james tate | the wrong way home

10 03 2008
Poetry Dispatch No. 215 | March 10, 2008

The Wrong Way Home by James Tate

All night a door floated down the river.
It tried to remember little incidents of pleasure
from its former life, like the time the lovers
leaned against it kissing for hours
and whispering those famous words.
Later, there were harsh words and a shoe
was thrown and the door was slammed.
Comings and goings by the thousands,
the early mornings and late nights, years, years.
O they’ve got big plans, they’ll make a bundle.
The door was an island that swayed in its sleep.
The moon turned the doorknob just slightly,
burned its fingers and ran,
and still the door said nothing and slept.
At least that’s what they like to say,
the little fishes and so on.
Far away, a bell rang, and then a shot was fired.



worship.jpgJames Vincent Tate (born December 8, 1943, Kansas City, Missouri) is a literary iconoclast, best known as a Pulitzer prize-winning and National Book Award-winning poet, educator, and man of letters. Tate’s writing style is as unique as it is difficult to describe. He has been known to carve, invert, and play with phrases culled from news items, history, anecdotes, or common speech; later cutting, pasting, and assembling such divergent material into tightly woven compositions that reveal bizarre and surreal insights into the absurdity of human nature. Dudley Fitts selected Tate’s first book of poems, The Lost Pilot (1967) for the Yale Series of Younger Poets while Tate was still a student at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop; Fitts praised Tate’s writing for its “natural grace.”

Tate is the subject of On James Tate (2004), edited by Brian Henry.

He has published two books of prose, Dreams of a Robot Dancing Bee (2001) and The Route as Briefed (1999). His awards include a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award, the Wallace Stevens Award, a Pulitzer Prize in poetry, a National Book Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He is currently a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

He has taught poetry at the University of California, Berkeley, Columbia University, and Emerson College. He currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he has worked since 1971. He is a member of the poetry faculty at the MFA Program for Poets & Writers, along with Dara Wier and Peter Gizzi.

Poetry by James Tate

  • * 1967. The Lost Pilot
  • * 1970. The Oblivion Ha-Ha
  • * 1971. Hints to Pilgrims
  • * 1972. Absences
  • * 1976. Viper Jazz
  • * 1977. Lucky Darryl (1977, together with Bill Knott)
  • * 1979. Riven Doggeries
  • * 1983. Constant Defender
  • * 1986. Reckoner
  • * 1990. Distance from Loved Ones
  • * 1991. Selected Poems (1992 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the William Carlos Williams Award)
  • * 1995. Worshipful Company of Fletchers (National Book Award)
  • * 1998. Shroud of the Gnome
  • * 2002. Memoir of the Hawk
  • * 2004. Return to the City of White Donkeys
  • * 2008. Ghost Soldiers




One response

15 03 2008
bill knott

“Lucky darryl” is one of the two books we supposedly wrote together;
the other was “Are you Ready Mary Baker Eddy” published by Cloud
Marauder Press . . . . If anyone’s interested in further obscurities,
they might take a look at my blog,


on which I have posted all my poetry, every poem I’ve written
since 1960, for open access and free download—

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