Cosmic Mindlessness



James Tate, ca. 1965.


James Tate, who moved often during the sixties and seventies, frequently updated his mentor and friend Gene DeGruson on his writing and on personal matters. Though routine in topic, Tate’s correspondence was often as humorous and purposeful as his poems; “I love my funny poems,” he said in his Writers at Work interview, “but I’d rather break your heart. And if I can do both in the same poem, that’s the best. If you laughed earlier in the poem, and I bring you close to tears in the end, that’s the best.” From a 1969 letter to DeGruson:

Dear Gene,

I made it at least this far. The infinite details involved in moving from one place to no-place wrought a maniacal kind of SS effiency upon me those last 2 weeks. I sold my car and much of my “furniture,” as it was. And I do have three readings in Pennsylvania before departing the continent; plus one charity reading at Yale.

It’s good to be away from Kansas City: as you know, I had no real stimulating friends there, just a few drinking partners and a nice girl, which is enough to get by on for a while, but not nine months, for me. I attended a wild party and poetry event last night at Saint Mark’s Church on the Bowery—LSD punch (really!) pot birthday cake, plus 350 joints circulating for the special occasion, plus wine, a small conciliation. I abstained from the punch, but indulged in the cake and joints. The wildest thing was this: good old Ingrid Superstar herself picked me as her evenings entertainmnet, Warhol’s debutante. Cosmic mindlessness! I was absolutely giddy with the whole thing, couldn’t stop beaming at the ridiculousness of it. Since she was the big catch at the event, everyone had their eyes on us to see what would come of it (I think she had vaguely heard of me, though I couldn’t tell for sure, and I made no effort to inform of my literary inclinations because nothing could have been more irrelevant to her designs.) Well, I blew it. It was too much, I walked her to her apartment, listening to her gobbledegook about the eclipse in China that night and how she was a scorpio, and how many pills she had taken that day and her last bad trip and her next movie in Rome, etc etc., and finally stole a big kiss goodnight and slithered back down 10th to the Church where the party was still writhing. All the East Village poets were there—Ron Padgett, Michael Brownstein, Peter Schjeldahl, Anne Waldman, Gerard Malanga, Lewis Warsh, and more, plus a few friends of mine, Charles Simic and Nathan Whiting, both of the latter being very good poets—the former six being extremely suspect though much celebrated in this part of the world, thanks to their dial-a-poem innovation.

There are as always many plays and movies and poetry events buzzing here: and you keep thinking you’ll take them all in but when the clock says it’s time to go you sink deeper in your chair at the thought of three subway transfers and you end up reading a book and drinking a bottle of wine. I don’t know where I’ll live when it’s Columbia teaching time next year.

The City is in a mess in so many ways. Lindsey is in fact a baboon. Norman Mailer is going to be running with Jimmy Breslin as city counsel chairman. He might even win. The schools are hopeless, much money has been cut for all budgets, there is no housing, rents are skyrocketing, etcetera. Aguh. Oh for the prairies. You can’t win.

Let me know what you’re up to, now and in the summer ahead.