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Friday, May 7, 2021

‘White Men Can’t Jump: Poems of Allen Barry Schmidt’ (1985, chapbook 1)

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Joe Klein, in the new book, will discuss a selection of a few new poems from Mr. Schmidt. Mr. Klein met Mr. Schmidt when the two ran together in the mayoral primaries of New York City during the summer of 1987, a race for the Democratic nomination against Mr. Koch and Ed Koch. In 1987, most of the book’s poetry is about graffiti and political activism (“Dead Arm”), homelessness (“Brooklyn”) and the street life of the city (“Breast Milk,” “Lies”). The remaining poems in the book deal with other topics, like cooking and pacifism.

And yet, in poems like “Cries From the Fight,” “Goin’ Up Now” and “Old Blood and Guts,” Mr. Schmidt displays an affection for language’s raw parts. He grapples with the poet’s responsibility to make words beautiful and deliberate, which sometimes mean, well, using blueberries and chocolate for a particular combination. It’s an interesting juxtaposition between the fresh “oils” — edible seeds — of the Oaxacan cactus and the baked flour that he occasionally resorts to to crystallize corn kernels in his older poems.

Above all, Mr. Schmidt’s poems are stunningly precise, full of precise imagery and allusive meaning, with turns of phrase that seem to be pure poetry in and of themselves.

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