James Tate Dies, Leaving Poetry World in Mourning

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JamesTate_NewBioImageIt’s a sad day for the world of poetry. James Tate, a poet who won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, died today. RIP. He was 71.

His poems have been described as “tragic, comic, absurdist, nihilistic, hopeful, haunting, lonely, and surreal.” (The Poetry Foundation).

His death will leave his many readers in mourning. He is survived by his wife, the poet Dara Wier, who is a professor in the UMass English department.

Tate wrote more than 20 books of poetry. His collection “Worshipful Company of Fletchers,” won the 1994 National Book Award, while his “Selected Poems” won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Early in life, he planned on being a gas station attendant. He also disliked reading when he was young. Thankfully, he wised up and abandoned those ideas.

Here is his poem, NEVER AGAIN THE SAME:

Speaking of sunsets,
last night’s was shocking.
I mean, sunsets aren’t supposed to frighten you, are they?
Well, this one was terrifying.
People were screaming in the streets.
Sure, it was beautiful, but far too beautiful.
It wasn’t natural.
One climax followed another and then another
until your knees went weak
and you couldn’t breathe.
The colors were definitely not of this world,
peaches dripping opium,
pandemonium of tangerines,
inferno of irises,
Plutonian emeralds,
all swirling and churning, swabbing,
like it was playing with us,
like we were nothing,
as if our whole lives were a preparation for this,
this for which nothing could have prepared us
and for which we could not have been less prepared.
The mockery of it all stung us bitterly.
And when it was finally over
we whimpered and cried and howled.
And then the streetlights came on as always
and we looked into one another’s eyes?
ancient caves with still pools
and those little transparent fish
who have never seen even one ray of light.
And the calm that returned to us
was not even our own.

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