Thursday, July 17, 2008

Poetry you should know

A master poet, Rita Dove blends dance and history
by MacDaddy, crossposted from DaddyBStrong

"In recent years writers such as Toni Morrison,Rita Dove and Philip Roth have all included African American World War I veterans in their work; even the 2005 remake of King Kong added in a black former Great War sergeant. The Great War experiences ofAfrican American soldiers in 1917 and 1918 did have a thorough and long-lasting effect on African American culture; they made it more alive to cosmopolitan exchanges, provided models of manhood for the next generation, and raised important questions about the relation of black Americans to national history and memorial. Du Bois’s ‘soldiers of democracy’ may not have won the fight against racial injustice in the USA, but they left a powerful legacy to an African American culture which played such a crucial role in that fight in the years to come.'

--Dr. Mark Whalin

Add to your list of master poets the name of Rita Dove, the first African American poet laureate of the United States (1993 and 1995), author of twelves books of poetry, and professor of English at the University of Virginia, the house that Thomas Jefferson built.

Today, the daddy's feeling Rita's American Smooth, Dove’s more recent work. In this work, she speaks of African Americans surviving, dancing around ballrooms and through minefields of racial bigotry with style and grace: The freedom and exhilaration one feels twirling around the dance floor; the stir a black woman causes when she enters a room (that grand entrance!); Hattie McDaniel's arrival at the Coconut Grove; the determined dignity of the Billie Holidays. But what attracted the daddy were the poems under the title “Not Welcome Here.” These are poems about black soldiers from World War I and World War II and their treatment by an “impertinent nation” once they returned home. Dove lets the black soldier speak:

You didn't want us when we left
but we went.
You didn't want us coming back
but here we are.
In "Alfonzo Prepares To Go Over The Top," Dove puts us on the front lines, showing us war in all of its horror ("moves ass and balls, over tearing twigs and crushed faces") and a soldier's life ("hear the leaves? I am already memory") as mere pawn in a bigger game and temporary at best:

Alfonzo Prepares To Go Over The Top

A soldier waits until he's called- then
moves ass and balls, over
tearing twigs and crushed faces,
swinging his bayonet like a pitchfork
and thinking anything's better
than a trench, ratshit
and the tender hairs of chickweed.
A soldier is smoke
waiting for wind: he's a long corridor
clanging to the back of a house
where a child sings
in its ruined nursery...
and beauty is the
gleam of my eye on this gunstock and my spit
drying on the blade of this knife
before it warms itself in the gut of a kraut.
Mother, forgive me. Hear the leaves? I am
already memory.

In Bill Moyer's "The Language of Life, Dove said of poetry:

"By making us stop for a moment, poetry gives us the opportunity to think about ourselves on this planet and what we mean to each other...Equally important is the connection poetry emphasizes of human being to human being: What are we doing to make everyone's lives better, and not materially, but spiritually as well? I think that why poetry has often been considered dangerous."
Rita Dove: Thank you.

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