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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:

James Tate

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.

James Tate poems

[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.

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» Frog poetry from George Junior
A brief visit to A Small Victory reminds me that it's still National Poetry Month over there. I'll maybe post links to some of my favorite poems later in the week. In the meantime, here's a poem I like from... [Read More]

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have you ever read much of richard brautigan's poetry?
sample:

Rommel Drives On Deep Into Egypt

HAVE YOU EVER HAD A WITCH BLOOM LIKE A HIGHWAY

Have you ever had a witch bloom like a highway
on your mouth? and turn your breathing to her
fancy? like a little car with blue headlights
passing forever in a dream?

THE MEMOIRS OF JESSE JAMES

I remember all those thousands of hours
that I spent in grade school watching the clock,
waiting for recess or lunch or to go home.
Waiting: for anything but school.
My teachers could easily have ridden with Jesse James
for all the time they stole from me.

FLORA SHAKESPEARE

Acting out the place where the flowers die,
circling their graves with themselves,
your costume is perfect, you're on stage.

15%

She tries to get things out of men
that she can't get because she's not
15% prettier.

ROMEO AND JULIET

If you will die for me,
I will die for you

and our graves will
be like two lovers washing
their clothes together
in a laundromat.

If you will bring the soap,
I will bring the bleach

LOVE'S NOT THE WAY TO TREAT A FRIEND

Love's not the way to treat a friend.
I wouldn't wish that on you. I don't
want to see your eyes forgotten
on a rainy day, lost in the endless purse
of those who can remember nothing.

Love's not the way to treat a friend.
I don't want to see you end up that way
with your body being poured like wounded
marble into the architecture of those who make
bridges out of crippled birds.

Love's not the way to treat a friend.
There are so many better things for you
than to see your feelings sold
as magic lanterns to somebody whose body
casts no light.

CANNIBAL CARPENTER

He wants to build you a house
out of your own bones, but
that's where you're living
any way!
The next time he calls
you answer the telephone with the
sound of your grandmother being
born. It was a twenty-three-hour
labor in 1894. He hangs
up.

DONNER PARTY

Forsaken, fucking in the cold,
eating each other, lost, runny noses,
complaining all the time like so
many people that we know.

FORMAL PORTRAIT

I like to think of Frankenstein as a huge keyhole
and the laboratory as the key that turns the lock
and everything that happens afterward as just the
lock turning.

-2

Everybody wants to go to bed
with everybody else, they're
lined up for blocks, so I'll
go to bed with you. They won't
miss us.

THE SISTER CITIES OF LOS ALAMOS, NEW MEXICO, AND HIROSHIMA, JAPAN

It was snowing hard when we drove
into Los Alamos. There was a clinical feeling
to the town as if every man, woman and child
were a doctor. We shopped at the Safeway
and got a bag of groceries. A toddler
looked like a brain surgeon. He carefully
watched us shop at the exact place where he would
make his first incision.

NEGATIVE CLANK

He'd sell a rat's asshole
to a blindman for a wedding
ring.

JULES VERNE ZUCCHINI

Men are walking on the moon today,
planting their footsteps as if they were
zucchini on a dead world
while over 3,000,000 people starve todeath
every year on a living one.

Earth
July 20, 1969

SHE SLEEPS THIS VERY EVENING IN GREENBROOK CASTLE

She sleeps this every evening in Greenbrook castle
without the comfort of husband,
and what she knows is what she dreams. He isn't dead
and he isn't alive,
and the crack of light beneath the door is like the tail
of a cat as she paces in her room.

She sleeps this very evening in Greenbrook castle
without the comfort of husband,
and what she knows is what she dreams. He isn't dead
and he isn't alive,
and the light in her window is like a wedding ring
shining to the dark and distant woods.

She sleeps this very evening in Greenbrook castle
without the comfort of husband,
and what she knows is what she dreams. He isn't dead
and he isn't alive,
and the light that reflects her golden hair is the answer
to her marriage and the children of her prayers.

YOU'LL HAVE TO BUY SOME MORE CHAIRS

If you love a statue start a mirror.
Your friends will admire you.
If you love a mirror start a statue.
Make room for new friends.

HINGED TO FORGETFULNESS LIKE A DOOR

Hinged to forgetfulness like a door,
she slowly closed out of sight,
and she was the woman that I loved,
but too many times she slept like
a mechanical deer in my caresses,
and I ached in the metal silence
of her dreams.

ALL GIRLS SHOULD HAVE A POEM

For Valerie

All girls should have a poem
written for them even if
we have to turn this God-damn world
upside down to do it.

New Mexico
March 16, 1969

CHOSEN BY BEAUTY TO BE A HANDMAIDEN OF THE STARS

Chosen by beauty to be a handmaiden of the stars,
she passes like a silver brush
across the lens of a telescope.
She brushes the stars, the galaxies
and the light-years into the order that
we know them.

30 CENTS, TWO TRANSFERS, LOVE

Thinking hard about you
I got onto the bus
and paid 30 cents car fare
and asked the driver for
two transfers
before discovering that I
was alone.

Much more here - http://www.divinentd.com/brautigan/