Return to the City of White Donkeys

Return to the City of White Donkeys

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by James Tate

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In his fourteenth collection of poetry, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner James Tate continues exploring his own peculiar brand of poetry, transforming our everyday world, a world where women give birth to wolves, wild babies are found in gardens, and Saint Nick visits on a hot July day. Tate's signature style draws on a marvelous variety of voices and


In his fourteenth collection of poetry, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner James Tate continues exploring his own peculiar brand of poetry, transforming our everyday world, a world where women give birth to wolves, wild babies are found in gardens, and Saint Nick visits on a hot July day. Tate's signature style draws on a marvelous variety of voices and characters, all of which sound vaguely familiar, but are each fantastically unique, brilliant, and eccentric.

Yet, as Charles Simic observed in the New York Review of Books, "With all his reliance on chance, Tate has a serious purpose. He's searching for a new way to write a lyric poem." He continues, "To write a poem out of nothing at all is Tate's genius. For him, the poem is something one did not know was there until it was written down. . . . Just about anything can happen next in this kind of poetry and that is its attraction. . . . Tate is not worried about leaving us a little dazed. . . . He succeeds in ways for which there are a few precedents. He makes me think that anti-poetry is the best friend poetry ever had."

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Tate's influence on younger American poets (both as writer and mentor) stands near its apex, but this 14th book of his own poems presents the genial master at less than his best. Tate won the Yale Younger Poets prize for his strong, sad, lyrical debut, The Lost Pilot, but earned fame in the 1970s and '80s for bitter humor and homey pomo pastiche, set in a prosey free verse where the linebreaks can seem as arbitrary as the situations in which his speaker finds himself. The poems reflect jaded amusement, hope and occasional despair as the poet makes his way through a dangerous world, "contemplating the/ life of the postmodern buffalo" or "the public aspect of breast exposure," pursuing the resurrection of Eleanor Roosevelt, "holding this really exemplary radish," or watching "masked men with titanium pincers slide/ silently through the blackened halls." With few formal challenges, but with plenty of jokes, the poems can recall the comedian Steven Wright, or the pages McSweeney's. If their sheer quantity can make them seem formulaic, Tate's twisted scenarios provoke and amuse as much as they ever did; though they may tire longtime followers, these poems could find new admirers among people who don't often read poets at all. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this delightful collection of parables, Tate, America's own "home-grown surrealist," shows that he can provide evocative commentary on the moods of contemporary American suburbia: "Justine called on Christmas day to say that she/ was thinking of killing herself. I said, `We're/ in the middle of opening presents, Justine.'" Tate proceeds from the world of the ordinary to strange landscapes in which "grocery shopping can be such a mysterious/ business." Many poems attain a certain fairy-tale quality while concentrating on everyday events ("God! This town/ is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there's mystery. And I'm just a child playing cops"). Tate's poetry works best when readers are willing to accept this half-mundane, half-magical world on its own terms. Those who are less cooperative may be irked by Tate's shift from the intense lyricism of his earlier work to the more spare, almost prosaic tone here. That's a little unfair: Tate's new work appears to be deeply rooted in the tradition of parable in poetry, and it takes a great deal of imaginative talent to fill a book with examples of such variety and scope. Likely to bring new audiences to the world of contemporary poetry, this is recommended for all collections.-Ilya Kaminsky, Writer in Residence, Phillips Exeter Acad., Exeter, NH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.73(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Return to the City of White Donkeys

By Tate, James


ISBN: 0060750014

Long-Term Memory

I was sitting in the park feeding pigeons
when a man came over to me and scrutinized my
face right up close. "There's a statue of you
over there," he said. "You should be dead. What
did you do to deserve a statue?" "I've never seen
a statue of me," I said. "There can't be a statue
of me. I've never done anything to deserve a
statue. And I'm definitely not dead." "Well,
go look for yourself. It's you alright, there's
no mistaking that," he said. I got up and walked
over where it was. It was me alright. I looked
like I was gazing off into the distance, or the
future, like those statues of pioneers. It didn't
have my name on it or anything, but it was me.
A lady came up to me and said, "You're looking at
your own statue. Isn't that against the law, or
something?" "It should be," I said, "but this is
my first offense. Maybe they'll let me off light."
"It's against nature, too," she said, "and bad
manners, I think." "I couldn't agree with you
more," I said. "I'm walking away right now, sorry."
I went back to my bench. The man was sitting there.
"Maybe you're a war hero. Maybe you died in the
war," he said. "Never been a soldier," I said.
"Maybe you founded this town three hundred years
ago," he said. "Well, if I did, I don't remember
itnow," I said. "That's a long time ago," he
said, "you coulda forgot." I went back to feeding
the pigeons. Oh, yes, founding the town. It was
coming back to me now. It was on a Wednesday.
A light rain, my horse slowed . . .

The Memories of Fish

Stanley took a day off from the office
and spent the whole day talking to fish in
his aquarium. To the little catfish scuttling
along the bottom he said, "Vacuum that scum,
boy. Suck it up, that's your job." The skinny
pencil fish swam by and he said, "Scribble,
scribble, scribble. Write me a novel, needle-
nose." The angel executed a particularly
masterful left turn and Stanley said, "You're
no angel, but you sure can drive." Then he broke
for lunch and made himself a tuna fish sandwich,
the irony of which did not escape him. Oh no,
he wallowed in it, savoring every bite. Then
he returned to his chair in front of the aquarium.
A swarm of tiny neons amused him. "What do you
think this is, Times Square!" he shouted. And
so it went long into the night. The next morning
Stanley was horribly embarrassed by his behavior
and he apologized to the fish several times,
but they never really forgave him. He had mocked
their very fishiness, and for this there can be
no forgiveness.

The Beautiful Shoeshine

There was no one in the airport. I
couldn't believe it, so I walked down hallway
after hallway. No passengers, no airline
personnel, no one in the little shops and
restaurants. It was spooky. I had a plane
to catch. I had to get to Chicago. But
actually that was a minor detail compared
to the overwhelming sense of otherworldliness
I was experiencing being alone in this huge
terminal, which is always bustling with
hordes of travelers and employees.
Finally, I saw a shoeshine man sitting alone
on his stand. I walked up to him and he
smiled and said, "Shoeshine, Mister?"
"Sure," I said. "You must be having kind of
a slow day," I added. "I'm doing fine," he
said. "It just seems the more people fly
the harder it is to see them." I looked
around. Some blurs were dashing
for the gates, others were asking the time
in high squeaky voices. It must be my fault,
just not flying enough.

Excerpted from Return to the City of White Donkeys by Tate, James Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

James Tate was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1943. He is the author of sixteen books of poetry, including The Ghost Soldiers; Return to the City of White Donkeys; Memoir of the Hawk; Shroud of the Gnome; Worshipful Company of Fletchers, which won the National Book Award in 1994; Selected Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize and the William Carlos Williams Award in 1991; Distance from Loved Ones; Reckoner; Constant Defender; Riven Doggeries; Viper Jazz; Absences; Hints to Pilgrims; The Oblivion Ha-Ha; and The Lost Pilot, which was selected by Dudley Fitts for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

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Return to the City of White Donkeys 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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