There are two kinds of poets in the world: those who grow with age and alter style, outlook, and argument over the years, and those who burst onto the scene fully fledged and polish what is in essence an unchanging perception of life throughout their careers. James Tate is of the second sort; his stunning appearance in his first major book, The Lost Pilot, set the pattern for all he would write over the succeeding decades. The poetry of Distance from Loved Ones is a richer, denser, more masterful execution of the style and themes he set for himself as a young man.
Variation for Tate is a subtle thing; beneath the variances of style and diction lies a core of subjects and emotions that are constant in his poetry: loss of relations, the quixotic world of appearances, and a violent underworld of emotion waiting to erupt through the crevices of the mundane. The central theme running throughout Tate’s canon is the desire to shatter superficial experience, to break through the sterility of suburban life and drown it in erotic passion. His characters languish from unfulfilled longings; the objects he contemplates are all prisoners of definition and stereotype; life is a desert of routine expectation waiting to blow up from the forces of liberated imagination, whimsy, outrage, and humor.
Tate joins a long line of midwestern writers who fought in their writing against the domestic tedium of their region. Theodore Dreiser set the...
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