Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, January 11, 2016

James Tate, _Dome of the Hidden Pavilion_

QUITE A FEW of my longtime favorite poets came out with new books in 2015, so I have been using January as a chance to catch up--Doty, Glück, this one, and Ashbery, Muldoon, and Ni Chuilleananin await. Dome of the Hidden Pavilion seems largely continuous with Return to the City of White Donkeys and The Ghost Soldiers--lines so long and loose that these might be prose poems with unjustified right hand margins, drily surreal humor peeking out behind clichés, imagery somehow oneiric and matter-of-fact at the same time. The book is divided into three parts, so while I was reading part of my mind was sifting for principles of organization. The first part has a good many poems involving wars and soldiers, the second quite a few dialogues, often testy, and in the third there are more than a few deaths. None of these categories seems really airtight, though, as testy dialogues crop up in each of the three sections, ditto for the other possible themes. As with the book's two immediate predecessors, some of the poems ambled along without really arresting my attention, but others got me right between the eyes--I would cite "Dome of the Hidden Temple" (n.b., not "pavilion"), "Manual for Self-Improvement," "The Chicago Dead" (in second section, wouldn't you know), and "The Afterlife." All in all, I would say the energy and ingenuity are slightly lower than in Return to the City of White Donkeys and Ghost Soldiers, the ratio of hits-to-misses a little smaller, but I may only be bummed because there aren't going to be any more.

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