Friday, 17 July 2015

Cast-Off God

Partisan rounded up a series of appreciations and remembrances of American poet James Tate, who died July 8, 2015. Here's is Joan Houlihan's contribution:
I never got over “The Lost Pilot.” By that I mean, James Tate's early poem had such an impact on me that I found it difficult to love his later work. I did spend many hours at my office desk in the '80s trying to stifle my laughter reading Shroud of the Gnome, and through the '90s I continued to read his work, marveling at his powers of invention, but I never returned to that original state of bedazzlement. As a poet, I fully understand the drive—the need—to change and experiment in one's art, but as a reader, I remained forever in love with the magic he conjured in that early poem: the dead father, orbiting like a cast-off god, the surrealism of the son’s imaginings of his face, preserved ("it grew dark / and hard like ebony") the control of line and deft line breaks—and especially the speaker's enormous yearning for the dead father, forever flying, never dying, preserved in his imagination. Tate's voice in that poem, fantastical and lyrical, passionate and intelligent, put this reader into a dream of life that was realer than life in its portents, regrets and tragic humor. Thank you, James Tate.

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