Sonata Mulattica (Dove)

I’m not sure why it took me so long to find Rita Dove’s work. I’ve known her name and individual poems, but now I’ve started to dive into her collections. This one is a masterpiece. For a change, I actually I agree with the blurb offered by Mark Doty on the cover: “Dove’s richly imagined book has the sweep and vivid characters of a novel, but it’s written with a poet’s economy, an eye for the exact detail.”

And Doty is right. At times, I had to remind myself that this wasn’t a novel (though the 209 pages might suggest otherwise) and slow myself down in order to attend to the detail that Doty describes. Some of my favorite passages come from a poem near the center of the collection called “The Performer””

This is what it is like //

to be a flame: furious

but without weight, breeze

sharpening into wind, a bright gust

that will blind, flatten all of you –

yet tender,

somewhere inside,


From the end of the same poem –

If this world could stop

for a moment

and see me;

if I could step out

into the street and become

one of them,

one of anything,

I would sing –

no, weep right here – to simply

be and be and be. . .

This is one to get, one to read (again and again), and one, perhaps, to teach. Dove is a remarkable conductor.


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