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  • Stephen Altman

"And what rough beast . . . "

I’ve heard it said that an artist is someone who gives up the dirty business of chasing money, fame and romance in order to pursue his art, through which he hopes to be rewarded with money, fame and romance. I’m way past all that. I’ve published a novel in verse. What better proof could I offer that my motive is art for art’s sake?

There’s an old New Yorker cartoon that’s got a man in his underwear sitting on the examination table and a doctor in a white coat. The doctor has grim news. "Mr. Farnsworth, I’m afraid there’s a novel in you that has to come out.”

Say hello to Mr. Farnsworth—although I must say that even though my novel’s out (and it’s my second novel, to be technical about it), I can feel the next one begin to stir. I think it was Yeats who wrote:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Shepherdstown to be born?

Did I get that right? In any event it can’t be the money, fame and romance that have got the beast slouching around in my vitals again. It’s the fact that people like me have to write—or, as in my case, have to suffer over wanting to write till finally, after a long and gruesome mating dance with the demons sloth and doubt—they get it done. Then (as was said by Michael Corleone in a somewhat different context), just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in.

So now the question is whether the next story ought to be in verse. The jury, for the time being, is out on that.

Speaking of the jury, if you've read my verse novel Blues for the Muse and liked it, would you be so kind as to post a review online? Unheralded novels by unknown novelists need all the help they can get! Amazon would be a good place to start.


The cartoon above is by Tom Cheney for the New Yorker. As for the cartoon with the doctor and the guy with the novel that's got to come out, I'm afraid you'll have to wait till I can find it. I tried.

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