Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Possibly Poet

Dove taught creative writing at Arizona State University from 1981 to 1989. She received the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry and was named Poet Laureate of the United State by the Librarian of Congress, an office she held from 1993 to 1995. At age 40, Dove was the youngest person to hold the position and is the first African American to hold the position since the title was changed to Poet Laureate (Robert Hayden had served as the first non-white Consultant in Poetry from 1976–78, and Gwendolyn Brooks had been the last Consultant in Poetry in 1985–86). Early in her tenure as poet laureate, Bill Moyers featured Rita Dove in a one hour interview on his PBS prime time program Bill Moyers Journal. Since 1989 she has been teaching at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she holds the chair of Commonwealth Professor of English.
Rita Dove also served as a Special Bicentennial Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1999/2000, along with Louise Glück and W. S. Merwin. In 2004 then-governor Mark Warner of Virginia appointed her to a two-year position as Poet Laureate of Virginia. In her public posts, Dove concentrated on spreading the word about poetry and increasing public awareness of the benefits of literature. As United States Poet Laureate, for example, she also brought together writers to explore the African diaspora through the eyes of its artists.
Dove’s work cannot be confined to a specific era or school in contemporary literature; her wide-ranging topics and the precise poetic language with which she captures complex emotions defy easy categorization.

 Besides her Pulitzer Prize, she has received numerous literary and academic honors, among them 22 honorary doctorates, the 1996 National Humanities Medal / Charles Frankel Prize from President Bill Clinton, the 3rd Annual Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities in 1997,and most recently, the 2006 Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service in Literature, the 2007 Chubb Fellowship at Yale University,the 2008 Library of Virginia Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2009 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, the 2009 Premio Capri and the 2011 National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama. From 1994–2000 she was a senator (member of the governing board) of the national academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa, and from 2006 to 2012 she served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She has been a featured poet at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival on many occasions, most recently in 2010.

Dove edited The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry, published in 2011. It provoked heated controversy as she was accused of valuing an inclusive, populist agenda over quality. Poet John Olson commented that "her exclusions are breathtaking". Well-known poets left out include Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, Sterling Brown, Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff and Lorine Niedecker. Critic Helen Vendler condemned Dove's choices, asking "why are we being asked to sample so many poets of little or no lasting value?" Dove defended her choices and omissions vigorously in her response to Vendler in The New York Review of Books, as well as in wide-ranging interviews with The Writer's Chronicle,with poet Jericho Brown on the Best American Poetry website and with Bill Moyers on his public television show Moyers & Company.

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