Thursday, October 06, 2005


American Smooth by Rita Dove is a wonderful book of poetry. The book was published in 2004 and is her first book of poetry since 2000. The only other book I have read of Dove's is Selected Poems published in 1993. I didn't like it much at all. What got me to read American Smooth was the discovery that Dove and her husband enjoy ballroom dancing. The title of the book comes from a style of dancing, American smooth, which includes a large amount of open work with the partners apart and not in the traditional dance hold. Think Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The dances include waltz, foxtrot, and tango. There are several poems in the book about dancing but my favorite one with a dance theme is "Bolero" which is a Latin dance. It captures the slow erotic feeling of the dance wonderfully. The beat of the dance, in case you aren't familiar with it, is a long slow followed by a quick, quick. It's a rumba beat only slower. Here's a sample:

Not the ratcheting crescendo of Ravel's bright winds but an older, crueler passion: a woman with hips who knows when to move them, who holds nothing back but the hurt she takes with her as she dips, grinds, then rises sweetly into his arms again. Not delicate. Not tame. Bessie Smith in a dream of younger, (Can't you see?) slimmer days. Restrained in the way a debutante is not, the way a bride pretends she understands.
The book isn't all dancing, however. There is a powerful series of poems called "Twelve Chairs" which contains a poem for each member of a jury plus an alternate juror. As a sample we have a poem of the Fourth Juror
Cancel the afternoon evenings mornings all the days to come until the fires fall to ash the fog clears and we can see where we really stand.
follwed by the poem of the Fifth Juror
How long will this take? I am not my brother, thank you; my hands are full already taking care of myself.
There are poems you read that are purely intellectual and stay in the head. Then there are poems that you feel in your stomach. The poems in American Smooth are poems that you feel in your stomach. Some of them brought tears to my eyes, some made me nod, some took my breath away. I am done thinking that I don't like Rita dove. This book has made me a convert. For more information about Rita Dove including some interviews and video of her and her husband dancing, visit her website