Thread: When an Esteemed Poet Writes a Bad Poem

During poetry month, I usually open the daily poem email from, glance over it, and move on. Today, I was compelled to respond to James Tate's Father's Day:

A Non-Poet’s Lament

The poet has lived in a dusty tower since the twentieth
century. He speaks of Michelangelo–the women, too–
and the academy concurs. Royalty, a man with no robes
or under shorts. He lives on celebrity and a few sips
of kudos. He dreams of past book awards. His iconoclastic
child lashes out at his noted conversational surrealism.
Yellow cats rub sleek torsos against his trouser legs.
I detect a whiff of a putrid peach, the poet’s conceit.
I opened my email, trying to quell the mind-numbing
poetic assault. I, too, have written a drawer full of prose
but not to the State Department. They would have never
written back, for I am not a poet–and know it. I
never listened to his nuggets. I was always tapping
away. I never called him anything–I already know
my shortcomings–and he will never know of me.
Chickenshit: this–his–poem’s middle name.

Note: I am never surprised when a poet or writer creates a bad poem--writers are notoriously bad judges of their own work. I have drawers full of questionable work.

What surprises me: when editors fall all over themselves to publish anything by a famous writer, no matter how mediocre.

I do not know James Tate, nor do I have an ax to grind with him personally; I was just struck by the mediocrity of this particular poem.

Of course, you are free to respond, tell me how lousy my imitation is--which I already know. I spent less than one hour on it and don't have time for revision. I have to move on and grade papers.

But could someone please tell me (and others) why Tate's poem is worthy of being the poem-of-the-day for April 16, 2008? Am I missing something? If so, what?

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