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American Smooth: Poems
Synopses & Reviews
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 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. Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Oscar, makes her way through crowds to receive the award. A girl in Harlem studies the flirtations of the adult world, so that someday she too can "pop right out." Fred Astaire once proclaimed. "I just put my feet in the air and move them around." Like Astaire Dove, speaking intimately to us as we lean in, is such a master that we never notice the labor of creation.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In American Smooth, Rita Dove — Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, former poet laureate and competitive ballroom dancer — pulls the ultimate dance trick: she makes it look easy." Emily Nussbaum, The New York Times Book Review
"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." Library Journal
Dove's magnificent poems pay homage to the nation's kaleidoscopic cultural heritage--from the glorious shimmer of an operatic soprano to Bessie Smith's mournful wail, from paradise lost to angel-food cake.
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