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Worshipful Company Of Fletchers

by James Tate

ISBN 088001380X / 9780880013802 / 0-88001-380-X
Publisher Ecco Press
Language English
Edition Hardcover
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Book summary

Winner of the National Book Award in 1994, The Worshipful Company of Fletchers is fresh and startling. Like his doppelgangers Jeff Koons in sculpture and Stephen Malkmus in rock music, Tate is a self-consciously cool comedian of contrivances, devising bizarre situations and dressing them in a camouflage of the familiar world. To read Tate is to hear as music the ongoing negotiations between language and reality. In this book his main amusement is a game of categories, culminating in "How the Pope Is Chosen":

After a poodle dies
All the cardinals flock to the nearest 7-eleven.
They drink slurpies until one of them throws up
And then he's the new pope.
With a devil's aplomb, Tate inverts cliches to infiltrate the vocabularies of power in such mischievous poems as "A Manual of Enlargement," "Little Poems with Argyle Socks," and "What the City Was Like." The latter seems to caricature the late William Stafford, with its description of a salt-mining operation behind City Hall. For quality control, "someone / named Mildred" tasted each grain "until she became a stenographer / and moved away," thus devastating the community because "no one could read / her diacritical remarks." In the poetry of James Tate--or that of John Ashbery, Mark Levine, or Russell Edson, all of whom Tate superficially resembles--one looks for clues to the poet's mission. Perhaps a few hints come in the final poem, "Happy as the Day Is Long," in which the speaker feels sympathetic toward the Russians who created a language to communicate with aliens "but never get a postcard back." If it were uncovered that Tate was an inhabitant of another world instead of a middle-aged man from Kansas City, few of those rewarded by The Worshipful Company of Fletchers would be surprised. --Edward Skoog [via]