James Baldwin was one of America’s finest essayists. Perhaps the finest. He was a wonderful novelist, too. As a poet, though, he is far less known. Yet, as Nikky Finney writes in the introduction to Jimmy’s Blues, a new collection of Baldwin’s poems, he
felt close to this particular way of saying. Poetry helped thread his ideas from the essays, to the novels, to the love letters, to the book reviews, stitching images and feeling into music, back to his imagination. From the beginning of his life to the very end, I believe Baldwin saw himself more poet than anything else: The way he cared about language. The way he believed language should work.
It is difficult to read Baldwin’s essays or novels without being struck by their poetry and musicality. As a poet, Finney observes, Baldwin,
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, making his outlines, his annotations, doing his jotting down, writing from the mettle and marginalia of his life, giving commentary, scribbling, then dispatching out to the world what he knew and felt about that world.
Published by Beacon Press, Jimmy’s Blues brings together all of Baldwin’s published poetry, including six poems previously only available in a limited edition collection. Here are two poems as a taster:
Excerpted from Jimmy’s Blues & Other Poems by James Baldwin. Copyright 2014. Excerpted with permission by Beacon Press.