Sep 22, 2010

James Tate, "A Wedding"

Here is more of James Tate, one of those poems that's all about the unexpected "turn" toward the end. The question then becomes--doesn't it?--which of the details leading to that turn might be omitted with no cost to the poem as a whole? That's a complex, nuanced question about rhythm, pacing, tone, and mood--oh, yes, and content.

A Wedding by James Tate : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

I suspect the only way to address it is to type up the poem without the challenged word, phrase, line or lines, and see what happens. We don't know if we need ten fingers till we cut one off.

I also wonder where poets like Tate, Charles Simic, Dean Young, or John Ashbery fit in comparison to the "School of Accessibility" poets like Ted Kooser, Tony Hoagland, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Dorianne Laux, Kim Addonizio, to mention only a few (and that list creates some strange bedfellows, it seems to me).

Standing in the wings are ultra-talk poets Mark Hallady, David Kirby and Barbara Hamby.

What would be the parallel questions in the visual arts or serious music? When do we have a legitimate breakthrough in sensibility, formal aesthetics, and intellectual content? When do we have fraud?

And how can we know the answers before each new canon comes out in paperback?

While you're at it, which is better, the Earl Scruggs three-finger picking on the banjo or clawhammer frailing on the open-backed banjo. Don't even mention the four-string tenor banjo of Dixieland. They're not our kind of people.

Surely we must choose. Surely we must hate one crowd. Otherwise, why politics?

A Wedding by James Tate : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.



Jean Spitzer said...

Love the photos. Is that a fox that you photographed?

Tried reducing the poem to "essential" info. Got down to five sentences, but not sure what that establishes.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't take out one word or phrase, I take out the whole damn thing. As much as I liked the last one is as much as I didn't like this. Blah, blah, blah. No corners, no wit.

Barbaro said...

Pretty prosaic--narrative and abstract--for me.

I hate the term "serious music.". Sorry to derail the discussion, but I can't resist. All music is serious; as Duke Ellington said, there's only two kinds: good or bad.

Maybe I'm reading the wrong journals, or underestimating the public, but I see a much greater excess of Ashberry-esque obscurity than Collins-like simplicity.

PJ said...

Oooo, I think I'll sit this one out, wall flowers have their place.

gothpunkuncle said...

I'm pretty much over trimming the fat from poems. It seems like the only workshopping tool any well meaning editor has. Though I'll admit that "nom de plume" takes me out of the text and seems completely unnecessary, this is a perfectly clear, lovely meditation on the artifice of a special day and the less-than-perfect schmoes who invite the speaker to it. If there's anything here obscure or abstract, I missed it.

Why is Simic in camp 1 and not camp 2?

Brenda's Arizona said...

I pause and wonder: are you missing a finger, Banjo? Only one who misses one would ask a question. The rest of us don't think about it.

This poem gave me pause (not paws), and then I went back to reread the motorcyle poem.

Tate seems to be a great observer. I like that. So I drew a map of the wedding. I'm just that way. And then I went back to the motorcycle story. And I laughed.

So be it.

Banjo52 said...

Jean, I thought fox, then another guest said coyote, and now I'm not sure. Too big for one, too small for the other?

If the poem feels right, as well as meaning right, in five sentences, maybe you've got something.

And Jean, I forgot to ask the other day about the buzzard poem, after 2 readings, did you like it? I was hearing Nay, but you weren’t definite.

AH, you've got to come out of your shell and express yourself! "No corners" feels like a great metaphor for some aspects of writing, tho' I'm not confident I get it. Feel like elaborating?

Barbaro, somewhere I heard that "classical" music was a misnomer as the inclusive term because of Classical vs. Romantic traditions. I don't know if I substituted "serious" or read/heard it, but that's my story. I'm afraid I don't like that Ellington comment. Unless his context clarifies it, I don't believe him. Also, it reminds me of art dealers who say, "Oh, sir, if you like it, then it's good." Bullshit. We may never be able to say definitively that A is better than B, but to say I know good art from bad better than some Ph.D. in Art History is just disingenuous. Or bullshit, take your pick. I also don't like it when big wheels flaunt their casualness like that. I think Ellington was showing off, and I don't care if he's a god.

