AMERICAN SMOOTH

Rita Dove, Author . Norton $22.95 (143p) ISBN 978-0-393-05987-8

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.)

Reviewed on: 09/20/2004
Release date: 09/01/2004
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