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John Ashbery on James Tate

Written by

John Ashbery
Contributor Page

Year

2004

James Tate was the winner of the second Wallace Stevens Award. The $100,000 award recognizes outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry. The judges for the 1995 Wallace Stevens Award were John Ashbery, Jorie Graham, and Charles Simic. John Ashbery wrote the following citation.


It seem especially appropriate that James Tate has won this year's Tanning Prize [Wallace Stevens Award]. Dorothea Tanning, who established the prize in 1994, was born in the Midwest and moved to Paris with her husband Max Ernst, one of the founders of the Surrealist movement in painting; Tanning's own paintings are Surrealist, sometimes dark and haunted, but also tinged with eroticism and a witty sensuality. Tate, born in Kansas City, landed in New England where he has developed a homegrown variety of Surrealism almost in his own backyard, which figures frequently in his poetry. Both Tanning and Tate refute the idea of Surrealism as something remote from daily experince, a hermetic art for a privileged few. For both, Surrealism is something very like the air we breathe, the unconscious mind erupting in one-on-one engagements with the life we all live, every day. Tate's originality was confirmed almost thirty years ago when his book The Lost Pilot won the Yale Younger Poets Award. (A line from that book read: "Everything is relevant. I call it loving.") More recently, his books have gained him the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, testifying to the broad appeal of his wonderfully eccentric and generous poetry. "The lost pilot" is still taking us to places we never knew existed, places where we want to stay.