Dome of the Hidden Pavilion

Dome of the Hidden Pavilion: New Poems - James Tate

My patience with this collection lasted only up to about halfway, at which time I realized that I can’t keep going. I didn’t go into this collection expecting anything, although I do remember coming across some high praise for it somewhere along the way, which is one of the reasons I was prompted to pick it up.


The poems felt, as a whole, rather lifeless. The subject matter for each one was very quirky and strange, some stranger than others, and some stranger in a more positive way than others. Take, for instance, “My Doctor’s Appointment”, a poem found very early in the book in the first section. Out of all the poems I managed to get through, this was the only one that left a meaningful impact that I clearly felt. It didn’t make much sense, if you really thought of some of the images, such as this passage:


“Have you ever thought of the/ Queen of England naked?” he said. “Maybe once when I was a small/ child,” I said.


It’s not common to hear a doctor say anything even as remotely absurd as that, and what’s more, to say that there’s something wrong with the patient if they don’t do said absurd things. But it’s the doctor’s dismissal and the attack of his pet mongoose that, though not really explained, still feel like they have a place to exist and they make the absurdity stand solidly as its own argument. This isn’t the case for many of the other poems. Some manage to offer an impact at the end that leaves you either grimacing or smiling a little at the irony, but that’s about it. Only the aforementioned poem managed to leave a decisive impression for me.


Tied into this is the bigger issue, perhaps, that I have with the collection: the style. I quite honestly they read very prose-like, with unexpected line breaks that were like a hit-or-miss. I never before encountered this style of poetry, where dialogue was interwoven with the rest of the exposition/description in the poem, but my interest and fascination only lasted for several poems in the beginning. When the pattern persisted for each following poem it began to take its toll, both on originality and on the focus. It was difficult to pay attention to what the poems were ‘saying’ when each one was so similar, even in terms of subject matter.


I didn’t know what to make of this collection, or where it was going. There was a big question of ‘why’ that followed through the collection, building up into a snowball of confusion. It’ll appeal to someone, I’m almost certain, but just not to me.