Rita Dove is one of the most prolific African American female writers whose work form the foundation for future research. Although she primarily devotes her time to poetry, Rita Dove is also an essayist, dramatist, short story writer, educator, novelist, and most importantly, an American poetry laureate (Andrews et al. 98). The first collection of poetry by Rita Dove, ‘The Yellow House on the Corner’, was issued in 1980; and since then, six poetry books: ‘Museum’ published in 1983, ‘Thomas and Beulah’ in 1986, ‘Grace Notes’ published in 1989, ‘Mother Love’ in 1995, ‘On the Bus with Rosa Parks’ published in 1999, and ‘American Smooth’ which was published in 2004; some of which are included in a poetry book entitled ‘Selected Poems’ that was published in 1993, have been published in her name (Comprehensive Biography of Rita Dove). Dove’s poetry deals with a range of themes that highlight the historical, past and future concerns. Richards analyzes the poems of Rita Dove as completely different from those poems that have often been considered characteristically black in the contemporary society (121). Rita Dove’s distinctive approach to issues is reflected both in her thematic concerns and use of morphology and syntax in her writings that Vendler describes as a “very pregnant set of images” (485). The reason behind this could be the unique approach that Dove adopts in writing her poems regarding the poetic persona, form, and perspectives. She reveals to Vendler in an interview that she writes in fragments and works on a number of poems simultaneously. Dove goes on to tell Vendler that she begins with one or two lines and then adds more bits and does a lot of editing since her poems do not begin “as five-page, rambling things which then are whittled down to one page (487). She says that it cannot work like that. This information reveals that technically, Dove is an accomplished poet. According to Andrews et al., Rita Dove is among the most technically accomplished and disciplined poets since the time of poets such as Gwendolyn Brooks (115). She presents her poems in a distinctively unique manner. Nevertheless, there is a need for the revision of her work so that it fits in the contemporary society. In the preface to her poem ‘Mother Love,' for instance, Rita Dove explores the many possibilities that are offered by a sonnet - a traditional poetic form associated with the west. She says:
Can’t form also be a talisman against disintegration? Much has been said about the many ways to ‘violate' the sonnet in the service of American speech or modern love or whatever; I will simply say that I like how the sonnet comforts even while its prime borders are stultifying; one is constantly bumping up against order” (xi - xii).
Who is Rita Dove
In another interview with Dungy, Dove reveals that she experiments and gets a new way of doing things by constantly pushing against her judgment of the poetic form and what has technically worked for her in the past regarding the form and content of a poem (1035). This has perhaps been one of the most important concepts that have helped Dove poetry to remain relevant throughout the 1980s, 1990s, as well as the contemporary society. In her poetry, Rita Dove envisions the future in a very theatrical way. Schwartz notes that “Dove is a master at transforming a public or historic element—re-envisioning a spectacle and unearthing the heartfelt, wildly original private thoughts such historic moments always contain” (168). This brings out the aspect of Dove’s exceptional theatrical approach to a revision of the future.
Although Rita Dove is a bit conventional in regards to feminism, politics and environmental activism, Richards states that she strictly distinguishes between her writing and private life (99). In fact, Dove herself confirms this in her interview with Taleb-Khyar whereby she says that politically, she considers herself a feminist but whenever she starts writing, she does not think of herself in political terms but approaches the writing activity with the view of searching for beauty and truth through the use of language (358). Nevertheless, it is puzzling whether it is possible to maintain such a distinction because Dove’s experiences in regards to politics, social background, motherhood, marriage and American reality perception, among other experiences, are reflected in her poems. The fluctuating circumstances of the African American female writers and women, in general, are often reflected in the writings of Dove. African American women are placed in curios positions within the socio-political environment, feminism and the ordinary academic discourse (Collins). Richards further asserts that African Americans are still discriminated against and treated as though they are outsiders although they can still celebrate historical events and access the same material things as their white counterparts (76). However, Collins notes that this discrimination offers a “peculiar angle of vision” (94) for the African-American female writers. This perspective is what has led to the strengthening of the works of Rita Dove as she confidently presents thematic issues that form a foundation for a revision of the future.
Poems by Rita Dove
The search for identity is one of the issues tackled by Rita Dove that requires revision. She presents a platform for an effective revision the future in terms of self-identity, especially for African Americans. Dove envisions the aspect of traveling abroad as one of the ways in which one can search for their identity. Upon traveling to Germany, for example, Dove has this to say in an interview with Rubin and Ingersoll:
As an individual, when I went to Europe, the people there treated me differently simply because I was an American. I was Black, but I was treated differently from the way people treat me in America because I'm Black. In fact, I frequently felt a bit like Fiammetta: as if I were an object. Since I was an African American, they viewed me as the representative of all of that is Black and American. At times, I felt like a ghost (234).
As an African American, Dove feels like an outsider in Germany. She says that although people often asked her various questions, she had a feeling that they viewed her as a “shell”, not a fellow human being (235) However, as soon as she recognizes that she is treated differently in her home (America), she overcomes the feelings of displacement. However, traveling abroad may not be indicative enough of an individual's discovery of self-identity. It is important to note that revisioning this aspect provides an array of options that can make the search for self-identity more realistic.
Poet Rita Dove
The aspect of race requires a revision as Rita Dove implies in some of her poems. According to Dove’s interview with Taleb-Khyar, race can delimit one’s identity as she observes that:
A large part of an individual’s identity may be defined by race, especially after childhood. In some situations, this matters since one may not have to go through some experiences. However, this should not become a cause for trauma. A traumatized individual distrusts people because of their color, and refrains from becoming friends with another person simply because of their race (354).
Dove adds that she would like to go through life that is devoid of the worry of being prejudiced on the basis of her race (Dungy 1040). However, this may only happen in an ideal world. Rita Dove loves her skin color but recognizes the fact that she must be aware of the anxieties associated with it. This is depicted in her poem ‘Brown’ (Rampersad 55) in which she admits: “I’ve always loved / my skin, the way it glows against / citron and fuchsia” (18-20) but contrasts this by stating that: “the difference I cause / whenever I walk into a polite space / is why I prefer grand entrances” (21-23). This means that although the African American may argue that they are proud of their skin color, they must uphold a high self-esteem to survive in the white-dominated society if they are to walk with their heads held high. The recognition of such dynamics is what may enable them to tackle issues of race and segregation even in the future. It is apparent that gender and race are part of the ingredients that form the poetry of Rita Dove.
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