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A quiet passion Prof. Tad Kuroda honored
Fashion police
How songbirds dress for success
Creative Genius
Heather Hurst '97 wins MacArthur grant
Front man at the Tang
New museum director
Winning number Of odds and iPods
Sharing worldly words Acclaimed poet Rita Dove
Smooth operator
The "voice of Skidmore" retires
Professoriat What the faculty are up to
Hall of Famers make history
Sports standouts inducted
Sportswrap Thoroughbred highlights
Horn of plenty Joshua Redman in jazz residency
Beatlemania 2004 The MU 345 tradition rocks on
Faculty and alumni authors


Sharing worldly words

Acclaimed poet Rita Dove was this year’s Frances Steloff Lecturer, giving a public reading and joining a panel discussion.

A professor at the University of Virginia, Dove was the youngest person ever—and the first African-American—to be named US Poet Laureate (1993–95). The newest of her eight books of poetry is American Smooth; in 1987 Thomas and Beulah won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and she has won several other major awards. Describing her as “a master of the poem as pure song,” the Washington Post says she chooses to “sidle toward the sublime in words that mingle poetry liberally with things of the world.”

Here’s a sampling from Dove’s most recent collection.

Describe Yourself in Three Words or Less

I’m not the kind of person who praises
openly, or for profit; I’m not the kind
who will steal a scene unless
I’ve designed it. I’m not a kind at all,
in fact: I’m itchy and pug-willed,
gnarled and wrong-headed,
never amorous but possessing
a wild, thatched soul.

Each night I set my boats to sea
and leave them to their bawdy business.
Whether they drift off
maddened, moon-rinsed,
or dock in the morning
scuffed and chastened—
is simply how it is, and I gather them in.

You are mine, I say to the twice-dunked cruller
before I eat it. Then I sing
to the bright-beaked bird outside,
then to the manicured spider
between window and screen;
then I will stop, and forget the singing.
(See? I have already forgotten you.)

Evening Primrose

Poetically speaking, growing up
is mediocrity. —Ned Rorem

Neither rosy nor prim,
not cousin to the cowslip
nor the extravagant fuchsia—
I doubt anyone has ever
picked one for show,
though the woods must be fringed
with their lemony effusions.

Sun blathers its baronial
endorsement, but they refuse
to join the ranks. Summer
brings them in armfuls,
yet, when the day is large,
you won’t see them fluttering
the length of the road.

They’ll wait until the world’s
tucked in and the sky’s
one ceaseless shimmer—then
lift their saturated eyelids
and blaze, blaze
all night long
for no one.

From American Smooth, W.W. Norton & Co.,
© 2004 by Rita Dove. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.