American Smooth: Poems

Overview

"Rita Dove pulls the ultimate dance trick: she makes it look easy."—New York Times Book Review
An occasion to celebrate: a new collection by the Pulitzer Prize-winning former poet laureate; her first since On the Bus with Rosa Parks. With the grace of an Astaire, Rita Dove's magnificent poems pay homage to our kaleidoscopic cultural heritage; from the glorious shimmer of an operatic soprano to Bessie Smith's mournful wail; from paradise lost to angel food cake; from hotshots at the local shooting range to the ...

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Overview

"Rita Dove pulls the ultimate dance trick: she makes it look easy."—New York Times Book Review
An occasion to celebrate: a new collection by the Pulitzer Prize-winning former poet laureate; her first since On the Bus with Rosa Parks. With the grace of an Astaire, Rita Dove's magnificent poems pay homage to our kaleidoscopic cultural heritage; from the glorious shimmer of an operatic soprano to Bessie Smith's mournful wail; from paradise lost to angel food cake; from hotshots at the local shooting range to the Negro jazz band in World War I whose music conquered Europe before the Allied advance. Like the ballroom-dancing couple of the title poem, smiling and making the difficult seem effortless, Dove explores the shifting surfaces between perception and intimation.

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Editorial Reviews

Emily Nussbaum
For Dove, dance is an implicit parallel to poetry. Each is an expression of grace performed within limits; each an art weighted by history but malleable enough to form something utterly new. The title refers to Dove's favored style, a variant that allows partners to separate on the floor, enabling a disciplined wriggle between intimacy and freedom.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
This substantial eighth collection from the former U.S. poet laureate recaps almost all of Dove's various projects and roles. The Ohio-born, Virginia-based poet made her name (and landed a Pulitzer Prize) with the sparsely wrought storytelling verse of Thomas and Beulah (1986). Dove displays her vivid narrative gifts and the formal versatility that enables them in "Not Welcome Here," a sequence about black American soldiers (and soldier-musicians) in the First World War; the sequence may be her strongest work in 10 years. Dove's public presence as laureate and educator-highlighted in On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999)-informs the very accessible short poems that begin and end the volume, some of them based on dance steps or musical forms ("Fox Trot," "Lullaby," blues); several may be intended for young audiences ("Count to Ten and We'll Be There"). Short-lined poems such as "Soprano," meanwhile, revive the gift for freestanding, magazine-friendly lyric Dove showed in Grace Notes (1989), while work addressed to her daughter recalls Dove's previous depictions of mothers in myth (the Demeter and Persephone of Mother Love) and autobiographical fact. Though she claims (in "Brown"), "I prefer grand entrances," her most attractive work has been terse and subtle, almost photographic in its poise and reserve, never saying more than she means: the best of her new work returns to those familiar virtues. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
With her eye for the telling detail and her ear for the language and its idiosyncrasies of sound and meaning, Dove, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former poet laureate, combines the best of poetry and ventriloquism. In these free-verse poems, she speaks from her own perspective as well as from that of biblical characters, black soldiers from World War I, a ten-year-old girl from Harlem, several musicians, and a pair of dancers. The selections work by lists, line breaks where ideas collide, and a juxtaposition of voices. Then using razor-sharp metaphors, Dove goes for the jugular and usually finds it. Although the book's sense of audience seems inconsistent, with some poems suitable for A Child's Garden of Verses and others for The Kama Sutra, the poems are evocative. "The Seven Veils of Salome," a sequence as seductive as the original story, sketches in John the Baptist by noting "his large beautifully arrogant head." Recommended for public and academic libraries. C. Diane Scharper, Towson Univ., Towson, MD Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Headings such as "Not Welcome Here," a tribute to African-American soldiers who fought in World War I; "Hattie McDaniel Arrives at the Coconut Grove"; and "Blues in Half-Tones, 1/2 Time" illustrate the breadth of subjects in this collection of poems brought together from other sources. Many of them have the fine texture that is one definition of "smooth." An example is the poem "The Seven Veils of Salome": "-she moves as if inventing/time-and the musicians scurry/to deliver a carpet of flutes/under her flawless heel." Yet the term also describes a form of ballroom dancing that permits "-improvisation and individual expression." "Desk Dreams" makes clear the effort required in writing: "-Blue-ruled paper from grade school days./I languish for hours/on the near side of a hyphen: great expectations/cut by the call/of a single prehensile jay." Teens can dip into this book or read it straight through. There is something for everyone within its covers.-Molly Connally, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393327441
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/13/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 112
  • Sales rank: 980,464
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Rita Dove, former U.S. Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner, and musician, lives in Charlottesville, where she is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

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Table of Contents

Fox trot Fridays 13
All souls' 15
"I have been a stranger in a strange land" 17
Fox trot Fridays 19
Ta ta cha cha 20
Quick 22
Brown 23
Fox 25
Heart to heart 26
Cozy Apologia 28
Soprano 30
Two for the Montrose drive-in 32
Meditation at fifty yards, moving target 36
American smooth 39
Not welcome here 41
The castle walk 43
The passage 46
Noble Sissle's horn 57
Alfonzo prepares to go over the top 59
La Chapelle. 92nd division. Ted 60
Variation on reclamation 62
The return of Lieutenant James Reese Europe 65
Ripont 67
Twelve chairs 71
Blues in half-tones, 3/4 time 87
Chocolate 89
Bolero 90
Hattie McDaniel arrives at the coconut grove 92
Samba summer 95
Blues in half-tones, 3/4 time 97
Describe yourself in three words or less 99
The seven veils of Salome 100
From your valentine 104
Rhumba 107
The sisters : swansong 112
Evening primrose 115
Evening primrose 117
Reverie in open air 118
Sic itur ad astra 119
Count to ten and we'll be there 121
Eliza, age 10, Harlem 122
Lullaby 123
Driving through 125
Desert backyard 127
Desk dreams 128
Now 132
Against flight 134
Looking up from the page, I am reminded of this mortal coil 136
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