Miniature, Scythes


From Rita Dove: An American Poet, Eduardo Montes-Bradley, 2014

From The New York Times:

To read the poems of Rita Dove, to go where they take you, is to follow her deeply into a series of themes and their subsets: African-Americans in history and right now, ideas of indenture and independence, sex, travel, language (she compares commas to “miniature scythes”), family, motherhood, roomy adult love and whatever is coming out of the radio.

The verse in Ms. Dove’s career-spanning new “Collected Poems: 1974-2004” demonstrates that this poet’s work leans, too, on the consolations of food: fried fish and hominy, martinis and beer, caviar and sour herring. “Bee vomit,” a boy tells his sister in one poem, “that’s all honey is.” In another, there’s this snapshot of the breakfast table: “You are mine, I say to the twice-dunked cruller/before I eat it.”

Perhaps you grew up, as I did, attaching your addiction to reading with an addiction to eating. (Come for the erudition; stay for the early onset diabetes.) So, it seems, did Ms. Dove, who recalls in “In the Old Neighborhood,” one of her most evocative poems:

Candy buttons went with Brenda Starr,
Bazooka bubble gum with the Justice
League of America. Fig Newtons
and “King Lear,” bitter lemon as well
for Othello, that desolate
conspicuous soul.

There are so many casual pleasures in Ms. Dove’s poetry that the precision and dexterity in her work — the darkness, too — can catch you unawares.

“Review: In Rita Dove’s Verse, Loss, Despair and Bedrock Pleasures”, Dwight Garner, The New York Times