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.
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Tate has authored 13 poetry books and received numerous recognitions and awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. In his new collection he presents prose poems with enticing subject matter stretching from reincarnation to Emily Dickinson to deciphering bird-speak. Taking a disarmingly comicstance, Tate masters a narrative prose poem form that is all his own and that will appeal to a wide range of readers. The majority of his poems are downright brilliant in their wit and subtle commentary. Tate presents ingenious scenarios, like watching an angel on the street playing a harp, with the minimalist expertise of a great short-short story writer. Though united in form and voice, the poems are unique on their own and, together, read like humorously philosophical tales. But these are serious poems beneath their comedy. Just beware, with more than 100 poems in the book, these are best consumed like rich chocolate: in small doses. Janet St. John
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Yes, the James Tate poems are up to something. As unique a collection of poems as you will find anywhere. In this book are poems that usurp America.Published on December 28, 2006 by Matt F
I had the pleasure of hearing James Tate read some of these poems at a writers' conference and was able to get an autograohed copy of this delightful book. Read morePublished on November 14, 2005 by Ciaramine