In these brilliant poems, Rita Dove treats us to a panoply of human endeavor, shot through with the electrifying jazz of her lyric elegance. From the opening sequence, "Cameos", to the civil rights struggle of the final sequence, she explores the intersection of individual fate and history.
Univ. of Virginia professor, Pulitzer winner, and former Poet Laureate, Dove has reaped great rewards for verse, such as this seventh collection, which is really quite modest in design and accomplishment. Always genial and accessible, Dove's economical, never-erring poems have the same homey charms and family wisdom of Zora Neale Hurston's fiction: "Cameos" is a verse collage that bears "witness" to a time and place: the '20s and '30s in Ohio, where a boy grows up among a lot of doting sisters, never bonds with his "clowning" father, and prefers science to music. There's more than a touch of inspiration and uplift (but no Maya Angelou smarminess) in Dove's affirmative poems: two celebrate her young self as a reader of"the stuff we humans are made of." "Dawn Revisited" marvels at the promise of a new day and a second chance. The poet is uncomfortable with repose ("Against Repose") and refuses to give in to self-pity in front of her daughter ("Against Self-Pity"). She's proud of her dignified mother, working as a seamstress to finance business school; and admires the old lady in "Gotterdammerung," who, despite aches and pains, will not give up on adventure, travel, and her own sexuality. A public poet as well, Dove pays homage to the Capitol building ("Lady Freedom Among Us") and, in the title sequence, with indirection and context, narrates the saga of Rosa Parks and a few less-famous bus-riding women in the Jim Crow South for whom, as Dove so eloquently puts it, "Doing nothing was the doing." Dove extols the "life force" in chants clear and democratic. (Kirkus Reviews)