On the Bus with Rosa Parks: Poems
by Rita Dove
Publication Date: Apr 17, 2000
List Price: $14.95
Format: Paperback, 96 pages
Imprint: W. W. Norton & Company
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Parent Company: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
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A dazzling new collection by the former Poet Laureate of the United States. 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.
sees his son
the air is not a glass,
watches as he puts his lips to
the brim-then turns away, bored.
He is not mine, this son
who ripens, quiet
poison on a
Other poems range from the playfulness of "The First Book" (Open it/Go ahead, it won’t bite./Well_maybe a little.) to the great power of "Black on a Saturday Night":
the wages of living are sin
and the wages of sin are love
and the wages of love are pain
and the wages of pain are philosophy
and that leads definitely to an attitude
and an attitude will get you
nowhere fast so you might as well
keep dancing dancing till
tomorrow gives up with a shout,
’cause there is only
Saturday night, and we are in it-
black as black can,
black as black does,
not a concept
nor a percentage
but a natural law.
The book culminates in "On the Bus with Rosa Parks," a masterful series which brings the reader right into the heart of the civil rights struggle with poems like "Freedom Ride" (but where you sit is where you’ll be/when the fire hits.) and "The situation is intolerable". Here are unintentional heroes, who, with simple acts of courage, change the course of history. People like Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith who violated city public transportation segregation laws by refusing to give their seats to white passengers, and of course, Rosa Parks, whose legacy for her historic refusal to move to the back of the bus defines the spirit of the struggle (How she sat there,/the time right inside a place/so wrong it was ready.).
In these electrifying, brilliant poems, Dove shows how we are all on that bus with Rosa Parks. Ordinary people with dreams for the future, with a desire for respect, with no need for celebrity but a willingness to do what needs to be done. This is how all of us, heroes or not, must reinvent ourselves each morning. Whether parable or meditation, confession or praise, the poems in ON THE BUS WITH ROSA PARKS confirm Rita Dove’s place as one of the most important American voices of our time.