Monday, June 9, 2014

A Book for Your Library: Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems

[By Simone Savannah]

Don’t you just love that feeling of buying or receiving a book? Oh, that feeling of wanting to get home to cuddle up with it and a cup of roasted dandelion tea? Okay, just me? Last week, my professor gave me a copy of Zora Neal Hurston: A Life in Letters, and I knew that I had to pass on the favor. So, I am sharing a title in the hopes that you’ll run to your nearest bookstore or library, then home with it and a cup of tea.

A Book for Your Library 

Beacon Press published Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems on April 1, 2014. It includes an introduction by poet, Nikky Finney who examines Baldwin “as poet” and reveals the significance and power of his poems.

James Baldwin, as poet, was incessantly paying attention and always leaning into the din and hum around him, making his poems from his notes of what was found there…James Baldwin, as poet, was forever licking the tip of his pencil, preparing for more calculations, more inventory, moving, counting each letter being made inside the abacus of the poem.

Most of us met James Baldwin in his essays, plays, and novels, including Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), The Amen Corner (1954), Notes of a Native Son (1955), and Giovanni’s Room (1956). And while we recognize and praise the poetics in Baldwin’s other work, Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems really encourages us to see Baldwin as enjambments, images, and sounds. As poet-writer of his essays, plays, and novels.

Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems includes 25 lyric and narrative poems. 19 of those poems were originally published as Jimmy’s Blues: Selected Poems on January 1, 1983. Surprisingly, however, because the book did not achieve the same great reputation as his essay collections, novels, and plays, it fell out of print. Poems from Baldwin’s limited edition of poems, Gypsy, are also featured, making this collection an even more powerful statement of his life and career.

This recasting of James Baldwin’s poetry is indeed an important collection. With this collection and Finney’s introduction, we are ready (in a way that we may not have been before) to examine Baldwin’s poetic project, especially in relation to his ideas on sexuality, gender, race, and class.

Baldwin wrote as the words instructed, never allowing the critics of the Republic to tell him how or how not. They could listen in or ignore him, but he was never their boy, writing something they wanted to hear.

Baldwin was never afraid to say it. He made me less afraid to say it too.

Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems, again, provides us with an extension of his prophecies and brilliance as well as his humor and courage. The rhyme scheme in his poem, “Imagination,” for example, illustrates a playful tone in the first stanza; however, in the second stanza, the rhyme breaks for a moment. The shift in rhyme scheme as well as the break in rhyme in the second stanza not only represent a shift and break in the playful tone in the first stanza. This shift and break also allows the poem to open up so that the readers are able access the speaker’s message that Christopher Columbus may not be who some imagine him to be. It may be, of course, that the “New World” and the voyages revealed Columbus’ true character to himself and others.

creates the situation,
and, then, the situation
creates imagination.

It may, of course,
be the other way around:
Columbus was discovered
by what he found.

So, pick up this book and see Baldwin carry narrative to poem in “Gypsy. ”And allow him to haunt you with his political mediations in “StaggerLee Wonders.” Let him be essayist, novelists, playwright, and poet.

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