Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Toad's Favo(ur)ite: Rita Dove

"I believe even 5-year-olds can get something from a Shakespearean sonnet…as long as you DON’T tell them, ‘This is really hard.’”  -Rita Dove

Rita Dove was born in Akron, Ohio in 1952.  She received her B.A. from Miami University of Ohio in 1973 and her M.F.A. from the University of Iowa in 1977. She served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1993 to 1995 and Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006.  She has received many academic and literary honors, including the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and the 1996 National Humanities Medal from President Clinton. In 2011, President Barack Obama presented Ms. Dove with the National Medal of Arts, which made her the only poet to have received both medals. 

Author of nine poetry collections, a book of short stories, a novel, essays, and a play, Rita Dove is currently Chair of Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia (where I, lolamouse, attended grad school!) She currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband, the writer Fred Viebahn. She has one adult daughter.  The Rita Dove HomePage has extensive biographical information as well as photos, readings, videos, and interviews. 

Rita Dove is one of my favourite poets, and I had a difficult time narrowing down her extensive writings to even a few of my very favourite poems.  Dove’s writing encompasses political, historical, and personal  themes. Although I find her writing quite accessible and forthright, I always come away with something new to think about or a new way of looking at the familiar. 

When I was a new mom, struggling with the demands of a difficult baby, Dove’s poem “Daystar” was an epiphany. It is from a collection of poems, Thomas and Beulah (1986) based on Dove’s grandparents. When I first read it, I felt that someone understood my mixed feelings about becoming a mother, the loss of privacy and identity that comes with having a child. I clipped that poem from our newspaper and kept it tucked in my dresser drawer to read whenever I felt overwhelmed and unappreciated. It is still there today.


She wanted a little room for thinking:
but she saw diapers steaming on the line,
a doll slumped behind the door.
So she lugged a chair behind the garage
to sit out the children’s naps…

For complete poem, see link at Poet's Choice from the Washington Post, 1/23/2000

Here is a video of Rita Dove reading her poem:

Rita Dove reads 'Daystar' from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

Another favourite poem, "Teach Us To Number Our Days," takes its title from Psalm 90 but speaks to cultural and political issues of today. It begins

In the old neighborhood, each funeral parlor
is more elaborate than the last.
The alleys smell of cops, pistols bumping their thighs,
each chamber steeled with a slim blue bullet…

For complete poem, see the Poetry Foundation website

    Rita Dove is quoted as saying, “I prefer to explore the most intimate moments, the smaller, crystallized details we all hinge our lives on.” I think this is one of the reasons I love her poetry so much. She takes the personal and makes it universal and the universal and makes it personal. She is able to focus a light on those quotidian moments we all have and, with her words, elevate them to things of lasting beauty. Read and enjoy.


Ella said...

Thank you Lolamouse for sharing Rita Dove with us! She is a remarkable talent-I love how she shines a light on the intimate details, showing us the frailty, the fear and the humanity. Her poetry is a gift! I can't wait to read more of her work~ I read two poems-I am smitten!

I too felt as you did, after having my first child. Everyone talks of the wonder, but not the adjustment-the sense of losing one's self. Thank you for sharing with us and imparting Rita's voice!

Lolamouse said...

So glad you liked it, Ella, and that you also could relate. I'm smitten with her poetry as well!

Susan said...

Wow! "Daystar" is rather a shocker if you think of mother as a transformation that leaves everything else behind. I shall fall in love with her writing. Thank you, Lola...!

Hannah said...

Oh, wonderful!! I love Rita! Thank you for featuring her, Lolamouse!

Kerry O'Connor said...

Oh, this is wonderful LM. I have never heard of this poet, but I am truly delighted to make her acquaintance through you. Her writing definitely packs a punch and speaks to the present age.

Helen said...

Thank you, thank you for sharing Mouse! I can't wait to dive in to more of her poetry .....

Lolamouse said...

Glad everyone is enjoying Rita Dove's poetry! She has a book of poems, Motherlove, that's loosely based on the Demeter/Persephone myth. It's wonderful.

Susie Clevenger said...

Thanks for sharing Rita Dove with us. I hadn't read her work before. She is so talented...love how she creates such vivid images with her writing.

Margaret said...

…Motherhood often DOES leave everything else behind, puts everything else "second". So a shuffling does occur, an occurrence where some adapt better than others. Some bear through it while others relish the role. Either way, it is hard (especially at first) to become less selfish, to "serve" in a way you never will again.

I do love the first poem and your description of what Rita hones in on is lovely - a wonderful critique.

Thank you for highlighting her.

Marian said...

i'm sorry i didn't get to respond to this yesterday... but so appreciate! what a lovely big-view of someone i've appreciated only in small doses now and then. i'm inspired to seek out more of Rita Dove's writing. thank you, dear Mouse! ;)