Monday, April 27, 2009

Look Who's Got a Big Heart

James Tate's The Ghost Soldiers eschews many of poetry's traditional concerns. It indulges in "he said, she said" repetition, refuses to consider compression and line --it even allows ordinary people, places and objects to remain strangely ordinary. The focus here is all on human relationships. These are poems in which people have fallen into one or more of the traps society constructs for us: news reports, rumors, fashion, paranoia, miscommunication and war. These are also poems in which the first person narrator takes on the task of holding it all together, mostly countering insanity with common sense and good humor, sometimes able only to save himself, but nearly always showing compassion, concern and respect. In "Special Operations" the narrator comforts a woman who's lost her son's goldfish. In "The Nether World" he helps a man deal with his broken dreams then agrees to go on a date he doesn't remember making. I have to say I come away from this book feeling like I've learned some sorely needed new strategies on how to be a better friend, neighbor, total stranger, acquaintance, parent, spouse. Since when does poetry have the right to be so practical? As far as that goes, when was the last time a book of poems was a page turner? I have to go all the way back to Tate's last book, Return to the City of White Donkeys.