RIP James Tate

TateJames Tate, who wrote that the main challenge of poetry “is always to find the ultimate in the ordinary horseshit,” died yesterday in Massachusetts at age seventy-one. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the William Carlos Williams Award, Tate’s poems were “always concerned to tell us that beneath the busyness and loneliness of our daily lives, there remains in us the possibility for peace, happiness and real human connection,” wrote Adam Kirsch in the New York Times.

Tate was born in Missouri but lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, since 1971. “I’ve imagined that every character and every single event takes place in this town, Amherst,” he once confessed. But John Ashbery once opined that Tate is a “poet of possibilities, of morph, of surprising consequences, lovely or disastrous, and these phenomena exist everywhere.”

His poetry is often described as absurdist, and indeed the speakers in his poems come across as bewildered narrators who are as inquisitive as they are clueless—which is all part of their charm. His poetry has also been described as comic, ironic, hopeful, lonely, and surreal; “I love my funny poems,” he said, “but I’d rather break your heart. And if I can do both in the same poem, that’s the best.

2 thoughts on “RIP James Tate

  1. Amherst has lost another creative soul
    James Tate
    James emerging
    in unrelenting irony
    at the very brink
    of human consolation
    and knowledge
    with hungry eyes for beauty
    which walks beside rivers
    always at the edge
    of your time’s consolation.

  2. Saddened by this loss. I read that he got a copy of “Dome” from his editor before he passed away. I am enjoying the book very much. I remember getting “Fletchers” for my tenth birthday from my grandma Winnie. I tell her that I’m thankful she gave me it often. It inspired me at an early age. No one can write like James Tate. When I read the books, it is a resplendence transforming that horseshit that everyone fucking thinks is so fucking trivial. God damn it. 72? God damn it all.

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