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About this poet

On August 8, 1952, Rita Dove was born in Akron, Ohio.

Her books of poetry include Sonata Mulattica (W. W. Norton, 2009); American Smooth (W. W. Norton, 2004); On the Bus with Rosa Parks (W. W. Norton, 1999), which was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Mother Love (W. W. Norton, 1995); Selected Poems (Pantheon, 1993); Grace Notes (W. W. Norton, 1989); Thomas and Beulah (Carnegia-Mellon University Press, 1986), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Museum (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1983); and The Yellow House on the Corner (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1980).

In addition to poetry, Dove has published a book of short stories, Fifth Sunday (University of Kentucky Press, 1985), the novel Through the Ivory Gate (Pantheon, 1992), essays in The Poet's World and the verse drama The Darker Face of the Earth (Story Line Press, 1994). She also edited The Best American Poetry 2000 and The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry (Penguin, 2011).

Dove's work traverses a wide range of landscape, applying an unflinching eye upon historical and political events. In American Smooth, she reflects on her experiences with ballroom dancing. "For Dove, dance is an implicit parallel to poetry," said Emily Nussbaum in The New York Times review of the collection. "Each is an expression of grace performed within limits; each an art weighted by history but malleable enough to form something utterly new."

She served as poet laureate of the United States from 1993 to 1995. Among her many honors are the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities and the 2006 Common Wealth Award. President Bill Clinton bestowed upon her the 1996 National Humanities Medal. She was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2006, and in 2014 she was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters from Yale University.

Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia, where she has been teaching since 1989. 


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Sonata Mulattica (W. W. Norton, 2009)
American Smooth (W. W. Norton, 2004)
On the Bus with Rosa Parks (W. W. Norton, 1999)
Mother Love (W. W. Norton, 1995)
Selected Poems (Pantheon, 1993)
Grace Notes (W. W. Norton, 1989)
Thomas and Beulah (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1986)
Museum (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1983)
The Yellow House on the Corner (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1980)

Fiction

Through the Ivory Gate (Pantheon, 1992)
Fifth Sunday (University of Kentucky Press, 1985)

 


Multimedia

From the inaugural Poets Forum, October 20, 2007From the Image Archive 
  From the 2009 Poets Forum, October 17, 2009

 

Ludwig Van Beethoven's Return to Vienna

Rita Dove, 1952
Oh you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn, 
or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me....
	The Heiligenstadt Testament

Three miles from my adopted city 
lies a village where I came to peace.
The world there was a calm place, 
even the great Danube no more 
than a pale ribbon tossed onto the landscape
by a girl's careless hand.  Into this stillness 

I had been ordered to recover.  
The hills were gold with late summer;
my rooms were two, plus a small kitchen, 
situated upstairs in the back of a cottage 
at the end of the Herrengasse.  
From my window I could see onto the courtyard 
where a linden tree twined skyward — 
leafy umbilicus canted toward light, 
warped in the very act of yearning —
and I would feed on the sun as if that alone 
would dismantle the silence around me.

At first I raged.  Then music raged in me,	           
rising so swiftly I could not write quickly enough 
to ease the roiling.  I would stop 
to light a lamp, and whatever I'd missed — 
larks flying to nest, church bells, the shepherd's 
home-toward-evening song — rushed in, and I
would rage again.  

I am by nature a conflagration; 
I would rather leap 
than sit and be looked at.
So when my proud city spread  
her gypsy skirts, I reentered,  
burning towards her greater, constant light.
	
Call me rough, ill-tempered, slovenly— I tell you, 
every tenderness I have ever known 
has been nothing 
but thwarted violence, an ache 
so permanent and deep, the lightest touch 
awakens it. . . . It is impossible 

to care enough.  I have returned 
with a second Symphony 
and 15 Piano Variations
which I've named Prometheus,
after the rogue Titan, the half-a-god 
who knew the worst sin is to take 
what cannot be given back.

I smile and bow, and the world is loud.  
And though I dare not lean in to shout 
Can't you see that I'm deaf? —
I also cannot stop listening.

"Ludwig Van Beethovens' Return to Vienna," from Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove. Copyright © 2009 by Rita Dove. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.

"Ludwig Van Beethovens' Return to Vienna," from Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove. Copyright © 2009 by Rita Dove. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.

Rita Dove

Rita Dove

The author of numerous collections of poetry, Rita Dove served as the United States poet laureate from 1993 to 1995.

by this poet

poem
Although it is night, I sit in the bathroom, waiting.
Sweat prickles behind my knees, the baby-breasts are alert.
Venetian blinds slice up the moon; the tiles quiver in pale strips.

Then they come, the three seal men with eyes as round
As dinner plates and eyelashes like sharpened tines.
They bring the scent of
poem
She was thinner, with a mannered gauntness
as she paused just inside the double
glass doors to survey the room, silvery cape
billowing dramatically behind her.  What's this,

I thought, lifting a hand until
she nodded and started across the parquet;
that's when I saw she was dressed all in gray,
from a
poem

As if the lid stayed put on the marmalade.
As if you could get the last sip of champagne
out of the bottom of the fluted glass.
As if we weren’t all dying, as if we all weren’t
going to die some time, as if we knew for certain
when, or how. As if the baseball scores made sense
to the