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This article is taken from PN Review 205, Volume 38 Number 5, May - June 2012.

James Tate's Recent Prose Poetry Anthony Caleshu
From the 1960s through the 1990s, James Tate wrote the occasional prose poem. With his most recent three books, he’s entered a new phase in his late work, all but dedicating himself to the form, and at great length: Memoir of the Hawk (2001), Return to the City of White Donkeys (2004), and The Ghost Soldiers (2008) feature 376 poems over 565 pages. Some qualifications are necessary to calling the work ‘prose poetry’, since two poems are stanzaic, and some poems have lines that hover about the ten-syllable mark – something of blank verse about them – but increasingly, these are all but absorbed into the masses of lines with fifteen syllables or more that run dedicatedly close to the right margin. The poems look like prose, and to be clear, in their plainness of speech, most of them read like prose, but in fact the right margin is always jagged, all the lines broken. Talking with Charles Simic in an interview in 2006, Tate explains the crux:

I probably think of them as prose poems, but I don’t like those square little blocks that they always come in. When I was younger I might have had some prejudice against strict narrative, thinking it was some limited kind of endeavor. And then once I stumbled into these I kept thinking, Well, the challenge is to show that it’s not limited, that you can keep expanding what you do within that form. My new poems are the most narrative ...


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