Once, I knew a fine song,
—It is true, believe me,—
It was all of birds,
And I held them in a basket;
When I opened the wicket,
Heavens! They all flew away.
I cried, “Come back, little thoughts!”
But they only laughed.
They flew on
Until they were as
poems & poets
Once, I knew a fine song,
“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
I was born among the bodies. I was hurried
forward, and sealed a thin life for myself.
I have shortened my name, and walk with
a limp. I place pebbles in milk
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
Of late, and perhaps of long, I’ve been trying more experiential approaches to the hours we spend together in the classroom. What is our goal there? In the thicket of writing programs, I sometimes wonder. What seems important to me, more and more, is establishing a collective, collaborative space in which we can explore some of the edges of our interior conditions (which include the emotional, the intellectual, and the spiritual) as well as engage in documentary (socio-, eco-) experiments, and to test those edges against what previous poets have done. As we all know, there are already too many workshop poems in the world eating up available reality (as Robert Creeley once said of Robert Frost). I want to see what other realities we can explore. At the University of Denver, I have the enviable challenge of working with PhD students who have either read nearly everything or are trying to read nearly everything, so I know they’re in the process of figuring out the lineage. What I want
lament: A poem or song expressing grief. The lament is powered by a personal sense of loss. The poetry of lamentation, which arose in oral literature alongside heroic poetry, seems to exist in all languages and poetries. One finds it, for example, in ancient Egyptian, in Hebrew, in Chinese, in Sanskrit, in Zulu. A profound grief is formalized as mourning, as in Lamentations 2:10:
The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads; they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground.
The poetry of intense grief and mourning, such as the Lamentations of Jeremiah or David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan, has its roots in religious feeling and ritual. The Hebrew Bible is filled with both individual laments (a worshiper cries out to Yahweh in times of need) and communal laments, which mourn a larger national calamity.