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The Ghost Soldiers

4.15  ·  Rating Details ·  317 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Tate returns with his fifteenth book of poetry, an exciting new collection that offers nearly one hundred fresh and thought-provoking pieces that embody Tate's trademark style and voice: his accessibility, his dark humor, and his exquisite sense of the absurd.

Tate's work is stark—he writes in clear, everyday language—yet his seemingly simp
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Ecco (first published March 25th 2008)
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I closed the book, put my jacket on, and headed downtown. Waiting for the cross signal, an old man looked at me. "You look like you've just been through a war," he said. I looked at my reflection in the tinted windows of a passing Cadillac. I looked the straight-faced man of thirty that I was, but every hair was in place. "I've just finished reading The Ghost Soldiers," I said. "Even for prose poems, they weren't very poetic. More like Italo Calvino's fables. Flash fables." "Perhaps they weren't ...more
Mar 29, 2008 John rated it it was amazing
New books by James Tate are always worth attention. This one, though, seems special. He’s found a resonant center for his flights of narrative: War. Meanderings within a framework of war seem especially resonant for Tate. In much the way that personal tragedy took Mary Jo Bang’s attention into a sphere that many consider to be her strongest work, Elegy (though I think I’ll always be partial to Louise in Love, myself), so too does national tragedy seem to have dragged Tate up into a cultural conn ...more
Christina Rau
Aug 28, 2015 Christina Rau rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
I opened The Ghost Soldiers without expecting anything more than words on pages. That attitude allowed me to fall down the rabbit hole with the first few syllables. The poems are vignettes, still, mostly prose-like poems, kind of like a book of short stories in which none of the stories are developed the way stories need to be developed, which leaves them as prose poems. Each piece is about people we never know. Reading this book is kind of like driving through the neighborhood when the sky gro ...more
Aug 21, 2008 James rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I think I'll call this Tate's magnum opus. Each poem is a different character wandering in the broken sensibilities of his or her own making. Like dreams, in this book the speakers walk out of their front doors to find themselves in alien landscapes they insist are familiar. Exploring this insistence is Tate's gift. Simic calls this anti-poetry (he means it, I believe, in a nice way). There are over ninety poems here, each a different personae, a different name, a newly fabricated situation in o ...more
May 01, 2016 Corin rated it liked it
2.5 to 3. Some poems really do leave a strange lasting effect on the reader. That said, half of it feels like it's just trying to get at something and simply fails. I appreciate Tate's imagination and preoccupation for unexplained occurrences, yet many of these "prose poems" lack lyricism and read much like conversational essays/straight narratives. I appreciate surreal poetry, but most of it is disconnected from any sense of urgency and tends to drag. Not to undermine the power of common speech ...more
May 18, 2008 jonathan rated it it was ok

I must say, I'm being a little generous with two stars. Several (or perhaps, even all) of these poems are extraordinary, but 50 pages would have been probably been enough to digest. It was more than 200 pages. It's like watching an evening of 5- to 10-minute long abstract David Lynch shorts - for four hours. By the time I was in the last 25 pages, I was just reading to finish. Again, it's a shame, because several of the poems I read were, as I mentioned above, really quite extraordinary
Nov 08, 2008 Dan rated it liked it
Some of the better poetry I've read in the past year. It's so unusual. Sometimes I get spooked by what he writes and have to stop and walk around a bit. It's not that he writes about something scary or morbid, but you get this feeling of something immense hovering around you, in your presence. It's as if he's conjuring a ghost through the writing.
Jun 19, 2008 Nan rated it it was ok
Poems, it says on the front of the dust jacket. I'm not so sure. Maybe fables? Modern fairy tales? Where's the music? Where's the compression of thought? There are not enough diamonds in this rough. I think the old emperor might be missing a piece or two of clothing.
Sep 15, 2016 Andy rated it did not like it
Didn't mind the absurdism of the poems. It's just the writing that I hated. The poems were really more prose, like dream fables with SOOO MUCH dialogue that bogs down the feeling/emotion of the poems. Not really how I like reading poetry/prose free verse/whatever. Struggled to finish this one.
Joe Hunt
Think this is a better anti-war poem book than "Poets against the War." In its own way.

(Not that the details are there--but the abstract emotions, very realistic.)
Luis Guillermo
Captivating exercises of creative writing in the form of short stories. Not a single poem was found in this book.
Aug 11, 2015 Annabelle rated it it was amazing
this is crazy good
The reviews on this site hold poetry culpable for the difficulties in The Ghost Soldiers, one of them citing the poetry world's insularity, another, the academic quality in the style, with its elaborate narrative patterning. But you wonder about Tate's culpability, too -- was he under the impression that we failed to take him with adequate seriousness? A poetry culture question, but given a comic genius like Tate, not easily dismissed. Ecco (the publisher) describing "pieces that embody Tate's t ...more
Feb 17, 2009 Daniel rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
I like James Tate; his poetry typically reminds me what an organic process poem-making is. I've read a number of his previous books, and liked them all. But, to be honest, I was disappointed with this one. Even as a reader familiar with Tate's work and style, by midway through the book much of the writing came across as lacking any investment from Tate - the work of a one-trick pony who wrote a book because it would be published.

