JAMES TATE, THE LAST NO. 4 SEED STANDING, TAKES ON CAROLYN CREEDON (13TH SEEDED)

Our last no. 4 seed first round contest (so far we’ve had three ‘Moorhead State over Louisville’ upsets) pits James Tate’s “Dream On” against “Litany” by Carolyn Creedon.  These are both relatively well-known works, but James Tate is by far the better known poet.

Tate tends to riff in an arch, detached manner on subjects accessible, gossipy, newsy, and then when the reader least expects it,  Tate shifts the detached view to an intimate one, and the reader is swallowed by the poem—expecting at first only to chuckle at it.  Much of it has to do with point of view—Tate is a wizard at not just mixing up point of view but using those changes in view to enthrall. Tate doesn’t waste energy trying to write ‘a poem.’ His prose finds the poem—often at the last minute.  Unlike other prose poets, like C.K. Williams, for example, Tate, more often than not, closes the deal—his poems finish with a jolt that makes the whole thing fall into place. With Tate, there’s no method or theory, only a ‘Jamesian intelligence’—one that gets it done much faster than that horrible fat old novelist could ever do.
 

DREAM ON

Some people go their whole lives
without ever writing a single poem.
Extraordinary people who don’t hesitate
to cut somebody’s heart or skull open.
They go to baseball games with the greatest of ease.
and play a few rounds of golf as if it were nothing.
These same people stroll into a church
as if that were a natural part of life.
Investing money is second nature to them.
They contribute to political campaigns
that have absolutely no poetry in them
and promise none for the future.
They sit around the dinner table at night
and pretend as though nothing is missing.
Their children get caught shoplifting at the mall
and no one admits that it is poetry they are missing.
The family dog howls all night,
lonely and starving for more poetry in his life.
Why is it so difficult for them to see
that, without poetry, their lives are effluvial.
Sure, they have their banquets, their celebrations,
croquet, fox hunts, their sea shores and sunsets,
their cocktails on the balcony, dog races,
and all that kissing and hugging, and don’t
forget the good deeds, the charity work,
nursing the baby squirrels all through the night,
filling the birdfeeders all winter,
helping the stranger change her tire.
Still, there’s that disagreeable exhalation
from decaying matter, subtle but everpresent.
They walk around erect like champions.
They are smooth-spoken and witty.
When alone, rare occasion, they stare
into the mirror for hours, bewildered.
There was something they meant to say, but didn’t:
“And if we put the statue of the rhinoceros
next to the tweezers, and walk around the room three times,
learn to yodel, shave our heads, call
our ancestors back from the dead–”
poetrywise it’s still a bust, bankrupt.
You haven’t scribbled a syllable of it.
You’re a nowhere man misfiring
the very essence of your life, flustering
nothing from nothing and back again.
The hereafter may not last all that long.
Radiant childhood sweetheart,
secret code of everlasting joy and sorrow,
fanciful pen strokes beneath the eyelids:
all day, all night meditation, knot of hope,
kernel of desire, pure ordinariness of life
seeking, through poetry, a benediction
or a bed to lie down on, to connect, reveal,
explore, to imbue meaning on the day’s extravagant labor.
And yet it’s cruel to expect too much.
It’s a rare species of bird
that refuses to be categorized.
Its song is barely audible.
It is like a dragonfly in a dream–
here, then there, then here again,
low-flying amber-wing darting upward
then out of sight.
And the dream has a pain in its heart
the wonders of which are manifold,
or so the story is told.

–James Tate

MARLA MUSE: I wonder if the last line might be written ‘or so the poem says’ to make the poem even more self-reflexive.

Marla, you can’t go out there and play the games for these guys!  We watch the games!  We admire the poetry!  You can’t do that!

MARLA MUSE: OK.

This poem by Tate is a tough one to beat.  Can Carolyn Creedon do it?

LITANY

Tom, will you let me love you in your restaurant?
i will let you make me a sandwich of your invention and i will eat it and call
it a carolyn sandwich. then you will kiss my lips and taste the mayonnaise and
that is how you shall love me in my restaurant

Tom, will you come to my empty beige apartment and help me set up my daybed?
yes, and i will put the screws in loosely so that when we move on it, later,
it will rock like a cradle and then you will know you are my baby

Tom, I am sitting on my dirt bike on the deck. Will you come out from the kitchen
and watch the people with me?
yes, and then we will race to your bedroom. i will win and we will tangle up
on your comforter while the sweat rains from our stomachs and foreheads

Tom, the stars are sitting in tonight like gumball gems in a little girl’s
jewelry box. Later can we walk to the duck pond?
yes, and we can even go the long way past the jungle gym. i will push you on
the swing, but promise me you’ll hold tight. if you fall i might disappear

Tom, can we make a baby together? I want to be a big pregnant woman with a
loved face and give you a squalling red daughter.
no, but i will come inside you and you will be my daughter

