Return to the City of White Donkeys

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Overview

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, ...

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Overview

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."

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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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060750022
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/1/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 1,398,207
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.48 (d)

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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Read an Excerpt

Return to the City of White Donkeys

Poems
By Tate, James

Ecco

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.
Continues...


Excerpted from Return to the City of White Donkeys by Tate, James Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Long-term memory 1
The memories of fish 2
The beautiful shoeshine 3
Never enough darts 4
It happens like this 5
Brittle family photographs 6
The man without leather breeches 7
The all but perfect evening on the lake 8
The florist 10
Lost river 11
Making the best of the holidays 13
Their number became thinned 14
Lust for life 15
The incense man 17
The lost chapter 18
Bernie at the pay phone 20
Suburban bison 21
In search of 22
Banking rules 23
The animists 24
The healing ground 25
The promotion 27
A sound like distant thunder 28
A cyclops would have been better 29
Of whom am I afraid? 30
The camel 31
Condolence 32
Silver queen 33
The ravine 34
The bleeding mind 36
Etiquette 37
The greater battle 38
The fragrant cloud 40
Hunger 41
Sheldon's derring-do 42
Half-eaten 44
Jules to the rescue 45
The found penny 46
Holy Saturday 47
The formal invitation 49
A more prosperous nation 51
Mr. Twiggy 53
Intruders 55
Bounden duty 56
Seven sauce lobster of paradise 58
Shiloh 60
The interview 61
In a past life 62
Not long ago, milk cows ruminated there 63
Beavertown 64
Love child 65
Sleepy visitation 66
Elysium 68
Why we must sleep 70
I never meant to harm him 72
A trout in the Tam o' Shanter 74
Swoon 76
The historical society 77
The wild turkey 79
Directions to the peace pagoda 80
The rules 82
Wendell 84
The survivalists 86
The rally 88
The case of Aaron Novak 90
The rebel 92
The harp 94
Kung Fu dancing 96
Special protection 98
The cobbler's assistant 100
The special guest 102
Faultfinding tour 104
The loon 106
The new mountain 107
Red dirt 109
Lost geese 110
The long journey home 112
Kingdom come 114
Conventional medicine 116
How the people live 118
The aphid farmers 120
The visiting scholar 122
The reenactors 124
The boy band 126
Things change 128
The sinking boat 130
The radish 132
Affliction 134
Bringing in the new year 136
The petition 137
Trail of miracles 139
The prehensile tail 141
The reluctant surrender of an important piece of evidence 143
Song of the nightingales 145
Return to the city of white donkeys 147
The raven speaks 149
The great horned owl has flown 151
The nameless ones 153
Voyage to an outlying island 157
Macaroni 159
The coolest thing 161
A clean hit 163
The Kennedy assassination 165
The investors 167
The vacant jungle 169
A Sunday drive 171
Being present at more than one place at a time 172
The search for lost lives 173
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First Chapter

Return to the City of White Donkeys
Poems

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
it now," 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.

Return to the City of White Donkeys
Poems
. Copyright © by James Tate. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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