Poet speaks at Writers House

The Daily Pennsylvanian
March 23, 1998

James Tate

James Tate

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Tate visited campus Thursday evening to present his poetry at the Kelly Writers House.

Tate, the author of over 12 collections of poetry, finished the reading with selections from his most recent collection, Shroud of the Gnome.

Standing before an audience of more than 30 faculty, alumni and students, Tate ended with the poem "Dream On," which concentrates on the importance of his life's work.

"Some people go their whole lives without ever writing a poem / extraordinary people who don't hesitate / to cut somebody's heart or skull open," Tate read.

Tate currently teaches poetry at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a job he said he enjoys "very much."

He has been teaching at the university since 1971.

Tate also taught poetry at the University of California at Berkeley, Columbia University and Emerson College during his career.

He began writing poetry at age 17. His first volume, The Lost Pilot, was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1967.

Twenty-five years late, in 1992, Tate received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the William Carlos Williams Award for his Selected Poems. Tate went on to win the National Book Award for Poetry for his 1994 collection, Worshipful Company of Fletchers.

In his first visit to Penn, Tate gave a straight one-hour reading, sharing 17 poems from his various collections. Among the works Tate read were "Never Again the Same" and "The Definition of Gardening."

In "Gardening," Tate reflects on the reasons for cultivating the earth -- "the me who loves to garden / becasue it prevents the heaving of the ground / and the untimely death of porch furniture" -- while in "Never Again" he describes his reaction to a sunset.

"Speaking of sunsets, / last night's was shocking. / I mean sunsets aren't supposed to frighen you, are they? / Well this one was terrifying."

Tate filled the Kelly Writers House with the latent humor of much of his poetry, which he said "he loved passionately."

The evening concluded with a dinner at the Writers House honoring the poet.

Nate Chinen, assistant director of the Writers House, was enthusiastic about Tate coming to the University, calling it a "tremendous reading."

Kerry Sherin, the resident coordinator of the Writers House and a 1987 alumna, was also thrilled with Tate's visit.

These poetry readings "give younger writers the opportunity to get together with established writers," Sherin said.

Tate's visit was organized through the collaborative effort of the Creative Writing Program in the English Department and the Writers House.

Earlier last week, author Yusef Komunyakaa read his poetry at the Writers House and author Elizabeth Spires is coming to the Writers House on April 1.