Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. Leonard Cohen

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Toad's Favourite: 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:
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.


Bouncin Barb said...

I've never been big into poetry so I thank you for bringing Rita Dove to light. She is quite an inspiration to many I'm sure and her accomplishments many.

Pat Tillett said...

I'm familiar with Rita Dove. She is an amazing writer. The poem you featured is awesome.

Mynx said...

Thank you for introducing this remarkable and talented woman to me. I am going to have to look up more of her poetry. I just love the first one