaisy Mum (Macmillan, 2004).

Are you ready? Look up at the camera and say “cheese!”

Art from CMM by Nick Sharratt.
by Julia Donaldson

Everyone's smiling, grinning, beaming,
Even Clare Biggs who was really scheming
How she was going to get revenge
On her ex-best friend, Selina Penge
(front row, third left, with hair in wisps)
For stealing her salt and vinegar crisps.

And Martin Layton-Smith is beaming,
Though he was almost certainly dreaming
Of warlock warriors in dripping caves
Sending mindless orcs to their gruesome graves.
(Next to him, Christopher Jordan's dream
Has something to do with a football team.)

And Ann-Marie Struthers is sort of beaming,
Though a minute ago her eyes were streaming
Because she'd been put in the second back row
And separated from Jennifer Snow.
And Jennifer Snow is beaming too,
Though Miss Bell wouldn't let her go to the loo.

And Miss Bell, yes even Miss Bell is beaming,
Though only just now we'd heard her screaming
At the boy beside her, Robert Black,
Who kept on peeling his eyelids back
And making a silly hooting noise
(Though he said that was one of the other boys).

Eve Rice is doing her best at beaming.
Yes, Eve is reasonably cheerful-seeming,
Though I think she was jealous because Ruth Chubb
Had -- at last! -- let me into their special club.
(In order to join the club, said Ruth,
You had to have lost at least one tooth.)

And look, that's me, and my teeth are gleaming
Around my new gap; yes, I'm really beaming.

~ copyright © 2004 Julia Donaldson (Crazy Mayonnaisy Mum, published by Macmillan).


~ from Class Picture Day by Margaret McNamara and Mike Gordon (2011).

Class pictures are a lot of fun. As the poem describes, there are interesting stories behind those seemingly innocent smiles.

It’s actually kind of miraculous to see a school photo where everyone is behaving themselves. Sometimes there’s a kid who makes a face right as the camera clicks, another who decides to call out something at the last minute – hence an open mouth – or another who blinks. Those who photograph children have to be extra patient; being able to bring out the best in one’s subjects is a true talent.

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🥧poetry friday roundup is here🌽

Please help yourself to apple cider, chocolate chip pumpkin bread, oatmeal raisin cookies and a Dreamy Pear slice.

Welcome to Poetry Friday at Alphabet Soup!

So, it’s almost turkey o’clock. Does Thanksgiving fill you with dread or anticipation? Will you find the holiday relaxing or stressful? A good sense of humor is essential whether you’re dealing with dry turkey, lumpy mashed potatoes, or high drama with relatives.

Mr Cornelius contemplates giant oatmeal cookies.

The older I get, the more I appreciate Melanie White’s Instagram caption: “Thanksgiving – when the people who are the most thankful are the ones who didn’t have to cook.” 😀

True, yet when you don’t cook, you don’t have any leftovers, which I think are actually the best part of Thanksgiving (hello, hot turkey sandwiches, apple pie for breakfast, sausage stuffing for lunch). When all the niceties and formalities of the holiday are over, you can finally be alone with your food and have your way with it.

Austin poet C J Beaman’s parody says it all.


by C J Beaman

Twas the night of Thanksgiving, but I just couldn't sleep, 
I tried counting backwards, I tried counting sheep. 
The leftovers beckoned - the dark meat and white, 
But I fought off the temptation with all of my might. 

I tossed and I turned with sweet anticipation, 
As the thought of a snack became infatuation. 
So I raced to the kitchen, flung open the door 
And gazed at the fridge, full of goodies galore. 

I gobbled up turkey and buttered potatoes, 
Pickles and carrots, beans and tomatoes. 
I felt myself swelling so plump and so round, 
'Til all of a sudden, I rose off the ground. 

I crashed through the ceiling, floating into the sky 
With a mouthful of pudding and a handful of pie. 
But I managed to yell as I soared past the trees... 
Happy eating to all! Pass the cranberries, please! 

May your stuffing be tasty, may your turkey be plump, 
May your potatoes & gravy have nary a lump, 
May your yams be delicious, may your pies take the prize, 
May your Thanksgiving dinner stay off of your thighs. 

Remember to share with those less fortunate,
And may your Thanksgiving be blessed!

~ Copyright © 2001, C J Beaman. All rights reserved.
“Pie in the Sky” by Dan Craig.



Thanks to all who left interesting comments about your aunts. Thoroughly enjoyed reading them! After Mr Cornelius wrote all the commentors’ names down on pieces of paper, he tossed them into Paddington’s bush hat so Aunt Lucy could pick two winners. And they are:



🥁 drum roll please 🥁






🎉🎉Congratulations, Jone and Mary Lee!! 🎉 🎉

Please email your snail mail addresses and we’ll get the books out to you lickety split!

Thanks again, everyone. 🙂


Now, please leave your links with the dapper Mr. Linky below. Better take a few more bites to sustain you while you zip around the blogosphere reading all the fine poems, reviews, and poetic ruminations being shared by our poetry peeps this week.



“Mulberry Cake” by Loré Pemberton


*Copyright © 2022 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

lindsay macrae’s “happy families”

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. 

Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.

What will you be when you grow up — and will your job match your name?

“Three Men in a Tub” by Tim Egan
by Lindsay MacRae

Mr Pill the pharmacist
Mrs Bunn the baker
Master Leak the plumber’s mate
B. Grave the undertaker.

Mr Blast, who in the past
once mended broken hooters
Mr Spider – web designer
Miss Take – in computers.

Ena Hurry makes strung curry
Old MacDonald farms
Mr Cue is in the theatre
Bill Ithole sells arms.

Master Void is unemployed
Reg Card – a referee
When I grow up, I worry what
my name suggests I’ll be.

What kind of job might go with Robb?
I bet you think you know it.
But I’d rather rhyme than turn to crime
So perhaps I’ll be a poet.

~ from How to Avoid Kissing Your Parents in Public (Puffin, 2000)


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friday feast: bob raczka’s presidential misadventures (+ a giveaway!)

Clerihew? Achoo!

Pardon me, but whenever I see the word “clerihew” I think somebody’s just sneezed. Either that, or I picture a shell-shaped danish pastry or a new fangled brass musical instrument.

But all you poetry aficionados know very well that a clerihew is a cheeky four-line rhyming poem invented back in the late 19th century. Its sole purpose? To make fun of a famous person. In case you’re looking to liven up your President’s Day celebration on February 16, better check out Bob Raczka’s new book, Presidential Misadventures: Poems That Poke Fun at the Man in Charge (Roaring Brook Press, 2015). 

Officially released just last week, this smorgasbord of historical and hysterical verse features 43 juicy tidbits about each of our Presidents with clever caricatures by award-winning illustrator and cartoonist Dan E. Burr. All based on fact, some poems point to an important achievement or event (Louisiana Purchase, Monroe Doctrine, Manifest Destiny), but most highlight a quirky personal habit or idiosyncrasy (Harding’s size 14 feet, Pierce’s vanity, Van Buren’s pet tigers, John Quincy Adams’s early morning skinny dipping).


In keeping with the clerihew’s rules, the first lines of these poems end with the person’s name, and I like Raczka’s spot-on descriptions: “Toothache-prone George Washington,” “Fashion-conscious Chester Arthur,” “Electric-shock victim Benjamin Harrison,” “Fresca fanatic LBJ,” “Cover-upper Richard Nixon.” Best zinger of all? “Relaxer-in-chief George W. Bush.” Did you know he took more than 900 days of vacation while in office? 😀

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