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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About the Author
James Tate was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1943. He is the author of seventeen books of poetry, including 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; and The Lost Pilot, which was selected by Dudley Fitts for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. He has also published a novel and a collection of short stories, as well as edited The 1997 Best American Poetry Anthology. His honors include a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Poetry, the Tanning Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Read an Excerpt
Return to the City of White DonkeysPoems
By James Tate
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 James Tate
All right reserved.
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
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 James Tate Copyright © 2005 by James Tate. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A fine collection, in this case of mostly short prose poems, with this poet's trademark wit and impish humor. There's enough darkness to be real without being threatening. Tate is a wonderful poet.