Wednesday, March 16, 2016

He Was Looking for Someone Who Looked Just Like Me and Had the Same Name. What Are the Chances?

That's ▲ James Tate's last poem.

New (and last) James Tate poems.

Lots of Tate here.


James Tate

My beloved little billiard balls,
my polite mongrels, edible patriotic plums,   
you owe your beauty to your mother, who   
resembled a cyclindrical corned beef   
with all the trimmings, may God rest   
her forsaken soul, for it is all of us   
she forsook; and I shall never forget
her sputtering embers, and then the little mound.
Yes, my little rum runners, she had defective   
tear ducts and could weep only iced tea.   
She had petticoats beneath her eyelids.   
And in her last years she found ball bearings   
in her beehive puddings, she swore allegiance   
to Abyssinia. What should I have done?   
I played the piano and scrambled eggs.   
I had to navigate carefully around her brain’s   
avalanche lest even a decent finale be forfeited.
And her beauty still evermore. You see,
as she was dying, I led each of you to her side,
one by one she scorched you with her radiance.
And she is ever with us in our acetylene leisure.
But you are beautiful, and I, a slave to a heap of cinders.


  1. Wiki: "Regarding his own work, Tate said, 'My characters usually are — or, I’d say most often, I don’t want to generalize too much — but most often, they’re in trouble, and they’re trying to find some kind of life.'

    "This view is supported by the poet Tony Hoagland's observation that '[Tate's] work... in prose poems, in which his picaresque speaker or characters are spinning through life, inquisitive and clueless as Candide, trying to identify and get with the fiction of whatever world they are in.' "

    Inquisitive but clueless, in trouble, and trying to find some kind of life that gets with the fiction of whatever world we're in? That pretty much hits the nail on the head.

    1. It's why he's in the innermost circle of rotating spots of My Sillyass Deserted Island Five Game of poets and why he gets so much airplay here.

  2. i saw the photo and i wondered if you, BDR, were experimenting with a different medium for your own work

    but as i began to read the poem i realized "tate"

    tate typed - who knew?

    the cop looking for someomeone[sic] who looked like tate, with the same name, what are the chances? eventually, for us all, the chance is exactly one out of one - maybe tate had a premonitory sensation and left off here on purpose

    speaking of cops, there's one, albeit one with a different function, in "it happens like this"

    It Happens Like This

    I was outside St. Cecelia’s Rectory
    smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.
    It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish
    brown here and there. When I started to walk away,
    it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered
    what the laws were on this kind of thing. There’s
    a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People
    smiled at me and admired the goat. “It’s not my goat,"
    I explained. “It’s the town’s goat. I’m just taking
    my turn caring for it.” “I didn’t know we had a goat,"
    one of them said. “I wonder when my turn is.” “Soon,"
    I said. “Be patient. Your time is coming.” The goat
    stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked
    up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew
    everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-
    man on his beat looked us over. “That’s a mighty
    fine goat you got there," he said, stopping to admire.
    “It’s the town’s goat," I said. “His family goes back
    three-hundred years with us," I said, “from the beginning.”
    The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped
    and looked up at me. “Mind if I pat him?” he asked.
    “Touching this goat will change your life," I said.
    “It’s your decision.” He thought real hard for a minute,
    and then stood up and said, “What’s his name?” “He’s
    called the Prince of Peace," I said. “God! This town
    is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there’s mystery
    and wonder. And I’m just a child playing cops and robbers
    forever. Please forgive me if I cry.” “We forgive you,
    Officer," I said. “And we understand why you, more than
    anybody, should never touch the Prince.” The goat and
    I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning
    to wonder where we would spend the night.

    From Lost River by James Tate, published by Sarabande Books, Inc.
    Copyright © 2003 by James Tate

    as was published in this comments column in nov. 2014

    This poem ... has two speaking characters - our narrator and the policeman. As it begins, our viewpoint character is a stranger to the goat, who appears from nowhere. The goat is at first referred to as "it".

    The narrator knows nothing about the goat, but begins to answer people's questions - from intuition? The answers are plausible, certainly, and by the end of the poem our narrator is speaking with authority.

    The goat becomes "him", not it, after an episode of prolonged eye contact. The policeman, having asked to touch the goat, declines to do so after being warned his life will never be the same, and weeps after learning the goat's name is The Prince of Peace.

    At the end, our narrator and the goat have become the first person plural -" WE were beginning to wonder where we would spend the night. " The policeman has stepped back, with remorse, from changing his life, whereas our narrator is walking on with the Prince of Peace, traveling with him, rather than returning to his own routine.

    may the Creative Forces of the Universe smile in the general direction of the memory of our brother james tate

    1. Of the many good/bad reasons I never submitted poems for publication back in the 80s when encouraged to was MOTHERFUCKING TYPEWRITERS. (I remember taking a required typing class as a sophomore in high school in 1975.) I wonder now and then if I'd had Word when I was 25 if it'd made a difference - would have solved the MOTHERFUCKING TYPEWRITERS problem.

    2. I used typewriters between 1966 and 1985, have always been a blindingly fast two-finger typist (flunked remedial typing in Summer Skool. Twice), but for my own Writing As Art could only do it in longhand and type up the MS.

      Now, I am addicted to Word and can't seem to write Art By Hand to save my sorry, wizened ass. MORAL: Typewriters Went 'Ding'; Things Change.

  3. my own experience is different - i took typing as a junior high summer school course, and did well - when the ibm selectric came along i thought it was wonderful -

    it had automatic correction through a backspace button with a white-out ribbon -

    you could change not only the type face (by changing the type ball) but also the pitch (i.e. the spacing between letters) -

    as i wrote in the comments at Fafblog! - after fafnir interviewed the selectric about dan rather's report about george w. bush's dereliction of duty during his national guard days - the selectric did not provide any useful data, however, frustrating fafnir's attempt to help the voters make an informed decision about whether w's days as commander-in-chief should continue based on events from thirty years ago:

    I knew the IBM Selectric. I used the IBM Selectric. In those pre-"word processing" (as today's youth call it) days it was the only way to get italics, or to switch fonts. It even ingeniously did bold using the same type ball.

    Those days are gone, but not forgotten.

    mistah charley, ph.d.
    04.02.07 - 3:53 pm


    postscript added 2008: the selectric was able to achieve the bold effect without changing the type ball by retyping over the same place on the paper, but with a very slight lateral displacement, making the letters slightly wider

    our predecessors, even though their technology was rudimentary compared to that of today, were nevertheless just as clever, in their time, as the women and men of the 21st century are

    by Blogger mistah charley, ph.d., at April 25, 2008 1:42 PM