There is something about the blues that grabs hold of you and moves you, physically and emotionally, that transports you to places past, present and imagined, something that taps into the deepest elemental parts of you to soothe and sometimes heal. It's easy to lose yourself in the blues. Its history runs deep and its influence on other forms has been enormous. The blues, Al Young writes in the introduction to Something About the Blues: an unlikely collection of poetry, is "[b]eaded and threaded throughout America's musical mosaic." But the blues, like poetry, is difficult to describe, define, confine. "[T]he blues," he writes, "will always be dramatically unpredictable, sometimes torturous and sometimes pleasurable," and "[e]ver resistant to classroom analysis," for the blues dwells largely "in a feral state; blues truth is wild and menacing."
Something About the Blues is blues poetry. Though I've often listened to and lost myself in the blues, and have immersed myself in various kinds of poetry, I must confess that I was largely ignorant of the blues in poetic form until I had the good fortune to read this collection. The first to popularize blues poetry was Langston Hughes, born in Joplin, Missouri in 1902, and best "known for his insightful, colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties" (learn more about Hughes at Poets.org). It is fitting, then, that Young opens his collection of blues poetry with Hughes' beautiful and haunting poem, "The Weary Blues." This poem, read by Hughes himself, also opens the accompanying CD. It serves as a wonderful introduction to the spirit of blues poetry and sets the mood perfectly.
Al Young, born in 1939 in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, was raised first in Mississippi and then in Detroit, Michigan. He attended the University of Michigan from 1957-1960, co-editing Generation, the campus literary magazine. In 1961 he settled in Berkeley, where he held a number of odd jobs — folksinger, lab aide, disk jockey, medical photographer, clerk typist, employment counselor — before graduating with a degree in Spanish from U.C. Berkeley. He has taught creative writing and literature at various universities, has received numerous honours, including, inter alia, Wallace Stegner, Guggenheim, Fulbright National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and the PEN-Library of Congress Award for Short Fiction. Young has written a number of poetry collections, several novels, three musicals, and numerous screenplays. He was appointed Poet Laureate of California in 2005 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.