The Government Lake: Last Poems; James Tate
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The stunning, startling collection that is also the last work from a major poet
A woman named Mildred starts laying eggs after feathers from wild poultry begin coming down the chimney. A man becomes friends with a bank robber who abducts him and eventually rues his captor’s death. A baby is born transparent.
James Tate’s work, filled with unexpected turns and deadpan exaggeration, “fanciful and grave, mundane and transcendent,” (New York Times) has been among the most defining and significant of our time. In his last collection before his death in 2015, Tate’s dark yet whimsical humor, his emotional acuity, and his keen ear for the absurd are on full display in prose poems that finely constructed and lyrical, surrealistic and provocative.
With The Government Lake, James Tate reminds us why he is one of the great poets of our age and one of the true masters of the form.
July 2, 2019
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." Despite the early praise he received Tate alienated some of his fans in the seventies with a series of poetry collections that grew more and more strange.
He 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 was also a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Tate's writing style is difficult to describe, but has been identified with the postmodernist and neo-surrealist movements. He has been known to 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.