Poetry shares much in common with arts. They are both forms that depict the highest level of human creativity that only true connoisseurs can understand. It is for this reason that both poets and artists assume the role of creators. They create characters and weave them around a given plot to depict the world from their own perspectives. In the process of creating characters such as the persona, the poet has to experience some force compelling him or her to write and put everything into perspective. With every stroke, the poet pours his or her soul and memories in the form of rhymes and stanzas inspired by either experience in the environment in which he or she lives. There are many poets that have graced the American Literary scene, but none matches the exquisiteness of Rita Dove, the African American Poet who became the youngest ad first African-American to hold the position of United States Poet Laurate. Her unique and ingenious way of crafting societal issues in her poetry saw her win the Pulitzer Prize for her work, ‘Thomas and Beulah”. The style and form of writing adopted by Rita Dove in her works is a true depiction of the inspiration she got from the environment and experiences in her life as an African American woman.
Rita Dove Biography
Some years are special, not based on the level of pomposity associated with them but because of the historical figures associated with them. For American poetry lovers in not only America but also other parts of the world, then 1952 is a year so dear to them. It is a year which a true gem in American Poetry was born. The gem is none other than Rita Francis Dove who was born on the 28th of August, 1952 in Akron, Ohio (Schwartz 165).
Despite being born into an African American family, Rita Dove enjoyed the privilege of having educated parents who valued education. The parents encouraged their children to relentlessly pursue their studies. It is this encouragement from their parents that pushed Rita Dove into the world of books. The determination to succeed was further heightened by the realization that his father had just broken the racial ceiling that saw him become the first black research Chemist in the tire industry in America. For this reason, Rita Dove kept on developing and nurturing her passion for books and at an early age was an avid reader. It is a skill and hobby that was nurtured by the constant encouragement from her mother that saw her develop into an exceptional story writer and poet. Her efforts were not in vain as Dove emerged as one of the brilliant students from his class thus winning an acceptance offer as a Presidential Scholar by the White House in the year 1970 (Schwartz 165). Her education journey did not end there as she went on to join the famous Miami University located in Ohio and later secured a Fullbright scholarship offer at the Universitaet Tuebingen, West Germany where she studied between 1974 and 1975 (Schwartz 165). It was not until the year 1977 that Rita Dove knew that her calling was in poetry and literature. This was the year in which she had just graduated from theIowa Writers Workshop and set out to write her first book. The exquisiteness and mastery of writing affirm her status as a true gem in literature and poetry. The book “Thomas and Beulah” came out in 1982 and won the Pulitzer Award. It is a book that details much about her grandparents. It also contains poems that reveal much about how their experiences as African-Americans as well as how they were able to overcome the challenges.
After the publication of “Thomas and Beulah” and the Pulitzer award, Dove has gone on to win various awards but the highest honor she received was being honored as the recipient of the US Poet Laureate becoming its first African-American and youngest holder until 1995. Her most notable works include “Thomas and Beulah” and “The Darker Face of the Earth Sonata Mulattica” among other poems. Her writing style is inspired by her experiences as an African American woman as well as her family background and the experiences she had while growing up. It is for this reason that she can use her personal experiences to shape her writing style in a manner that readers can relate to and attribute and connect to her life experiences.
Inspiration behind Rita Dove's Poems
As it has often been pointed out, poetry is no different from art. It requires some inspiration behind to ensure that the poet sticks to a given perspective when presenting his or her work. The inspiration also ensures that the these emerging from the poem are in tandem with the worldview of the poet. This, in turn, determines the style of writing that will be adopted by the poet when writing. In the case of Rita Dove, there were various forces that compelled her to write most of her poems. Her life and experience as an African American woman was one of the biggest inspiration that pushed her to write. Almost all her poems are a depiction of the challenges that an African American woman faces while growing up. Her desire to make known the plight of the African American women and the oppressed groups in the society has been one of the main reason that she writes poems.
Rita Dove’s penchant for reading books which is a culture that had been inculcated in her by her parents serve as one of the main reason why she was inspired to write poems (Schwartz 166). Armed with the loads of information gathered from reading different books and her excellent writing skills, Dove was encouraged to blend the two skills and write poems and books that could clearly depict situations about what was happening in the society as well as what she had read from the books. It is for this reason that Dove’s blend of the history of the black community and the situation that was taking place in her community saw her write the book “Thomas and Beulah” which won the Pulitzer Award for its exquisite depiction of the plight of the Black community in America. It was a book based on the experiences of her grandparents and contained poems which readers could relate to.
It is also evident that her experiences while studying in different parts of the world opened up a new perspective into her writing. It made her realize what it truly means to be an outsider and thus gave her the impetus to write what she had seen happening in her country from an outsider’s perspective. The international exposure also encouraged her to not only use poetry to describe her personal experiences but also to add an intellectual and political perspective into it. It is for this reason that poems such as “Tell us to number our days.” It is a poem that speaks of the plight of the minority in the society by using an outsider’s perspective to describe the situation happening internally (Schwartz 169). The poem is thus able to reach out to many and inspire many people on the need to appreciate poetry as a tool for activism. This was an important source of encouragement for Dove to write poems that would touch and inspire lives to break the chains of oppressions and discrimination.
