In THE WORSHIPFUL COMPANY OF FLETCHERS, readers are made sublime and ridiculous partners in a conspiracy of imagination against the constraints of language. Those readers who feel they have “been there and done that” when it comes to reading poetry have not read James Tate. He manages to blow a brilliant gust of fresh air into a genre often ignored and feared as elitist or inaccessible, without compromising intellectual integrity or the right to be zany. Readers can listen to the wisdom of an old door floating down the river or visit with an eland in retirement and still be able to ponder the conundrum of being self-conscious, self-reflexive beings. In fact, it is the bizarre images themselves that bring readers to examine their own tendencies to impose “sense,” reminding them of how arbitrary that often is. Tate makes his readers laugh at themselves and forgive themselves as well.
There is an elegiac current underlying these newest poems that is a subtle departure from Tate’s earlier work. This current is most easily recognized in poems such as “Go, Youth,” “Where Were You,” and the title poem, “The Worshipful Company of Fletchers.” The middle-aged Tate seems more willing to allow for the emotional knots language and culture fail to untangle. Nevertheless, his approach remains as unique as the lines about childhood and “Awe” from Emily Dickinson with which he opens the book. His images bloom, vibrant and full as always, ensuring that “One may give free reign to the imagination,/no end or beginning in the sequence: indigo, indigo, violet, red, red, red.” Whether in the garden, or on a picnic at a lunatic asylum or viewing Tokyo from fifty different angles, Tate’s beautiful, startling images leave readers “bivouacked between worlds” of imagination and everyday reality.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. XCI, September 15, 1994, p. 107.
Library Journal. CXIX, September 15, 1994, p. 74.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. November 27, 1994, p. 2.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, August 29, 1994, p. 68.