Tom, will you stay the night with me and sleep so close that we are one person?
no, but i will lay down on your sheets and taste you. there will be feathers
of you on my tongue and then i will never forget you

Tom, when we are in line at the convenience store can I put my hands in your
back pockets and my lips and nose in your baseball shirt and feel the crook
of your shoulder blade?
no, but later you can lay against me and almost touch me and when i go i will
leave my shirt for you to sleep in so that always at night you will be pressed
up against the thought of me

Tom, if I weep and want to wait until you need me will you promise that someday
you will need me?
no, but i will sit in silence while you rage, you can knock the chairs down
any mountain. i will always be the same and you will always wait

Tom, will you climb on top of the dumpster and steal the sun for me? It’s just
hanging there and I want it.
no, it will burn my fingers. no one can have the sun: it’s on loan from god.
but i will draw a picture of it and send it to you from richmond and then you
can smooth out the paper and you will have a piece of me as well as the sun

Tom, it’s so hot here, and I think I’m being born. Will you come back from
Richmond and baptise me with sex and cool water?
i will come back from richmond. i will smoothe the damp spiky hairs from the
back of your neck and then i will lick the salt off it. then i will leave

Tom, Richmond is so far away. How will I know how you love me?
i have left you. that is how you will know

–Carolyn Creedon

Gulp…both these poems are terrific…It’s tied…with three minutes to go…Creedon has the ball…love to loves-me-not…shoots!  Goooood!
Creedon up by two…poetry comes across the line…pass in the corner…dribbles…pass inside!…back
to the basket…hook…no good!…off the glass to…love…back up court…beautiful pass inside!…oh, but
it’s knocked away…loose ball…poetry has the ball…tied up again…possession love…time out!

Creedon up by two with two minutes left, and has the ball.  Takes it out…love, stuck in the corner…back outside…love sets a pick…driving inside…foul on the play…love to the free throw line with a minute and forty seconds to go…first shot is good…Creedon up by three, now…next shot, no good…Tate brings up the ball…passing around the perimeter…shot from three!…no good!…rebound Tate!…back up! good and fouled!!  One minute twenty five seconds…free throw is good…we’re tied…

Creedon takes it up…to love…love looks…poetry’s all over her…love passes outside…stolen by Tate!
lay-up is good…and Tate leads by two, with a minute, five seconds to go…Time out!  They talk…

Creedon with the ball…goes to love in the paint…turns…doesn’t take the shot, back outside…well-covered there…fifty seconds left…twenty on the shot clock…in the corner…now underneath…goes up!…no good!….rebound…who’s got it…love, outside for the three…no good!…ball, out of bounds…to Tate! Tate still ahead by two and we’ve got 42 seconds on the clock…time out Creedon! What a nail-biter, ladies and gentlemen!

Tate, up by two, brings it up…we’re down to 30 seconds…25 seconds…who’s going to take a shot?  We
are down to 20 seconds…fifteen…8 seconds on the shot clock…poetry drives…NO GOOD! and the
rebound comes off to love…Creedon has the ball, down by two, with 10 seconds left! Time out?  No, no time out…Quickly a pass inside…no room!…five seconds…back outside…love…takes a three…

GOOOOOOOD!!!!!!!

Carolyn Creedon has upset James Tate!!  A three point shot with two seconds left on the clock!

Carolyn Creedon advances!


8 Comments

  1. Aaron Asphar said,

    March 19, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Dear Card..I meen Carylin.

    Books would be healthy if we lived in a communicative culture which allowed us to draw freely off them as a magma, like our own memory. Today most books are tyrannies, ever fading pleasures not because the book fades but because the reader does.The human as eternal presence spills out of the radical tension between itself and its osseous social history. In other words, there is only one kind of conflict: that between life and its history.Just as ‘influence’ conflates radicalization and imitation, and takes them as essential being-in-themselves, ‘power’ conflates negativity and hegemony, and takes itself as cause, as being-in itself. What we always do always is conflate life and dead social history: however this conflation is only superficial and we experience the schism as the difference between appearance and essence. You are confine to the world of closed books: of mere appearences.

    Aaron.

  2. Noochness said,

    March 19, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    litany

    Tom, will you let me love you in your restaurant?
    i will let you make me a sandwich of your invention and i will eat it and call
    it a carolyn sandwich. then you will kiss my lips and taste the mayonnaise and
    that is how you shall love me in my restaurant

    Tom, will you come to my empty beige apartment and help me set up my daybed?
    yes, and i will put the screws in loosely so that when we move on it, later,
    it will rock like a cradle and then you will know you are my baby

    Tom, I am sitting on my dirt bike on the deck. Will you come out from the kitchen
    and watch the people with me?
    yes, and then we will race to your bedroom. i will win and we will tangle up
    on your comforter while the sweat rains from our stomachs and foreheads

    Tom, the stars are sitting in tonight like gumball gems in a little girl’s
    jewelry box. Later can we walk to the duck pond?
    yes, and we can even go the long way past the jungle gym. i will push you on
    the swing, but promise me you’ll hold tight. if you fall i might disappear

    Tom, can we make a baby together? I want to be a big pregnant woman with a loved face and give you a squalling red daughter.
    no, but i will come inside you and you will be my daughter

    Tom, will you stay the night with me and sleep so close that we are one person?
    no, but i will lay down on your sheets and taste you. there will be feathers
    of you on my tongue and then i will never forget you

    Tom, when we are in line at the convenience store can I put my hands in your
    back pockets and my lips and nose in your baseball shirt and feel the crook
    of your shoulder blade?
    no, but later you can lay against me and almost touch me and when i go i will
    leave my shirt for you to sleep in so that always at night you will be pressed
    up against the thought of me

    Tom, if I weep and want to wait until you need me will you promise that someday
    you will need me?
    no, but i will sit in silence while you rage. you can knock the chairs down
    any mountain. i will always be the same and you will always wait

    Tom, will you climb on top of the dumpster and steal the sun for me? It’s just
    hanging there and I want it.
    no, it will burn my fingers. no one can have the sun: it’s on loan from god.
    but i will draw a picture of it and send it to you from richmond and then you
    can smooth out the paper and you will have a piece of me as well as the sun

    Tom, it’s so hot here, and I think I’m being born. Will you come back from
    Richmond and baptise me with sex and cool water?
    i will come back from richmond. i will smooth the damp spiky hairs from the
    back of your wet neck and then i will lick the salt off it. then i will leave

    Tom, Richmond is so far away. How will I know how you love me?
    i have left you. that is how you will know

    –– Carolyn Creedon

  3. Noochness said,

    March 20, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Dream On

    Some people go their whole lives
    without ever writing a single poem.
    Extraordinary people who don’t hesitate
    to cut somebody’s heart or skull open.
    They go to baseball games with the greatest of ease.
    and play a few rounds of golf as if it were nothing.
    These same people stroll into a church
    as if that were a natural part of life.
    Investing money is second nature to them.
    They contribute to political campaigns
    that have absolutely no poetry in them
    and promise none for the future.
    They sit around the dinner table at night
    and pretend as though nothing is missing.
    Their children get caught shoplifting at the mall
    and no one admits that it is poetry they are missing.
    The family dog howls all night,
    lonely and starving for more poetry in his life.
    Why is it so difficult for them to see
    that, without poetry, their lives are effluvial.
    Sure, they have their banquets, their celebrations,
    croquet, fox hunts, their sea shores and sunsets,
    their cocktails on the balcony, dog races,
    and all that kissing and hugging, and don’t
    forget the good deeds, the charity work,
    nursing the baby squirrels all through the night,
    filling the birdfeeders all winter,
    helping the stranger change her tire.
    Still, there’s that disagreeable exhalation
    from decaying matter, subtle but everpresent.
    They walk around erect like champions.
    They are smooth-spoken, urbane and witty.
    When alone, rare occasion, they stare
    into the mirror for hours, bewildered.
    There was something they meant to say, but didn’t:
    “And if we put the statue of the rhinoceros
    next to the tweezers, and walk around the room three times,
    learn to yodel, shave our heads, call
    our ancestors back from the dead—”
    poetrywise it’s still a bust, bankrupt.
    You haven’t scribbled a syllable of it.
    You’re a nowhere man misfiring
    the very essence of your life, flustering
    nothing from nothing and back again.
    The hereafter may not last all that long.
    Radiant childhood sweetheart,
    secret code of everlasting joy and sorrow,
    fanciful pen strokes beneath the eyelids:
    all day, all night meditation, knot of hope,
    kernel of desire, pure ordinariness of life
    seeking, through poetry, a benediction
    or a bed to lie down on, to connect, reveal,
    explore, to imbue meaning on the day’s extravagant labor.
    And yet it’s cruel to expect too much.
    It’s a rare species of bird
    that refuses to be categorized.
    Its song is barely audible.
    It is like a dragonfly in a dream—
    here, then there, then here again,
    Low-flying Amber-wing darting upward
    then out of sight.
    And the dream has a pain in its heart
    the wonders of which are manifold,
    or so the story is told.

    James Tate

  4. erasmo said,

    August 31, 2011 at 6:45 am

    hello guys do you have any interpretations about litany???please help here’s my facebook account erasmo_gut@yahoo.com please do leave a message i really need it because i find it hard interpreting the poem thank you guys!@!

    • Nooch said,

      August 31, 2011 at 9:14 am

      A girl loves a guy.
      The guy says bye-bye.
      That’s a gist of the poet’s rappin’.
      (My going to Facebook’s not gonna happen.)

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 31, 2011 at 4:03 pm

      It’s the kld. It all goes wrong when she wants to have a kid. That’s when the centripetal force turns centrifugul…when in reality they are the same force…

  5. Wonder Dog said,

    August 31, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    James Tate…white donkey..oops..

  6. Wonder Dog said,

    August 31, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    I want to babysit a chow Mein sandwich.


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