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About this poet

James Tate was born on December 8, 1943, in Kansas City, Missouri. His father was an American pilot killed in the Second World War in 1944, when Tate was five months old.

His first collection of poems, The Lost Pilot (Yale University Press, 1967), was selected by Dudley Fitts for the Yale Series of Younger Poets while Tate was still a student at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, making him one of the youngest poets to receive the honor. The collection was well-received, and influenced a generation of poets in the late sixties and seventies with its use of dream logic and psychological play. In a 1998 radio review, the critic Dana Gioia said about the debut: "Tate had domesticated surrealism. He had taken this foreign style, which had almost always seemed slightly alien in English—even among its most talented practitioners like Charles Simic and Donald Justice—and had made it sound not just native but utterly down-home."

During his career, Tate published more than twenty books of poetry, including The Oblivion Ha-Ha (Little Brown and Company, 1970); Hints to Pilgrims (Halty Ferguson, 1971); Absences (Little, Brown and Company, 1972); Viper Jazz (Wesleyan University Press, 1976); Constant Defender (Ecco Press, 1983); Distance from Loved Ones (Wesleyan University Press, 1990); and Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1991), which won the Pulitzer Prize and the William Carlos Williams Award. More recently, Tate published Worshipful Company of Fletchers (Ecco Press, 1994), which won the National Book Award and The Eternal Ones of the Dream: Selected Poems 1990 - 2010 (Ecco Press, 2012).

Tate also published various works of prose, including a short story collection Dreams of a Robot Dancing Bee (Wave Books, 2001), a collection of critical prose, The Route as Briefed (University of Michigan Press, 1999), and a collaborative novel (with poet Bill Knott), Lucky Darryl (Release Press, 1977). He also served as editor of The Best American Poetry 1997.

About his work, the poet John Ashbery wrote in the New York Times: "Local color plays a role, but the main event is the poet's wrestling with passing moments, frantically trying to discover the poetry there and to preserve it, perishable as it is. Tate is the poet of possibilities, of morph, of surprising consequences, lovely or disastrous, and these phenomena exist everywhere... I return to Tate's books more often perhaps than to any others when I want to be reminded afresh of the possibilities of poetry."

Tate's honors include a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Poetry, the Wallace Stevens Award, a 1995 Tanning Prize, as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. From 2001-2007, Tate served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He was married to the poet Dara Wier and taught at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst until his death in 2015.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

The Eternal Ones of the Dream: Selected Poems 1990 - 2010 (Ecco Press, 2012)
The Ghost Soldiers (Ecco Press, 2008)
Return to the City of White Donkeys (Ecco Press, 2004)
Memoir of the Hawk (Ecco Press, 2001)
Shroud of the Gnome (Ecco Press, 1997)
Worshipful Company of Fletchers (Ecco Press, 1994)
Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1991)
Distance from Loved Ones (Wesleyan University Press, 1990)
Reckoner (Wesleyan University Press, 1986)
Constant Defender (Ecco Press, 1983)
Riven Doggeries (Ecco Press, 1979)
Viper Jazz (Wesleyan University Press, 1976)
Absences (Little, Brown and Company, 1972)
Hints to Pilgrims (Halty Ferguson, 1971)
The Oblivion Ha-Ha (Little, Brown and Company, 1970)
The Lost Pilot (Yale University Press, 1967)

Prose

Dreams of a Robot Dancing Bee (Wave Books, 2001)
The Route as Briefed (University of Michigan Press, 1999)
Lucky Darryl (with Bill Knott, 1977)

The Lost Pilot

James Tate, 1943 - 2015

for my father, 1922-1944

Your face did not rot 
like the others--the co-pilot, 
for example, I saw him

yesterday. His face is corn-
mush: his wife and daughter, 
the poor ignorant people, stare

as if he will compose soon. 
He was more wronged than Job. 
But your face did not rot

like the others--it grew dark, 
and hard like ebony; 
the features progressed in their

distinction. If I could cajole 
you to come back for an evening, 
down from your compulsive

orbiting, I would touch you, 
read your face as Dallas, 
your hoodlum gunner, now,

with the blistered eyes, reads 
his braille editions. I would 
touch your face as a disinterested

scholar touches an original page. 
However frightening, I would 
discover you, and I would not

turn you in; I would not make 
you face your wife, or Dallas,
or the co-pilot, Jim. You

could return to your crazy 
orbiting, and I would not try 
to fully understand what

it means to you. All I know 
is this: when I see you, 
as I have seen you at least

once every year of my life, 
spin across the wilds of the sky 
like a tiny, African god,

I feel dead. I feel as if I were 
the residue of a stranger's life, 
that I should pursue you.

My head cocked toward the sky, 
I cannot get off the ground, 
and, you, passing over again,

fast, perfect, and unwilling 
to tell me that you are doing 
well, or that it was mistake

that placed you in that world, 
and me in this; or that misfortune 
placed these worlds in us.

From The Lost Pilot, published by Yale University Press, 1967. Copyright © 1967 by James Tate. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

From The Lost Pilot, published by Yale University Press, 1967. Copyright © 1967 by James Tate. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

James Tate

James Tate

The author of numerous collections of poetry, James Tate's collection Selected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize and the William Carlos Williams Award

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Napoleon's hat is an obvious choice I guess to list as a famous hat, but that's not the hat I have in mind. That was his hat for show. I am thinking of his private bathing cap, which in all honesty wasn't much different than the one any jerk might buy at a corner drugstore now, except for two minor eccentricities.

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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