Remembering Jim

                                       ~Gail Mazur’s Tribute to James Tate, who died recently.

Copyright Elsa Dorfman 2015. All rights reserved.

Copyright Elsa Dorfman 2015. All rights reserved.

I was inching into poetry in the summer of 1966, reading everything in the Grolier poetry bookshop’s messy nest, losing and finding myself in the amber light of Plympton Street. One hot July afternoon, a baby-faced boy was there, chatting with old Gordon Cairnie, the proprietor, on the scratchy green sofa. Jim Tate. Soon, he and I walked out past the headshops and coffee shops and the twenty other bookstores, along the Charles (not the hotel, the river), talking and laughing, and he reciting his poems for me, poems from the book that was to appear the next year, The Lost Pilot.

Heartbreaking, funny, ebullient, endearing.

Cambridge, 1966, the summer Frank O’Hara died. His voice, and Tate’s voice, at 23, a conversation I’d been yearning for. In the Grolier, a sense of mourning and of rebirth.

Listening to Jim was something like falling in love—no, it was falling in love, in love with a poem, like falling in love with the poem you’re working on, the one that is your life. Right now and forever. I’ve always thought that day was the real beginning of my writing life. I floated home and into the day’s poem.

James Tate was born in 1943 in Kansas City, Missouri. He earned a BA from Kansas State College and an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He was the author of over 20 poetry collections, including The Lost Pilot, which was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets, The Ghost Soldiers (2008); Worshipful Company of Fletchers (1994), which won the National Book Award; Selected Poems (1991), which won the Pulitzer Prize and the William Carlos Williams Award; Distance from Loved Ones (1990); Constant Defender (1983); Viper Jazz (1976); and The Oblivion Ha-Ha (1970). His honors include an Academy of American Poets chancellorship, a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Poetry, the Wallace Stevens Award, the Tanning Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He taught for five decades, at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He died July 8, 2015.


Gail Mazur’s  7th collection, Forbidden City, will be published by University of Chicago press in 2016. Previous books include, Figures in a Landscape (2011) , Zeppo’s First Wife: New & Selected Poems, (2005) winner of the 2006 Massachusetts Book Award, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and  the Paterson Poetry Prize. She is author of 4 earlier books of poetry, Nightfire, The Pose of Happiness, The Common, and They Can’t Take That Away from Me , a finalist for the National Book Award in 2001. She is the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emerson College and Founding Director of the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge, a weekly poetry reading series she ran for 29 years. Mazur was a fellow at the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, and recipient of the St. Botolph Club Foundation’s Distinguished Artist Award. An interview with Mazur about her work is online at The Atlantic. She lives in Cambridge and Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she teaches and serves on the Writing Committee of the Fine Arts Work Center. Her website is www.gailmazur.com. She was married to the late artist, Michael Mazur.