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James Tate

James Tate’s poems have been described as tragic, comic, absurdist, nihilistic, hopeful, haunting, lonely, and surreal. His many poetry collections include Worshipful Company of Fletchers, which won the 1994 National Book Award, and Selected Poems, which won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize and the William Carlos Williams Award. His most recent book is The Ghost Soldiers (2008).

His first major collection, The Lost Pilot (1967), was selected by Dudley Fitts for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. The title poem is dedicated to Tate’s father, a B-17 copilot killed on a bombing mission during World War II. However, as poet and critic Dana Gioia noted in a 1998 essay, Tate’s subsequent work “revealed his dreams and nightmares, his fears and desires—but he never shared further details of his waking life.” Over the decades, Tate has honed his distinctive writing style, in which, as poet Donald Revell describes it, “The tender phrase is subordinated by an absurdity. A crazily surreal passage is broken off and followed by a painfully simple realization of ordinary, unqualified grief.”

Tate’s honors include an Academy of American Poets chancellorship, a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Poetry, the Wallace Stevens Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Online Resources

A reading by James Tate at KWLS 2003 (audio)
Tate via the Poetry Foundation: Essential American Poets (audio)
Stuart Krimko’s guide to Tate’s “The Cowboy”
Dana Gioia on Tate & American Surrealism