Daily Archives: December 13, 2010

“A bagpipe, a toboggan, a roulette wheel”

In September, The Paris Review literary journal posted on its web site its archive of writer interviews. Spanning five decades, the series presents authors discussing at length their life and art. Many of the interviews are available to read at no cost.

Poet James Tate’s interview, conducted by poet Charles Simic, was published in the summer 2006 issue. Reading their conversation sent me to the Main Library’s shelves, where eight volumes of Tate’s off-the-wall poems await readers who will encounter poetry that resists pigeonholing. Tate could be describing his own work in his poem “Dream On.” “It’s a rare species of bird / that refuses to be categorized.”

I heard Tate in person a few years ago. He told a story about a reading he gave at a retirement  home. A resident asked if he actually considered his work poetry. Tate said it doesn’t matter what you call it — poetry, prose poetry, short short stories — if you enjoy it, what else matters?

Tate’s titles offer a glimpse of the tone and subjects of his writing, which can be funny, sad, and perplexing, often all at once.

In The Paris Review interview, he says, “I love my funny poems, but I’d rather break your heart. And if I can do both in the same poem, that’s the best. That’s most rewarding for you and for me too. I want ultimately to be serious, but I can’t help the comic part. It just comes automatically. And if I can do both, that’s what I’m after.”

I leave you with a poem to cheer your holiday season.

“A Lorgnette, A Parachute”

from Memoir of the Hawk by James Tate

I had been rooting around in the basement
for hours. It was dark and damp down there and
God knows what manner of animals lived there. I
found a bagpipe, a toboggan, a roulette wheel,
a movie projector, a blender, a vacuum cleaner,
a candelabrum, a croquet set, a branding iron,
a Chinese dress, some dental equipment, several
lobster traps and a bazooka. We had lived in
this house for many years and I had never noticed
any of this stuff, not that I spent much time in
the basement admittedly. Still, it was eerie, as
though a separate life had been going on without
us. And perhaps a more interesting life, that’s
what gets my goat. And I have a strong feeling
that this is just the tip of the iceberg.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized