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Memoir of the Hawk, James Tate

If it is at all possible to be surreally realistic, then James Tate’s Memoir of the Hawk is.  In “Beauty Prizes,” the speaker has a conversation with a parrot named Pascal he finds in his garden.  The bird then flies away and refuses to come back…

Was it something that I had said? I was

nibbling at the fruit salad and flapping my

arms and squawking. A tall, bony farmer in

overalls walked up my driveway and stared

at me. “That’s just what happened to my wife,”

he said. “You better stop that kind of be-

havior while you still can. Pascal’s too

pretty for this earth. That’s why I had to

let him go. Too damned pretty.”

You can never be sure with Tate of what is fact and what is fiction in his poems.  You then realize that it also doesn’t matter at all. The truth he derives from a combination of the two makes up for his seemingly unreliable narration.

All of his poems have a similar form, and almost all of them easily read as prose pieces.  Intentional, directed and often self-deprecating, Tate is always present in his work, either as speaker or relator. The poems never get consumed in metaphor; he is firmly in control of the sparse metaphor he does choose to employ.

Memoir of the Hawk would definitely appeal to anyone who appreciates prose poetry; Tate’s work is a perfect marriage of two formats that have more to say to eachother than we realize.