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Posts Tagged ‘Rita Dove’

Staff Picks: Mandolins, Meaning, Mr. Cui

October 7, 2016 | by

René Magritte, photographed by Duane Michals.

The Surrealist painter René Magritte apparently dressed like a banker (dark suit, tie) but under these “innocent allures,” a friend recalled, he “was a very revolutionary personality.” That makes him rather like the subject in his 1964 painting Le fils de l’homme, in which an apple obscures the visage of a man dressed in a suit and bowler: we see him but do not see him. Such is the sense I have of him throughout the newly published Selected Writings, a collection of unpublished bits and bobs written between 1922 and 1967. Of his own paintings, he observes, “What I paint does not imply that the invisible is superior to the visible: the visible is rich enough to create a poetic language, evoking the mystery of the invisible and the visible.” Though he withholds full meaning, his meaning is there. And when he writes, “It is difficult to think while thinking of nothing,” I know exactly what he means. —Nicole Rudick

Yesterday, after Rita Dove was named a finalist for this year’s National Book Award for Poetry, I read her 1986 collection Thomas and Beulah, a harrowingly gorgeous book that traverses the earlier half of twentieth-century America by way of Dove’s maternal grandparents. Comprising two parts—Mandolin, for Thomas, and Canary in Bloom, for Beulah—its forty-four elegiac poems reimagine the couple’s past, beginning on a Mississippi riverboat and moving effortlessly through the years from courtship to curtains, kneading in the somber truths of the era: the suicides of the Great Depression, the lynchings of black Americans. We see Thomas sleeping in his work barracks, wooing Beulah with his tater-bug mandolin, walking under the viaduct where men have jumped. Of all the poems, though, I find Beulah’s to be the most beautiful, her sorrow subtle yet profound. From “Daystar”: “Later / that night when Thomas rolled over and / lurched into her, she would open her eyes / and think of the place that was hers / for an hour—where / she was nothing, / pure nothing, in the middle of the day.” (You can listen to Rita Dove read from Thomas and Beulah here.) —Caitlin Youngquist Read More »

Rita Dove’s “Canary”

July 17, 2014 | by


Billie Holiday and her dog Mister, New York, ca. June 1946. Photo: William P. Gottlieb

Many eminent American poets have elegized Holiday, attempting to capture something of her exquisite voice, whose unique tough-tender grain suggested a life of extremes. Langston Hughes’s “Song for Billie Holiday,” Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died,” and Rita Dove’s “Canary” are just a few of the diverse poetic responses to the loss of Lady Day; Kevin Young’s anthology Jazz Poems devotes an entire thoughtfully curated section, “Muting (for Billie Holiday),” to her memory.

These works belong to the larger tradition of the jazz elegy, a genre that attempts something next to impossible: to commemorate and preserve music that’s defined by its immediacy and transience. The grain of the voice. The physicality of the performer. The improvisations and flourishes and intangibles that exist for one night only. If the essence of jazz exists in the moment of performance, then much of the work of the jazz elegy is to make such music legible while also acknowledging the futility of such a project.

Rita Dove’s “Canary,” from 1989, begins:

Billie Holiday’s burned voice
had as many shadows as lights,
a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,
the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.

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The Poet’s Poker

October 27, 2011 | by

Photograph by Tiago Daniel.

For Rita Dove, it was an unusual Saturday. It began ordinarily enough: Dove had spent the afternoon at the Academy of American Poets, where she is one of fifteen “chancellors.” By 8 P.M., though, the day had taken a strange turn, and Dove, who is fifty-nine, found herself in the basement of the Chinatown Brasserie, sitting in a recessed booth illumined by a red lantern, looking out over five poker tables ringed with players who had each paid $1,500 just for the privilege to sit there.

“I’m terrified of those tables,” she said. Even so, she added, referring to poets, “We’re supposed to be open to new experiences, so here I am.”

She was by no means the only noteworthy author present. At one table sat the novelist Walter Kirn; at another, the comedian, writer, art collector, and banjoist Steve Martin; at a third, the novelist Amy Tan, the evening’s host. Her invitation to the poker tournament had begun, “This may be one of the most unusual dinner invitations you’ll ever receive.” Read More »


Staff Picks: Ghost Stories, Black Books

October 7, 2011 | by

I absolutely love ghost stories. What luck that Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James showed up in the office! I snatched it up greedily and I’ve been reading one every night. —Sadie Stein

It’s a truism that art and politics rarely come together without shortchanging at least one, but every once in a while there’s a sublime exception to the rule. Neutral Milk Hotel frontman Jeff Mangum’s performance at Occupy Wall Street was one. “Sing if you know the words.” I did. Peter Conroy

Mice couriers, man-tree love, sushi-chef assassins, hydro-powered-car chases, propagandist skywriting, a sinister banjo contest, Internet 5.0, and a mystery drug made from dead trees. Matthew Thurber’s weird and wonderful 1-800-Mice is the Gravity’s Rainbow–Sherlock Holmes–Professor Sutwell–Inspector Clouseau–Silent Spring of comics. If you don’t believe me, behold the rap. —Nicole Rudick

If you have never seen nor heard of the British television series Black Books, I highly recommend checking it out. It ran from 2000–2004 and depicts a mostly inebriated foul-tempered Irishman, Bernard Black, who runs a small bookshop in London with his goofy assistant Manny and their loopy friend Fran. Lauren Goldenberg

This is one of the more complex and beautiful tributes to Steve Jobs I have read. —Artie Niederhoffer

Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? I’m intrigued by this investigation on the origins of the BitcoinNatalie Jacoby

I have a certain fascination with The Financial Times’s advice column, which I read with anthropological zeal. Agony Uncle Sir David Tang, “founder of ICorrect, globetrotter and the man about too many towns to mention,” pulls no punches on subjects of etiquette. Take last weekend’s question, from a reader who writes that, “I find that the classiest thing to do with shades is to push them up over your forehead. But it does get complicated if you’re using hair product.” Tang’s response is swift and unsparing: “To push your sunglasses over your forehead is pretentiously après ski and distinctly Eurotrash. It is also effeminate for men to do so. Only Sophia Loren could get away with it. So I don’t know what you are talking about when you call the habit ‘the classiest,’ which you seem not to be. And forget about hair product. There is a greater danger for those wearing a toupee or wig, as sunglasses could push it back to expose a large shiny forehead, reminiscent of that shudderingly shocking Telly Savalas.”S. S.

Reading Frank Bill’s Crimes in Southern Indiana is not entirely unlike being hit by an 18-wheeler.  Two sentences in, there’s already a drug deal gone bad and a gun pointed at a dealer’s unibrow. Crimes never lets up (though bodies start piling up), but the real strength of the book is how Bill insists on giving three dimensions to life at the desperate ass-end of the American Dream—without once veering into romanticization or voyeurism. You sure as hell wouldn’t want to live anywhere near the towns in these stories, but you can’t help admiring the guy who’s been there and come back to tell the tale. —P. C.

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