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aims (see surrealism). When he received the National Book Award in 1994, he stated that he began to write poetry at the age of 17 in order to "stay alive and make sense out of life" (26). The sense Tate has made of it, within his poems, is very much his own. Tate has a talent for making the familiar fantastic, and his work is so unusual that it is difficult to make comparisons, although elements of the work of John ashbery might be seen in Tate's poems, and Tate's humor is similar to that of his close friend, the poet Charles simic.

Tate was born in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1967 he received an M. F. A. in poetry from the University of Iowa, where he studied with Marvin bell. His first major success occurred in that year, when his book The Lost Pilot (1967) was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Tate was only 24 at the time. Since that initial success, he has published numerous collections of poetry, a novel, Lucky Darryl (1977), and a collection of short stories, Hottentot Ossuary (1974). He also edited the Best American Poetry 1997. He has been accorded nearly every poetry prize available. Tate's Worshipful Company of Fletchers (1994) won the National Book Award; his Selected Poems (1991) won both the William Carlos WILLIAMS Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1995 Tate was the winner of the prestigious Tanning Prize, the largest annual literary prize given in the United States.

The title poem from The Lost Pilot is perhaps Tate's most often anthologized work. It is a moving, but also unusual, elegy for his father, who was a war casualty. The poem begins, "Your face did not rot," before moving to a description of the copilot's, whose did. The horror of Tate's father's death becomes so grotesquely terrible that the effect is ultimately comic. His "Good-time Jesus" is another good example of a poem where the worst of situations is treated with a deadpan nonchalance. In a short prose poem of unrelenting dark humor, Tate's Jesus awakens to a scene of apocalyptic nightmare, within which he decides to "take a little ride on [his] donkey," saying as he does, "I love that donkey. Hell, I love everybody."

As Tate has said elsewhere of his own work, "Truth is an elusive monster, and sometimes a poet must bend or squeeze the language to bring it into view. I'm willing to follow a poem anywhere so long as it promises some insight or revelation" (qtd. in Baker 26). His poems deliver on this objective, offering truth from his own strange perspective.


Baker, John E "1994 National Book Awards." Publisher's

Weekly 241.47 (November 21, 1994): 26. Denver Quarterly 33.3 (fall 1998). [James Tate: A Special Issue] Wright, Carolyne. "On James Tate." Iowa Review 26.1 (spring 1996): 183-188.

Anna Priddy

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