A writer is one for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. Thomas Mann
* * *
Last Saturday I went to a garden party to celebrate the publication of Steve Altman’s new book, Blues for the Muse. It’s a homage to John Keats.
Fifty years ago Steve stumbled upon the poems of John Keats (1795–1821). It was adoration at first sight. Steve made pilgrimages to Keats’s grave in Rome.
What more could he do to honor this brilliant romantic poet who died of tuberculosis at age 25?
Blues for the Muse is the answer.
It took 50 years to incubate, eight years of hard labor, several midwives, and lots of pushing, but at last it arrived—200 years after Keats’s death.
Blues for the Muse consists of 202 sonnets.
I won’t say I hate poetry, but I don’t like it very much. One poem gets me through a whole year. Easily.
At that pace I wouldn’t live long enough to finish the book. But out of respect for my friend, I decided to give it a fair shake.
I began by reading the first sonnet aloud. Much to my surprise, I was hooked after just 14 lines. (Sonnets by definition are 14 lines.)
I didn’t have to squint, squirm, or sweat. Reading it was a breeze.
As it turns out, it isn’t a collection of 202 random sonnets. It is one continuous story. It lured me further and further in, sonnet by sonnet, page by page.
A forlorn man from Queens sits on a bench beside John Keats’s grave in Rome. He spies a beautiful woman in an azure dress at a funeral one grave over. He sidles up to her. She runs. He pursues her. They make torrid love in a hotel room. Next morning two armed thugs bust in to kill him. (Turns out she’s the wife of a mafia boss.)
Don’t kill me, he pleads with one. I can see you have a face meant to be in the movies. I’m going to make one and you’ll be in it.
His life is spared. (For the time being.)
No wonder that within three weeks Blues for the Muse had 10 five-star reviews on Amazon. By comparison, after three months, my new book, 80 Dispatches from the Devil’s Domain, had none.
No, I’m not jealous. But, I will say, the Devil’s got the blues.
* * *
BREAKING NEWS!! Two reviews have just been posted. Click here to read what the critics are saying—and please feel free to add your own review!
See Paula’s new photo (“Swept Fields”) on the home page. Posted October 3.
Blues for the Devil–fitting–how else could he be your “muse”? Altman must be one of your Angels–his talent inspired you to read–and embrace!–poetry (which this reader thoroughly appreciates, btw 😏)!!
Well, I might have referenced “devil with the blue dress, blue dress on” (per Altman’s “woman in an azure dress”). By the way, I do enjoy poetry more than I let on in my hyperbolic set-up. I’m a fan and reader of Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and Wendell Berry, not to mention Ed Zahniser and Hope Snyder. I just hope readers don’t send me books of poetry to test me.
Oh, yes! “Blue dress”; touche! I still had cobwebs in the brain cells this morning (I may just keep them through Halloween! ;•)! BOooohhh…) I relish the poets you enjoy and appreciate, too — especially our own inimitable Ed Zahneiser! A crackin’ collection, this!
Inspiration and connection thru the written word is a blessing. Blessed every week by your words, and by other writers, I am a grateful reader. And on my father’s knee, I learned to love (some) poetry too. Thank you!❤️🙏🏼
I did not think much of poetry until I worked at the Carl Sandburg Home for two years and read many of his poems. No rhyming here. You may recall I read one of his poems (at a church gathering) called Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind. Quite a story. Good luck in your continuing quest for enlightenment. I’m still working on it too.