American Smooth: Poems Paperback – 17 Feb 2006
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"Dove, with her precise, singing lines, eliminates the impure, the wrong notes, the clutter and the waste to reach straight to the heart of experiences so that emotion rings true."
About the Author
Rita Dove is the recipient of many honors, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she is a Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia and lives in Charlottesville.
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I think however, this may be" best in book", but haven't spent enough time to give a fair analysis.
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calibration, smoothness, heft, the execution of motion, are words located in the language of dance -- and the language of guns. memories of dances fill the first section, and the poem Meditation at Fifty Yards, Moving Target, the first piece of found poetry in the collection, reads like instructions from a shooting pamphlet.
the second section, Not Welcome Here, chronicles the experiences of african-americans who enlisted during the first world war and their encounters with the stupidity of american racism which arguably endangered the fighting power of our military forces.
in the third section, Twelve Chairs, rita dove travels to the federal court house in sacramento, california (where else for justice?), to find words carved on the backs of twelve marble chairs as part of an installation by larry kirkland for her twelve poems.
in dance the man leads, so it is with the male voices of the second section, and the woman responds in the fourth section in Blues in Half-Tones, ¾ Time, with romance and dance, female pleasures not without their hard histories as dove tells in the grisly tale of The Seven Veils of Salomé and the story of the imprisonment and execution of valentinus who is remembered with red hearts, chocolate and flowers.
the fifth section, Evening Primrose, compiles mostly poetic reflections, poems from another poet's pen which might be labeled whimsical, but in dove's hand, given the hard histories of the preceding sections, contextually, her work can neither be slighted nor dismissed, displaying nothing less than a sensibility and execution, when fully appreciated, that startles and awes like well executed ballroom dance movements. for those who require a poetic precursor, i suggest one, robert lowell.
The section "Not Welcome Here" gives a voice to the African-American soldiers in World War I. The poems are artfully crafted, but they make the reader wonder how Dove has so much experience with a war that was fought before she was born. The notes to the text indicate that she has read several books about the war; however, the emotions and experience would be much different when reading about a war ninety years later than living or fighting in that time.
Other themes expressed in the poetry are jazz music, childhood memories, love and regret. A personal favorite is the poem "Brown" where Dove expresses a love for her skin color. It begins by a dress maker exclaiming that the speaker looks good in every color. Again, there is reference to dance because the speaker is at a ball in a country club. The speaker expresses her love of the way that her brown skin glows against fuchsia and citron dresses and her desire to make a grand entrance. One again Dove is exploring the desire to be an individual in the midst of a culture that prizes conformity.
My favorite selections are "Meditation at Fifty Yards, Moving Target", which makes shooting a gun sound so poetic and "Heart to Heart" which downplays the myths one associates with the heart (shape and color), and all the cliches individuals use in terms of it (from the bottom of my heart), and breaks down what it really is (muscle) and what people need to keep it going (love).
Although I was not able to enjoy the collection in it's entirety, I enjoyed several of the poetic offerings similar to those mentioned above. Those that I did not identify with were well written, its just that I was not able to relate to those pieces, but that is the beauty of poetry, there is something for everyone.
Reviewed by Aiesha Flowers
of The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers