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On the Bus With Rosa Parks: Poems Hardcover – April, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If you find memoirs more immediate than contemporary poetry, novels more compelling, history more vivid, then you haven't read Rita Dove. A former poet laureate of the United States, Dove is at the height of her powers in On the Bus with Rosa Parks. Her range is extraordinary. The opening "Cameos" sequence reads like a compressed colloquial epic of one hard-up but lively family--Lucille with her "bright and bitter" eyes, her wandering husband, Joe, their bookish son and seven daughters ("their / names fantastic, myriad / as the points of a chandelier"). There are magnificent occasional pieces--"Incarnation in Phoenix" on breastfeeding a newborn ("I'm not ready for this motherhood stuff"); "Against Self-Pity" ("pure misery a luxury /one never learns to enjoy"); "The First Book" ("Dig in: / You'll never reach bottom"). "Rosa," the centerpiece of the title sequence, reads almost like haiku as Dove captures Rosa Parks's historic act of refusal in 12 taut lines.

And then there are poems that stand alone for their unique electrifying strangeness: "The Venus of Willendorf," in which Dove ponders the ancient sacred mystery of man's worship of the female body, and "Lady Freedom Among Us," in which Freedom is incarnated as a bag lady--"she who has brought mercy back into the streets / and will not retire politely to the potter's field."

Of the many notes that Dove hits in this volume, the most welcome is pure unadulterated delight, as in "Dawn Revisited": "Imagine you wake up / with a second chance..." Imagine: Dove has done the hard part. All we have to do is open this splendid volume, sit back, and enjoy the ride. --David Laskin

From Publishers Weekly

Dove's brillianceAas with all great writersAis inextricable from her formal gifts: her poems effortlessly suggest grand narratives and American myths, yet ground themselves tersely in localities, characters, practicalities and particulars. This seventh collection leads off with a Dove specialty, the historical sequence: her "Cameos" lend broad, social relevance to an intermittently abandoned Depression-era wife and her family. As in Alice Munro's fiction, slight notations of near-undetectable actions are keys to deep emotional transformation: "Now she just/ enjoys, and excess/ hardens on her like/ a shell./ She sheens." In subsequent poems such as "Testimonial" and "Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967," Dove revisits precocious origins ("I was pirouette and flourish,/ I was filigree and flame") and traces, with her characteristically strong enjambments, an emerging sexuality: "how her body felt/ tender and fierce, all at once." And as with the Pulitzer Prize-winning sonnets of Thomas and Beulah (no sonnets this time out), the reader follows the poet's imagined rituals and movementsA"each night the bed creaking/ cast onto the waves/ each dawn rose flaunting/ their loose tongues of flame"Aonly to come squarely back to earth in the title section: "Not even my own grandmother would pity me;/ instead she'd suck her teeth at the sorry sight/ of some Negro actually looking for misery.// Well. I'd go home if I knew where to get off." Readers will find that this is the place.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 95 pages
  • Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc; 1 edition (April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393047229
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393047226
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6.5 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,636,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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. In 2006 she received the Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service (together with Anderson Cooper, John Glenn, Mike Nichols and Queen Noor of Jordan), in 2007 she became a Chubb Fellow at Yale University, in 2008 she was honored with the Library of Virginia's Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2009 she received the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal and the Premio Capri (the international prize of the Italian "island of poetry").

Ms. Dove was born in Akron, Ohio in 1952. A 1970 Presidential Scholar, she received her B.A. summa cum laude from Miami University of Ohio and her M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. She also held a Fulbright scholarship at the Universität Tübingen in Germany. She 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 theatres. Seven for Luck, a song cycle for soprano and orchestra with music by John Williams, was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1998. For "America's Millennium," the White House's 1999/2000 New Year's celebration, Ms. Dove contributed -- in a live reading at the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by John Williams's music -- a poem to Steven Spielberg's documentary The Unfinished Journey. She is the editor of The 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. Most recently she edited "The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry" (2011).

Rita Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she lives with her husband, the German writer Fred Viebahn. They have a grown daughter, Aviva Dove-Viebahn.

More biographical information is available at http://www.people.virginia.edu/~rfd4b/

Customer Reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
At first glance, one may think this book to be a collection of poems dealing with the civil rights movement. Dove illustrates her poetic talent, however, by writing about the struggles in the lives of her fictional characters. In fact, the only references to Rosa Parks are in the chapter named after the book itself. But by looking beneath the surface of Dove's poems, it becomes clear to the reader why "On the Bus With Rosa Parks" is a very appropriate title. Rita Dove uses Rosa Parks as a sort of personification of the recurring themes in the poems. Rosa Parks represents hope, living life to its fullest, and the idea of ordinary people overcoming adversity to do something extraordinary. It's wrong to downplay this work and say Dove was too young to accurately illustrate Rosa Parks' effect on the Civil Rights Movement. For one thing, I think we all know of her significance, no matter what age or race we are. But also, a reader of this book needs to look past the title and see that this is not just about Rosa Parks, it outlines *human* struggle, not just African American struggle. I highly recommend it...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. A Carty on September 13, 2006
Format: Paperback
This collection of poems is a fun variety of rhythm, imagery and humour. I found this collection a great daily read.

The first set of poems, "Cameos" are wonderful snapshots of the African American community. Dove does something that is very difficult and takes on the voice of different generations and genders in the same family to let us see inside the group. July 1925 had a great story. "Night" had a great rhythm and "Lake Erie" had wonderful unusual imagery.

As the collection progresses we move to more stand alone poems but they are all there to create new voices. She does what a good poet wants and takes a common theme and makes it new. A perfect example is "Parlor." We are dealing with death but with a bit of humour in the background.

The later poems are from a series on civil rights and Rosa Parks and are just as intriguing as the earlier voices, the views of a culture different from my own.

I took away from this collection that it was not a book about civil rights as so many thought from the title. But that it is a book about "Riding the Bus with Rosa Parks" in the sense that the African American community, especially the female sector, want to join that tradition and to honor what it means to be a part of the sector of the community.

If you want to read a very talented poet then I strongly suggest this collection. As noted, it isn't a collection soley focusing on civil rights. It is an anthology of unique voices.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
Rita Dove displays a range of poetic devices and a power of lyrical language that is truly amazing. Although she's black, she speaks to everybody, even an old-fashioned white guy like me.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful By adead_poet@hotmail.com on September 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
having read rita dove's selected poems, i know she has written good poems (the adolescence poems, in the old neighborhood, the thomas and beuleh poems), but these poems don't have the same quality of her previous works. the poems in this collection don't have the narrative quality that made thomas and beuleh so good. the cameo sequence of poems is simply a poet trying to be difficult or experimental but not succeeding. the political preachiness wears on the reader after a while.
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