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James Tate obituary

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Iconoclastic and original American poet who won the Pulitzer prize

James Tate, who has died aged 71, was one of the most original and inventive American poets of his era, whose sense of humour and love of the tall story calls to mind an earlier Missouri-born master of the fable, Mark Twain.

The title poem of Tate’s first collection, The Lost Pilot, which won the Yale Younger Poets prize of 1967, is a haunting elegy for the father he never met. Vincent Appleby was shot down in his B-17 bomber over Germany in 1944, when his son was only four months old. The poet imagines his father as “a tiny, African god” endlessly orbiting the earth, while the son stares into the skies. It ends ambivalently with a recognition that he can neither communicate with the lost pilot, nor forget him:

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