James Tate’s style consisted of practiced, easy idiosyncrasies that read akin to the narrative of a dream. His stream of conscious style paired with light wit is unique, although it does invoke poets like Kenneth Koch. To some, this may be like eating kimchi, to those who have no cultivated a taste for these particularly humorous bits of surrealism, it may go down like spiced, half-rotted cabbage. For those who have developed a taste for Tate’s particular vision, it would be something one could eat with every meal. Although that metaphor can have one miss Tate’s prime talent, the ability to build a tension that releases in humor or a subtly bitter sweet crescendo.
This book has the feel, though, that Tate has perhaps turned his process into a nearly mechanical procedure, as Randall Jarrel said about late Auden in an entirely different context, though Tate’s long lines and prosaic turns, while not quite exactly prose, may be best seen in his earlier works. This book is still not one to skip despite the fact fans of Tate may have seen it before and partisans of Tate may be coming to it with the taste of consistency that a good and unique craftsman can render, but one that sells his earlier brilliance a little short.