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Return to the City of White Donkeys: Poems    by James Tate order for
Return to the City of White Donkeys
by James Tate
Order:  USA  Can
Ecco, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Light irony sets the tone for James Tate's anecdotal collection of free verse poems, Return to the City of White Donkeys. It begins on page on with 'Long-Term Memory', in which a man sitting in the park is informed 'There's a statue of you over there ... You should be dead.'

In 'The Beautiful Shoeshine', Tate explores invisibility at a busy airport. In 'Banking Rules', he takes on busy lines and public embarrassment. 'The Promotion' compares a past life as a dog with that of a man ... 'This is my reward for being a good dog. The human wolves don't even see me. They fear me not.' 'Hunger' takes on the martial language of corporate life, as exemplified by the new office manager for a company selling potato chips. 'A More Prosperous Nation' describes an encounter with a 'wild baby', somewhat reminiscent of Johnathan Swift's A Modest Proposal.

I enjoyed one in which Tate's awoken by 'The Loon' who 'let out a tremendous looping, soaring, swirling, quadruple whoop.' And 'Red Dirt' muses on what 'old Mayan city' lies under a backyard, and on the dirt, 'the waves it makes, like the whistling of time.' 'Kingdom Come' takes a stark look at a new baby's impact on a couple's lives - 'I could hear the pounding hooves of the wild tribes of Genghis Khan coming over the mountains to rape and pillage our little kingdom, and I cried for mercy, but there was none. There was only the little baby from now on.'

If you like the absurd in poetry then you'll enjoy James Tate's Return to the City of White Donkeys, full of satirical extrapolations of everyday moments through imaginative musing.

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