THE HOLY WORM OF PRAISE

Philip Schultz, Author . Harcourt $23 (112p) ISBN 978-0-15-100666-3

His first in 15 years, Schultz's third collection of poems confirms this poet's calling as an elegist, whether remembering his mother ("Apartment Sale," "Nomads," "Stories"), his father ("Mr. Parsky"), or writers like Yehuda Amichai, Joseph Brodsky, John Cheever and William Dickey. The long poem that concludes the book, "Souls Over Harlem," provides a stark account of a friend who "parked on a cliff/ in the cold wind of the Pacific/ and stuck his mulatto face/ in a plastic bag/ and drank snail poison,/ and burned his intestines/ to an ash transparency." Over the course of the poem, Schultz's guilt over not being able to save his friend is interwoven with his diffidence over the gap between his lifestyle as a Hampton-izing New Yorker and the plight of so many inner-city Blacks in Harlem. The frisson of better city living is sent up in the ode "City Dogs," with "fancy over-/ fluffed pedigrees prattling toward pedicures,/ Saturday afternoon perambulations in Village runs." Schultz has tendencies toward poems that read like lineated prose ("My Friend Is Making Himself," "The Answering Machine," "Ars Poetica," "Personally") and an excessive use of weak similes, as in this schmaltzy passage from "Change," a poem that incorporates over a dozen: "Surely you've never tasted it before, lavender,/ like lilacs on the first fine day of May,/ the happiest of seasons. Now your heart/ is thumping like a tail." Schultz is at his best in the gritty voice of a "Prison Doctor," who bears witness to this world in all its woundedness where gold teeth are "sliced out of sleeping mouths for trophy/ earrings, all paranoia's graffiti pleading Doc please/ yank this sardine-can shaft, this mea culpa, out of/ my memory." (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/18/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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