When James Tate died on July 8, 2015, at the age of seventy-one, he left behind more than twenty collections of poetry and prose, including Dome of the Hidden Pavilion, published right around the time of his death. Most of us assumed that this was his final book. But it turned out there were more poems, which have been assembled into a truly final volume, The Government Lake, to be published by Ecco in July of 2019. One of those poems, “Elvis Has Left the House,” appears in The Paris Review’s Spring 2019 issue.
Over the course of his career, Tate won every imaginable award available to American poets, including the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. He was revered by poets of virtually every aesthetic persuasion, from stern formalists to wild experimentalists. He had a legion of poor imitators, whom my friends and I called “lost pilots” after the legendary, eponymous poem of Tate’s first book, which won the most prestigious prize for young poets of its time, the 1967 Yale Series of Younger Poets award. When he wrote that book, he was only twenty-two, a kid from a deeply religious Pentecostal family in Kansas City, who somehow found his way to poetry and then to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The legend goes that he just showed up, showed them his poems, and was admitted on the spot by the director of the program, Donald Justice. If that story’s not true, I don’t want to know.
Read the complete article
Even in antiquity, some writers lived to a ripe old age. (Sophocles was ninety or ninety-one when he died.) Until recently, though, they were the exception rather than the rule. Today, many have continued writing into their eighties (Ursula K. Le Guin and P. D. James, for example) and even their nineties (Czesław Miłosz comes to mind). Readers are living longer too, of course. Maybe we’ll soon have a new literary category, Old Adult, to match Young Adult. A major publisher and a commercial enterprise with a vested interest in the elderly could work together to get this category off the ground, establishing a hefty annual prize for the best OA novel.
A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety, Donald Hall’s splendid miscellany, was published in July, just a couple of weeks after his death at age eighty-nine. Although he was best known as a poet, I’ve always preferred his prose. There is no continuous narrative in A Carnival of Losses, and only a perfunctory gesture at organizing the contents: What we get is precisely what the subtitle promises, and I rejoice in it. Speaking from the vantage of a seventy-year-old, I am already familiar with the associative leaps and seeming arbitrariness of the aging mind: a nuisance in some respects but a boon in others. In a loose series remembering a wild assortment of poets, all Hall has to say about Allen Tate is, “My recollections of some poets are brief. Allen Tate always looked grumpy.”