Granted, there were several poems I liked individually, but as a w
Aug 24, 2015 Patricia rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Since James Tate died in July, I have been wanting to read this book,and have struggled to finish it until today. Usually I prefer literal simplicity in writing, and don't understand the language poets, or Ashbery's strange non-narrative complexities. This lack of understanding keeps me from enjoying their poetry. Tate though is a little more accessible because he makes me laugh. I love a little humor in my poetry and his sudden juxtapositions of what start out as simple stories are startling an ...more
Jul 16, 2010 Dan rated it really liked it
These surreal stories about living during wartime. There's a sense of living in a police state, a sense of imminent violence, questions of patriotism and "who's side" you are on, but they are wrapped in such strange stories that it's consistently enjoyable, and even fun. The characters have the oddest things happen to them (a tank blows up a farmer's home) and the reactions are wild but somehow make perfect sense (they spend their lives together, and eventually even the cow comes to trust the so ...more
Nov 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Tate, the master of the contemporary prose poem, cranks up the tension in his newest bunch of poems simply by letting his odd array of characters go back and forth with their skewed and hilarious conversations. These dialogue-heavy wonders are dense with hilarious accidents, bittersweet bickerings, melancholy lust, and disastrous miscommunications. We, the readers, are the lucky ones, eavesdropping from afar, in the warm weather of our collectively blown minds.
Recommended by Kevin,

Sep 19, 2008 John rated it really liked it
My only comment about this book is an explanation of why I stopped reading it. It's hard to describe the poems in this book: they are close to prose poems, haunting, folksy, and surreal, like disturbing dreams. The reason I stopped reading it is that the rhythms of his sentences got into my head and I when I put the book down (I read poetry a few poems at a sitting), I found that my thoughts were coming to me in the same rhythms. It was hard to shake off, and I didn't like the feeling at all. So ...more
Tom Romig
Feb 06, 2014 Tom Romig rated it really liked it
What a roller-coaster read: endlessly inventive "poems" that charm and haunt and chill, that encouraging thinking along new paths, that are wildly imaginative. I use the quotation marks not because they're not poems but because they have an unusual form--sort of prose poem meets short story. Warning: They're highly addictive; once you start you'll have a hard time breaking off to do whatever else it was you thought you should be doing.
Jun 13, 2008 Kevin rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, funny-stuff
On first glance, this sort of looked like the poetry equivalent to Gabe Hudson's Dear Mr. President. And sure, there is a little bit more politics thrown in, but what really makes this collection stand out is that each poem is like a little screenplay or movie scene. They're very dialogue heavy and quick-witted. Another strong collection from the prose poem master.
Bill Tarlin
Sep 08, 2012 Bill Tarlin rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Too much of the same thing, but it's a wonderful thing. The voice is so consistent that after reading a dozen, you feel like sitting down and writing your own. The best are incredible the worst are just fun. The sugar buzz becomes cloying after a while.
Mar 25, 2008 Carl rated it it was amazing
i shelled out the $$ for this one and i have to say that this is the best batch of poems i've read by tate. it refreshing to see writers of his stature actually putting out something that isn't complete tripe. can't wait to hear him read and shake his hand.
Oct 31, 2010 Debs rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2010, poetry
I've always been a big fan of prose poetry, and I wanted to like these poems more than I did. I hesitate to even call them poems as they're more like a series of vaguely related short stories. "Poems about nothing" is quite an apt description.
Aug 16, 2010 Kelly rated it liked it
Never one to romance with poetry, oh how skeptical was I of this gift from a friend. But discovery of Tate was like biting into a sweet, simple piece of fruit, but it also had an aftertaste, like the REAL whipped cream you get. Always ousted it in the grocery store by yogurt. HA.
Karen Hood
Mar 14, 2014 Karen Hood rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
This book is a collection of almost 1oo thought provoking poems by the Pulitzer prize winning poet James Tate. I was not familiar with this poet and bought this book used at Powells on a recent trip and I enjoyed reading it start to finish. Karen Jean Matsko hood
Shaun Gannon
Dec 15, 2008 Shaun Gannon rated it really liked it
I was really surprised when the book's theme came through. Much more united than I originally thought and it definitely helps the book
Apr 06, 2010 Abby rated it it was amazing
I love James Tate. Just love him. Love narrative poetry, love his characters who are so insane they're sane. Love it.
Mar 15, 2009 Michael rated it it was amazing
"Do you believe in God?" I said. "God's in prison," he said. "What'd he do?" I said. "Everything," he said. -from "Desperate Talk" by James Tate
Jessie B.
May 08, 2013 Jessie B. rated it really liked it
Half way between poetry and short stories, the poems in this book have a dreamlike quality that is absurd, at times dark and at times funny but always interesting.
Feb 24, 2011 RUSA CODES rated it it was amazing
This was one of the 2009 RUSA Notable Books winners. For the complete list, go to
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  • Modern Life
  • Elegy On Toy Piano
  • Imperfect Thirst
  • Search Party: Collected Poems
  • Scary, No Scary
  • The Difficult Farm
  • The Light the Dead See: Selected Poems
  • Bad Bad
  • Negative Blue: Selected Later Poems
  • The Tunnel: Selected Poems
  • Selected Poems
  • Words for Empty and Words for Full
  • Ghost Machine
  • Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems
  • The To Sound
James Vincent Tate was born in Kansas City, Missouri. He has taught creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University, and currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he has worked since 1971. He is a member of the poetry faculty at the MFA Program for Poets & Writers, along with Dara Wier and Peter Gizzi.

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“I couldn’t even picture Mavis’s face anymore. It was sad. She was being erased. I wanted to put my finger on her forehead, but there was nothing there.” 3 likes
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