Thursday, July 06, 2006

Poetry Thursday

Continuing the Poetry Thursday review series this week is Grace Notes, by Rita Dove. Grace Notes is the fourth book of poetry by Rita Dove, published just after she won the Pulitzer for Thomas and Beulah. The title, Grace Notes, refers to the embellishments added to ordinary music that if played or sung at the precise moment, can break your heart.

The forty-eight lyric poems are divided into five different sections, each with a different theme. The poems in the first section deal primarily with childhood and scattered throughout are images familiar to Ms. Dove's upbringing in her native Ohio. The family figures predominantly in these poems, with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, and cousins all making an appearance.

The poems of the second section represent the next stage in the poet's life, moving out of childhood and into young adulthood. The theme and imagery of these poems is environmental, poems dedicated to the earth. The landscape has shifted here too, from Ohio to the deep South, Mississippi and Alabama. At the close of this section, the family begins to take priority again, with the poet's marriage and birth of her daughter.

In the third section, the focus is on the joys and sorrows of childbirth and mothering and the poet's transition from girl to mature woman. The subject of these poems is most often the poet's young daughter, who is just beginning to question the world around her. That curiosity is reflected in poems such as this one, titled "After Reading Mickey in the Night Kitchen for the Third Time Before Bed".

After Reading Mickey in the Night Kitchen for the Third Time Before Bed
I'm in the milk and the milk's in me!....I'm Mickey!

My daughter spreads her legs

to find her vagina:
hairless, this mistaken
bit of nomenclature
is what a stranger cannot touch
without her yelling. She demands
to see mine and momentarily
we're a lopsided star
among the spilled toys,
my prodigious scallops
exposed to her neat cameo.

And yet the same glazed
tunnel, layered sequences.
She is three; that makes this
innocent. We're pink!
she shrieks, and bounds off.

Every month she wants
to know where it hurts
and what the wrinkled string means
between my legs. This is good blood
I say, but that's wrong, too.
How to tell her that it's what makes us--
black mother, cream child.
That we're in the pink
and the pink's in us.

The fourth section is another progression, the focus here on what it means to be a poet. These poems are concerned with the search for inspiration and the poet questioning her place in the world. There is a certain subtle maturity to these poems that signify the poet's progression and a difference in her way of thinking.

The last set of poems are filled with religious imagery and the theme seems to be an acceptance or moving towards death. Some of them are joyous, some of them seem to be lamentations but all of them view the road home as a positive and necessary journey.

I enjoyed these poems because the language that Ms. Dove uses is precise and measured to provide just the right impact on the reader. There is beauty and mystery, joy and also sadness, and an overall feeling of hope. Grace Notes is an appropriate title, as these poems strike exactly the right chord with the reader's heart.

For more poems by Rita Dove, click here.

To read more about Rita Dove, click here.

To buy her books, click here.


Blogger Justin Evans said...

You are really doing a wonderful job here, with these reviews. I mean it! You have a lot of great insight. Keep going.

7/06/2006 4:41 PM  
Blogger Lex Ham Rand said...

Thanks for the post, Rebecca. I also love that poetry (all of that poetry.)

7/06/2006 6:52 PM  
Blogger Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

I agree with Justin. I feel like I am really discovering a previously untapped appreciation of poetry thanks to you!

7/06/2006 9:34 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

You think? Mostly, I think I'm full of crap and nobody's figured it out yet.

7/07/2006 2:33 AM  
Blogger January said...

Rita Dove is one of my favorites. She's a technician but you really get a sense of the personal in her work.

The poem you chose is also one of my favorites. As a mother of a daughter, I wonder if we will have one of those formative moments between us.

I haven't read "Grace Notes" since my early 20s. I'm guessing that her work gets richer as I get older :) Time to take Rita off the shelf!

Thank you for your wonderful review.

7/07/2006 5:27 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

Maybe it's the vagina thing, but that poem really got my attention. Such a moment to share, so personal. You wouldn't see that scene at the movies.

I had a teacher that was a wonderful poet. She has a published work called Hard Kisses. I wonder if she would mind me posting one of her poems on my blog. I would ask but I can't find her.

7/07/2006 8:57 AM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

January, I love that poem too. It says so much about the mother-daughter bond.

Scott, google is always the answer. "Hard Kisses" sounds like an interesting title so if you find it, definitely let me know.

7/07/2006 9:59 AM  
Blogger JenSwan60 said...

Thanks for putting this poem on your blog. I've found Poetry Thursday because I found this. I'm learning about blogging, and to find this type of review, ideas, commentary, community is very encouraging. Thanks again.

2/04/2007 5:05 PM  

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