Monday, July 2, 2012

Poetry Monday: Rita Dove "American Smooth"

Rita Dove is one of many reasons why Charlottesville is considered America's smartest city. Dove currently holds the chair of Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia and was named US Poet Laureate in 1993, the youngest poet ever elected to the position. She was also the first African American to hold the title. Doved served as the Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2004–2006. She has had published 9 poetry collections, a book of essays, a novel, a short story collection, a verse play, has edited at least two poetry collections, and is a ballroom dancer.  The latter talent is featured in her poem "American Smooth", the title poem from her 2004 collection published by Norton.  Here is Rita performing the poem, followed by the full text.  On its simplest level, the poem is a beautiful depiction of the pleasure and power of dance, but it goes deeper still, into the heart of artistic creation, the power of a moment, on ephiphany and on the ephemeral nature of human achievement.
American Smooth

We were dancing—it must have
been a foxtrot or a waltz,
something romantic but
requiring restraint,
rise and fall, precise
execution as we moved
into the next song without
stopping, two chests heaving
above a seven-league
stride—such perfect agony,
one learns to smile through,
ecstatic mimicry
being the sine qua non
of American Smooth.
And because I was distracted
by the effort of
keeping my frame
(the leftward lean, head turned
just enough to gaze out
past your ear and always
smiling, smiling),
I didn’t notice
how still you’d become until
we had done it
(for two measures?
four?)—achieved flight,
that swift and serene
before the earth
remembered who we were
and brought us down. 

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