Mza's Reviews > Selected Poems

Selected Poems by James Tate
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Jun 15, 11

Read from June 12 to 13, 2011, read count: 1

Racing through this one in a couple days probably didn't do myself or the author a favour, but it's a library book, I had to. Tate's a favourite poet of some of my favourite poets -- it was fun to hear bits of their voices in his voice and, as an inexperienced reader of poetry, to speculate more generally about the lineage of poetic influence that has led to what I think of as the modern sound of poetry in the Internet Age. In my make-believe lineage, James Tate's an important giant. Whatever the actual conditions were for the production of these poems, they all sound easy, they all look like a medium-size cardboard box full of packing peanuts that, it turns out, are bullets painted to look like packing peanuts. Now visualize moving a couple hundred of those boxes in a row. That's exactly what the Internet's like nowadays, and that's what reading this book in two days was like. I don't recommend my approach, no matter how many brilliant poems I probably read in a relatively short time, the names of some of which I wrote down for future (Internet) reference:

Goodtime Jesus
Neighbors
The Motorcyclists
Five Years Old
Man with Wooden Leg Escapes Prison
Teaching the Ape to Write Poems
First Lesson
The Soup of Venus
Stella Maris

The poems on this list are short, which is the way my lazy taste normally runs, due to a character deficiency, superior breeding, and early exposure to Popeye 'toons. "The Motorcyclists" reminded me of Shannon Burns. Anything longer than a page got me thinking about private languages, such as those spoken between twins, and how I would never presume to learn a language that is spoken only between the genetically identical. In the end poetry is invasion and not expression, Nick Land said, and I kept having a gut feeling that you can't win a big invasion. However, many little invasions?

I like how conversational Tate is, and then drunk conversational, and then back to normal conversational. I like how writing a poem's no big deal, and how if Muhammad Ali'd said some of these things that James Tate said, virtually everybody around the world would have known them by heart. I like being surprised by a particular, personal sequence of things. I like the surprise of density of meaning. Poems do these things better than stories, it's true. I don't like being surprised so many times in a row, I start to think it's my fault. It's not my fault that these total fucking strangers can't stop writing.
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