Essay from JD DeHart

What Can James Tate Teach Us?

            Poets like the recently deceased James Tate offer works that lend themselves to a variety of interpretations; what better segue into explorations of textual ideas based around a real passage?   Tate’s poem, “An Eland, in Retirement” offers a variety of historical and social discussion points, and can lead to conversations about the role and identity of the poem’s narrator.
Readers can cite lines within Tate’s work to support their own conclusions about his intended meaning, which is often open-ended and debatable.  In this way, we can explore our writing without the danger of the “one answer is correct” approach.  This type of conversation has the potential to move beyond statements based on preconceived notions or personal feelings, and attach meaning to phrases gathered and presented from the text itself.
In this way, one poem can convey a multitude of meanings, depending on our background and context.  It is not unlike a kaleidoscope.


Bridging concepts of narratives, Billy Collins often writes in a story-like fashion that can engage readers who are familiar with story writing.  Readers can leverage their existing knowledge of what works in a narrative in analyzing and interpreting Collins’s poems, some of which are already available in textbooks.  They can reach across genres to compare the way Collins tells a story, versus the way a prose author tells a similar tale.
From poets like Tate and Collins, we can engage with writing in a rich way.  There are also many poets and writers who routinely post and publish their work around the web whose names are not as cited as these two authors.  Perhaps they are lesser-known, and might even qualify as underground poets, but they still have insight to offer.  Sites like this one offer us a pathway into other voices and worlds, and give these sometimes overlooked poets a chance to share their work.
There is nothing so exciting to me as the pairing of one word with another in a new and engaging way.  And there is always a fresh take to offer in the world of poetry.

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