James Tate Memorial
By Jennifer Jacobson | Wednesday, March 9, 2016
By Jennifer Jacobson
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
On Thursday February 4th at the Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall Auditorium in New York City, the Academy of American Poets, The Poetry Society of American, The 92nd St. Y Untererg Poetry Center, Ecco/Harper Collins, The New School Creative Writing Program, Poets & Writers, Poets House, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst MFA for Poets and Writers celebrated the life and work of James Tate.
David Lehman, poet and series editor of the annual The Best American Poetry, welcomed the standing-room only crowd. The evening continued with a Charles Ourinen composition based on James Tate's poem "It Happens Like This." John Ashbery declared the event "a joyous celebration of a sad situation." Among the readers of Jim's poems were MFA alumni Matthew Zapruder, Gillian Conoley, Arisa White, Michael Earl Craig, and Dorothea Lasky. Many reminisced about their time in Amherst as Jim's student, as part of the Juniper Summer Writing Institute, or the Juniper Literary Festival. Especially powerful were readings of Jim's poems by Emily Pettit and Guy Pettit, Jim's step daughter and son, (UMass alumni) who told about growing up with Jim's wild, imaginative spirit. The poet Jorie Graham said, "I've rarely known anyone one so alive." The UMass MFA for Poets and Writers chartered a bus for students and alumni from Amherst to attend. Rob Casper, head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress, UMass Alumni and founding editor of the literary journal jubilat, arranged and organized the evening, working in particular with Brett Lauer of the Poetry Society of America to bring the spirit of Jim's poems to the night.
After Maya Sharpe (UMass alumni) sang "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," the celebration ended with Tate himself, in a recording of "Dream On" played to a hushed and reverent auditorium. As is the case with any event touched by James Tate's poetry, the night was filled with laughter and awe, and more than a few tears.