Rita Dove
Poet / Professor of English, University of Virginia
02:38

Rita Dove Recites a Poem

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The former Poet Laureate recites one of her latest poems from the collection entitled, “Sonata Mulattica.”

Rita Dove

Rita Dove served as Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1993 to 1995 and as Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. She has received numerous literary and academic honors, among them the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and, more recently, the 2003 Emily Couric Leadership Award, the 2001 Duke Ellington Lifetime Achievement Award, the 1997 Sara Lee Frontrunner Award, the 1997 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities and the 1996 National Humanities Medal.

Dove has published the poetry collections The Yellow House on the Corner (1980), Museum (1983), Thomas and Beulah (1986), Grace Notes (1989), Selected Poems (1993), Mother Love (1995), On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999), American Smooth (2004), a book of short stories, Fifth Sunday (1985), the novel Through the Ivory Gate (1992), essays under the title The Poet's World (1995), and the play The Darker Face of the Earth, which had its world premiere in 1996 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and was subsequently produced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Royal National Theatre in London, and other theaters. She is the editor of Best American Poetry 2000, and from January 2000 to January 2002 she wrote a weekly column, "Poet's Choice," for The Washington Post. Her latest poetry collection, Sonata Mulattica, was published by W.W. Norton & Company in the spring of 2009.
Transcript

Question: “The Undressing”

Rita Dove: I could. Let me think. What could I do?  I’ll read a short one and but I have to give you a little gloss for it, if I can find it. All right, in this poem… This is from my new book “Sonata Mulattica,” which tells the story of George Bridgetower, a mulatto violinist from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In this poem he was a prodigy. He was a little boy, ten years-old in England playing his violin in front of all the music lovers of London and his father is sent away from London. The Prince of Wales says, “I’ll take care of the little boy.” And so you have this little boy who is… has the best job in the world for a musician, but at the same time he has no family and in this poem the prince has ordered him to go into his room and to change into British clothing. “The Undressing:” “First the sash, peacock blue. Silk unfurling round and round until I’m the India ink dotting a cold British i. Now I can bend to peel off my shoes, try to hook the tasseled tips into the emerald sails of my satin pantaloons. Farewell sir monkey jacket, monkey red. Ado shirt tart and bright as the lemons the prince once let me touch. Goodbye lakeside meadow. Goodbye hummingbird throat. No more games. I am to become a proper British gentleman, cuffed and buckled with breeches and a fine cravat, but how? My tossed bed glows while I, I am a smudge, a quenched wick, a twig shrouded in snow.”

Recorded on November 19, 2009


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