On the Bus with Rosa Parks

On the Bus
with Rosa Parks

by Rita Dove

Review by Alyce Wilson

Some of the best poem ideas never make it into poems. That's what titles are for, such as the title to Rita Dove's latest book, On the Bus with Rosa Parks.

As former poet laureate Dove relates in the endnotes, she was at a convention in Williamsburg in 1995 when she climbed on a bus, along with Parks, to go to another site. Parks rode in the front.

While it makes a great story, Dove realized her experience wouldn't necessarily be a good poem. It is her sense of what to tell -- and what to leave out -- that makes Dove's poems both striking and human.

In "Rosa," she writes:

       Doing nothing was the doing:
       the clean flame of her gaze
       carved by a camera flash.

With this and three other equally tight stanzas, Dove conveys the simplicity of an act that helped undo a social order.

Simplicity is Dove's secret, as well. Through economical language and a strong sense of voice, she makes the ordinary extraordinary.

She conveys the pain of lost love in "The Peach Orchard," where the branches are "brimming / like a rightous mob," and the trees are "shedding all over themselves." She writes, "Only a fool / would think such frenzy / beautiful."

The irony is that Dove knows that it is. She helps the reader see it, painting the pain and pleasures of life with equally delicate strokes.

Publisher: W.W. Norton and Co. Inc., 1999
ISBN: 0393047229

Violet Back to Reviews Index