James Tate's second full book was Oblivion Ha-Ha, published in 1970 by Little Brown. It has an orange and blue dust jacket with a picture of kite flyers. The back cover is a full page photograph of the romantic young author.
The book is most famous for three poems, "The Blue Booby," "Little Yellow Leaf," and "The Wheelchair Butterfly ('Beware a velvet tabernacle')." At first glance the book is full of funny surrealist poems, the song of a manic whipporwill. Its all of the same sequined cloth. However, just below the surface of so many of the poems there is a sad and lovely melancholy. The words which appear most are Orange, black, dark and darkness. The poems are in the same category as and somewhere in between Ashbery and Simic. In these poems bread sighs, a "rollerskate collides with a lunch pail," " the dark is an available religion," and "chameleons can walk around a small room." These are tall skinny poems of delight and despair. I particularly liked the following poems:
1. Poem, which starts of the volume, is terrific:
"He did the handkerchief dance all alone
O Desire! it is the beautiful dress
for which the proper occasion
O the wedding cake and the good cigar!"
There's a little Kenneth Koch there too.
2. "Prose Poem," which is of course lineated and racous [raw cuss].
3. "The Tryst," in which the word 'baleful' is perfectly used.
4. The manic, maniac "Shadowboxing," sweet and lonely.
5. "Twilight Sustenance Hiatus" in which the colon is well placed:
" There is so little news fit to print:
Yesterday a moth caught fire."
6. When Kabir Died," " Failed Tribute to the Stonemason of Tor House, Robinson Jeffers," "Conjuring Roethke," "No End to Fall River," and the long last poem "Bennington."
"Hello again, mad turnip,"