I like your play with the word "excess." Indeed, it comes in many forms, doesn't it.

Paula, nice raccoon. Or is it a coyote? And yes, breathing and other pleasures are allowed here.

Banjo52 said...

GPU, your last question is big, and I don't know if I'm up to an answer. But don't you think he, Tate, and Young do some similar (broadly speaking) leaps of thought, ellipticizing (my brilliant word)?

As much as I like some of the work of all three, I often find myself wondering how necessary their leaps and ellipses are. Are they HONESTLY trying to SHARE experience (thought, emotion, details) with the reader, or are they more concerned with hip verbal and mental dances— “catch me if you can."

I think that also goes to the emphasis on the "turn" in a poem. Sometimes I hear, correctly or not, “I'm gonna shake this baby up in a hairpin TURN, whether or not it's what I mean and care about.” Or, poem as MonteCarlo car race? I'm not getting any younger, and I'm losing patience with writers showing off how far out they can be. Life is short; tell me the truth, or else go into politics. Of course, when it's their showmanship vs. my obtuseness and simply not getting it— yes, that's another matter. And how do we know when it’s faked and when it’s real? That’s another other matter.

Brenda, thanks for sticking with my analogy, even if it’s to stick me with it! I’ve probably said this before: when I sense a poet drawing things out self-indulgently or boringly, I think of the gods, Keats (who could be windy), Hopkins, Dickinson, Yeats, and even Frost. They are much harder to amputate, I find, than much, much, much of what I read today.

As I KNOW I’ve said before, I think a poem ought to offer a gift of some kind every four or five lines. Otherwise, write a story or essay. Those five and others never make me wait more than five lines for a gift. And I must say, Simic, Young, and Tate usually don’t make me wait either. (Have I mentioned what a busy, important man I am?).

You drew a map of the wedding. And then switched poems. Then laughed. You are one of the most interesting, best, funnest readers I’ve ever known. Yes, so be it.

And by the way, I once took a writing workshop from a guy who had us draw from our pasts an outline of a room—and its furniture—then write about the room. I was amazed at how much I remembered and how differently that made me see the room.

Jean said...

Banjo, I read it twice because I liked it. I read the Wedding poem more than once because I didn't. Cutting it down didn't improve it, just made it a 5-paragraph essay.

Coyote sounds right.

PJ said...

I'm a raccoon! A raccooooooooooon!

Barbaro said...

Those who laud "serious" music generally scorn banjos. That's all I'm saying.

It's easy to forget that today's "serious" music--bluegrass, jazz, etc.--was yesterday's "devil's music.". Ellington knew more than most Phds yet he couldn't use the bathroom in most cities--that, I think, is what the quote is fighting.

PJ said...

I liked this poem. I can't say much about banjo picking except when I like what I hear, and there's actually some biology to politics. We're of one party or the other because our brains are wired that way (srsly).

As for weddings, they fascinate me. Typically people go to great lengths to stage one: there's the engagement, the parties, the (in)expensive ring, the many showers, The Dress, the bridesmaid drama, the sudden need for a religious blessing on a civil union (ya know, just in case), the gifts, the honeymoon, all that speculation, and later, quite possibly, the implosion.
What if you had to put together a not too spectacular wedding all by yourself? How many people would come? And who knows, people are attracted to each other for a variety of reasons and then, for other reasons, it doesn't collapse (although her mother/sisters/BFF wishes it would as do his batchelor buddies AND then there's just nay sayers). As I read the poem I was thinking, "That passion play didn't have any airbags."

Roberto Machado Alves said...

Great shots. I liked them.


Jean Spitzer said...

About coyotes; may explain why this creature looks odd.

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