Saturday, January 9, 2010

Speakeasy: Rita Dove waxes poetic

Posted By on Sat, Jan 9, 2010 at 4:00 PM


In 1993, Rita Dove marked a generational shift in American poetry when she became the youngest U.S. poet laureate, and the only African-American to date. On Jan. 15, Dove will deliver the keynote address at Georgia Perimeter College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. This summer, Essential Theatre will produce her play Darker Face of the Earth. Though primarily a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Dove has published short stories, essays and a novel, describing her craft as a matter of putting “the best words in the best order.”

How has the American poetry scene changed since you were poet laureate? Did the position change?

It’s changed immensely. First of all, poetry has become much more lively, especially through the spoken word movement, and even rap to a lesser extent. There’s a whole other generation of people who like to go and listen to poetry, something that’s been amped up since 1993, when I was poet laureate. There are also things like Robert Pinsky’s Favorite Poem Project. I took the position when people expected the poet laureate to sit there and write poems and not do much. I think I was the first to get out into the real world up to my elbows, go on “Sesame Street” and do things like that. I’m gratified that most of the poet laureates who followed me have done the same thing.

You’ll be delivering a keynote speech in Atlanta to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Does the election of President Barack Obama change the day’s perspective?

I think things have changed. From the legacy of Martin Luther King, we need to think of a way to move on, to turn the page to chapter two — or is it three, now? The mood is different, too. I don’t want to use the hackneyed word of “hope,” but I think people are trying to be open to all possible types of change. During the Civil Rights era, the goals were more concentrated, but now the feeling gradually has become that you can get things done.

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(Photo by Fred Viebahn)

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