Rita Dove At The Folger & ‘On The Bus With Rosa Parks’

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Maybe not my finest example of supporting poetry and poets, but I bought On the Bus with Rosa Parks at Politics and Prose because it was on their remaindered books shelf. If you stop by there, the poetry selections available for between $5.99 and $7.99 are really spectacular.

Rita Dove is a great speaker, able to be simultaneously engaging and intellectually rigorous (the sort of intellectual rigor lacking when Simic and Wright recently shared another stage). She has never been a favorite poet, but she is, at her best, formally interesting (at her worst, she plays with forms for the sake of playing withe forms). I didn’t catch it, but someone in the audience asked about her strategy of making the first stanza of a poem she read into a villanelle. Just a reminder that I need to read more into the traditional forms, sonnets and the like. Can’t all be free verse, my friends, can it?

No one is going to call On the Bus with Rosa Parks her finest collection, but it’s a nice showcase of her strengths. She frequently writes from the perspective of ‘characters’ and while it’s easy to say that those characters are almost invariably black, they are also frequently different from her in every other way. Dove has great way of writing unflinchingly, but also compassionately about the struggles of men with visions and expectations of masculinity.

From Graduation, Grammar School

Joe
sees hi son
flicker. Although
the air is not a glass,
watches as he puts his lips to
the brim–then turns away, bored.
He is not mine, this son
who ripens, quiet
poison on a
shelf.

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