Former poet laureate reads personal poetry

Hearing Rita Dove’s poetry from the poet herself was, for some, an opportunity to hear a poet they idolize. For others, it was a chance to get some extra credit or simply a way to enjoy a balmy spring evening in Williamsburg.

The former national and state poet laureate read and spoke about her poetry to a large audience at Kimball Theatre Thursday.

“It’s great to be here. The last time I was here was probably 17 years ago,” Dove remarked before being ushered to the stage.

That earlier visit holds a special place in Dove’s memory since it had a hand in inspiring her later poetry. Dove was last at the College in order to attend events celebrating civil rights activist Rosa Parks. One afternoon, Dove and her daughter sat down on a bus leaving the Williamsburg Inn, after which Parks took a seat a little ahead of them. Upon seeing Parks, Dove’s daughter turned to Dove, saying, “We’re on the bus with Rosa Parks.” “On the Bus with Rosa Parks” would become the title of Dove’s 1999 collection of poems.

Dove then read poems from throughout her body of work, including her most recent “Sonata Mulattica: Poems,” a book-length cycle of poems that deal with the life of an African-Polish virtuoso violinist named George Bridgetower.

Other poems touched on a variety themes, such as the Great Migration and the strange magic of libraries, written in a wide array of poetic forms, including the villanelle and the prose-poem.

The closing lines of her poem “Used” seemed fitting for younger members in the crowd: “Enough of guilt … It’s hard work staying cool.” The poem also offered words for the more experienced members of the audience, however: “Tabula rasa. No slate’s that clean.”

“We are very happy that she [Dove] finally found the time to come to Williamsburg and William and Mary,” Henry Hart, poet and Mildred and J.B. Hickman professor of English and Humanities, said.

Other than serving as the national Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995 and Poet Laureate of the commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006, Dove also won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Hermine Pinson, a poet, an author, and an associate professor of English at the College, described Dove as “one of the most celebrated poets of our time.”

The free and open event was part of the College of William and Mary’s Patrick Hayes Writers Series.


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