Sunday, September 30, 2012

"On Poetry" online KC Star: James Tate, Lucille Clifton, Wendell Berry, & C.P. Cavafy

My recent column reviews new collections by these distinguished poets! It begins:
"A poet’s collected works is a type of autobiography. The first section, the earliest books, often sets the direction of style, themes and even personal details. James Tate’s much anthologized poem “The Lost Pilot,” in his debut book from the late 1960s, is an example. Indeed, it is about Tate’s father, who was killed in World War II. The overlap of verse and biography charges the poem with electricity. Midcareer books of poems develop themes further and, if the poet is good, add depth. Finally, the last poems are the culmination, where verse gains patina or dulls.

Exceptional poets inspire editors to compile the poets’ work for the future. Among those whose collected or selected works have been published recently are Tate, a former Kansas Citian;  the late Lucille Clifton, an African-American woman whose work centers on justice; Wendell Berry, an activist farmer-poet;and C.P. Cavafy, an Egyptian poet of the Greek diaspora. All these versifiers continue to influence poets today.
James Tate
Publicity photo by Stephen Long
Tate, who grew up in Raytown, has won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and other major recognition for his sleek, off-balance compositions. His new “Eternal Ones of the Dream: Selected Poems 1990-2010,” a late-career book, narrates plausible situations that go awry. He continues surreal monologues in which he could be the narrator until facts do not add up. Tate takes ordinary expressions and turns them into comedy. “I love my funny poems,” he says in an interview with poet Charles Simic in the Paris Review, “but I’d rather break your heart.” Most of his poems do both."

Read more here: