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Allen Tate ( 1899 - 1979 )  Category ( Poets ) [suggest a correction]
 

Allen TateIf a childhood of uncertainty and instability sometimes forms the soul of a poet, then Allen Tate is a textbook case.

Tate was born near Winchester, Kentucky, the son of a businessman. His parents, John Tate and Eleanor Parke Custis Varnell (of the ancient and famous Virginia families of Parke and Custis) dealt in lumber and land sales, and the family sometimes had to move as often as three times a year. Additional insecurities informed Tate's outlook when his parents divorced, and life with his mother, which Tate described as "perpetual motion," created anxiety for her youngest son of three.

He entered the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music for violin study when he was seventeen, but stayed only one year. In 1918 he enrolled at Vanderbilt University, where he studied English, and was accepted by the faculty as a near peer. While there, Tate became the founding editor of the poetry journal Fugitive. He began to focus on the French poets Charles Baudelaire, Stephane Mallarme, and Remy de Gourmont. He was also fond of English poets William Butler Yeats and felt a special kinship with T.S. Eliot.

In 1924 he moved to New York City, where he became employed by the English novelist Ford Madox Ford. He worked as an editor and a freelance writer for periodicals including the Nation and the New Republic. He also performed editorial work for publishers of pulp romance magazines and even served as janitor in the building where he lived.

While in New York he met Caroline Gordon, whom he married in 1925. Their daughter, Nancy, was born that same year. Tate's years in New York profoundly informed his literary career, as he was able to meet and work with some of the greatest names in literature. The high point of his New York years took place when his first collection of poems was published, along with a biography on Stonewall Jackson. He continued to write in a Confederate theme for several years.

He continued to edit, to write poetry, essays, and one novel. He and Gordon divorced in 1959, and he married twice more. The last marriage, to Helen Heinz (a former student) added to his family with the births of twin sons and a third son. Sadly, one of the twins died in an accident.

Because of his diverse writing interests, Tate is considered an influential figure not only of the Southern Renascence, but also the modernist movement in literature. At the same time, his work often harkens back to the great poets of history. Indeed, Tate was considered a master of Dante's terza rima. In 1939 he became a poet in residence at Princeton University, where he remained until 1942. The following year he was named consultant in poetry for the Library of Congress. He resumed his academic career in 1948, when he accepted a three-year appointment at New York University.


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