April is still Poetry Month: James Tate
I mean to do more to honor this month, but forgot about it, as I am wont to do with things I mean to do. Follow?
However, I have discovered a poet whose poems speak to me in the way that new wave music or sublime comedies speak to me:
From "How the Pope is Chosen"
After a poodle dies
all the cardinals flock to the nearest 7-Eleven.
They drink Slurpies until one of them throws up
and then he's the new Pope.
[whole poem here]
From "Restless Leg Syndrome"
My leg, for no apparent reason,
flies around the room kicking stuff,
well, whatever is in its way,
like a screen or a watering can.
Those are just two examples
and indeed I could give many more.
I could construct a catalogue
of the things it kicks,
perhaps I will do that later.
We'll just have to see if it's really wanted
"Teaching the Ape to Write Poems"
They didn't have much trouble
teaching the ape to write poems:
first they strapped him into the chair,
then tied the pencil around his hand
(the paper had already been nailed down).
Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder
and whispered into his ear:
"You look like a god sitting there.
Why don't you try writing something?"
From an interview:
I've noticed in your more recent work that there's a move further out perhaps into the absurd and more non sequiturs. For example, the poem with the eland [giant antelope] from Teaneck, NJ…
It's really hard to talk about these things, but in that poem I actually felt I could go anywhere—of course I couldn't, but, you know, I had the idea of this eland watching television in Teaneck, NJ, who's obsessed with First Ladies [laughter]…
You've got to turn off your internal censors to get where you're going…
Exactly. Get rid of your censors. And then, you know, not unlike so many of my poems, the poem takes a turn and gets serious and sad and real. But getting there was amazing.
That's just how I feel about writing fiction, which I guess is why my fiction often borders on absurd. Feeling like the story could go anywhere is one thing - learning to let it go anywhere is another. Once I did that, I enjoyed the act of writing so much more. And I think once I started to do that, my fiction became somewhat less readable to people who don't know how to let the absurd be real in their minds, which is fine, because I write with an audience of in mind that's made up of people with wild imaginations and the ability to think of something like an "eland watching television in Teaneck, NJ, who's obsessed with First Ladies," and not think "how stupid, an eland can't watch tv," but "how wonderful, an eland watching tv!"
And that's why, after spending an hour browsing through the works and and thoughts of James Tate, I fell in love with his words and his ability not only to convey the absurd, but to write about mundane things and make them seem delightful. His poems are fantastic stories that I read in my head in a sing-song voice and not only does that make me feel absurd, it makes me feel happy, even if the underlying thoughts may be disturbing, if not sad.
Which is why I believe that writing, indeed, is the ultimate art form.
[tate discovered via MeFi]
Update: I just found this:
James Tate's new book of poems, Return to the City of White Donkeys, from which he read at Adam's Hall in Cambridge on Friday, November 12th, can be summed up with a line from one of the poems he read called "It Happened Like This." The line is spoken by a police officer and reads, "God! This town is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there's mystery and wonder."
That's wonderfully evocative of how I felt upon first reading Tate's poetry, and of writing fiction in general.