How some Experiences have Shaped Rita Dove’s Writing Style
Despite having written novels such as “Thomas and Beulah” and short fictions, it is in the field of poetry that Rita Dove excels. Through poetry, her poetic genius is magnified and laid bare for all to see. It truly reflects her mastery of language and attention to detail. She can use a style deeply inspired by her experiences to laser-focus on some of the issues affecting her society albeit in a manner that exemplifies brevity. Her mixed life in different countries over the course of her studies has made her develop a non-conventional approach when writing her poems (Nerad 67). One poem where this is clearly evident is in the poem “Exit” which shows her signature style of using all the poetic license to deliver her message to the audience. In this poem, Rita Dove has used free verse approach with no form of rhyme scheme (Proitsaki 25). The poem’s style makes no attempt to have a meter. By using this style, one can realize that Dove’s ideas were based on a poetic thought which allows her to flow in a manner that is unfettered by the constraints that emerge when metrical constraints and rhyme patters are put into consideration (Nerad 79). The style makes the poem appear more desolate but welcoming to the readers or listeners as they can get a clear picture of her non-restraint writing style in Dove’s poems. By using typical items such as suitcases, windows to provide a hint to the reader on how activities and experiences of the day shape her writing style. By using that form of language, Dove can point out at the difficulty or emotional sadness that engulfs one when he or she is poised to leave the place called home for opportunities. This can allude to her personal life when she was leaving for studies abroad. It was a saddening experience as provided by the imagery developed in the poem yet encouraging as she had gone to seek better opportunities.
The experiences of growing up in a society marred by violence and brutality against the minority groups such as the blacks in America during the period of the Civil Rights Movement has shaped Rita Dove’s writing style. It has made her craft a writing style that is more direct and able to capture more detailed experiences that readers can relate with when reading her works. By using such a style that is more direct but detailed, Dove has become more synonymous with making her poems narrate passionate experiences about her life and those of others as part of creating an awareness about the brutality and racial in the society. One poem that exemplifies how her personal experiences while growing up in Ohio have shaped up her writing style is the poem “Teach Us to Number Our Days.” A careful analysis of this poem clearly shows how Dove’s experiences while growing up in a society where rights were violated, and people discriminated based on their race. Her poetic genius is evident in her writing style that makes use of Biblical Allusion in the title. It is a title alluded from the book of Psalms 90:12 (Christopher). The allusion makes the voice of the poem to be that of hope amid the calamities. She uses a language that creates a mood of hope and advises people to make the best of every situation despite the circumstances. By looking at the life she lived, members of the black community were highly discriminated and not allowed to rise above certain limits in the society. Her father had succeeded in breaking that racial barrier, and she too had managed to become the first black US Poet Laureate. The language is thus that of encouraging others that it is possible. The depiction of violence is easily evident in the first stanza where she states “each funeral parlor is more elaborate than the last.” This introduces the reader to a neighborhood where deaths are common (Galens et al. 47). Mentioning of cops and the pistols they wield affirms the lack of safety in that neighborhood in which she grew. The style continues in the second stanza where poverty is depicted, but there is room for hope especially in the case where it is mentioned: “There is a boy who plays tic-tac-toe on a moon” showing the dreams and aspirations of finding life elsewhere. It is however evident that the boy’s future is going to be hard and dreary (Galens et al., 49). He does not know what will happen tomorrow but the voice in the poem reminds him to live each day to the fullest. The same style is well depicted in the poem “Lady Freedom among us” which shows how her experiences and life have shaped her writing style.
Based on the nature of some of her poems, it is evident that some experiences in the life of Rita Dove helped to shape her writing style. For instance, her academic life abroad greatly influenced how she wrote her poems regarding style and the themes emerging from the works. The experience gave her work an outsider’s perspective and clearly demonstrate how life abroad shapes our lives. In the poem “I Have Been a Stranger in Strange Land” clearly draws her readers to her usual direct style. The voice in the poem ensnares the readers into the subtlety of her diction and allusiveness of the imagery she uses. The writing style in this poem appears more straight forward based on her experiences as a foreigner when she had gone for studies abroad. It is a style that is also based on the depiction of her curiosity as a young girl who wanted to try out new things as part of her learning. This is however brought in a different context as Rita Dove talks of the dullness of “just being there” (Dove n.p). She uses a language that whets one’s curiosity and encourages people to wander just like the girl in the poem as part of learning new things. The manner in which the style shows the girl intrigued by the simplicity of the tree possessing crabbed branches is a clear depiction of the simplistic style adopted by Dove to point out some experiences in her life that shaped her life and writing style. The poem thus uses a style that encourages readers to move past dogmas and other restrictions placed on them and try to learn new things. It is a style that is clearly evident in Dove’s work.
It is clear that the experiences and circumstances surrounding Rita Dove’s life have played a significant role in shaping her experience as a poet and author. The experience has also led her to develop her own writing style that adopts a direct approach and one that is non-conventional as can be seen in the manner in which most of her works lack clear rhyming schemes. The use of these experiences has also led to her adopting a voice that can articulate the issues happening in the society as these have been her biggest sources of inspiration. She uses her poems to champion for the plight of the minority in the society thus making her a voice for the voiceless using her poems. It is for this reason that she remains one of the most celebrated poets and authors in poetry.
Christopher, joseph. Race, identity and perspectives of african american women in the selected works of toni morrison and rita dove. Diss. 2014.
Dove, Rita. "I have been a stranger in a strange land." Reading 1 (2013).
Dove, Rita, and Camille T. Dungy. "Interview with Rita Dove." Callaloo 28.4 (2005): 1027-1040.
Galens, David, and David Kelly. Poetry for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry. Gale/Cengage Learning, 2003.
Nerad, Julie Cary. "AFRICAN AMERICAN POETRY." Ethnic American Literature: An Encyclopedia for Students: An Encyclopedia for Students (2015): 34.
Proitsaki, Maria. "Everyday and Imagined: Empowered Girlhood at Home in the Poetry of Rita Dove." Moderna språk 104.2 (2010): 20-32.
Schwartz, Claire. "An Interview With Rita Dove." Virginia Quarterly Review 92.1 (2016): 164-171.
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