Ekaterini Georgoudaki, "Rita Dove: Crossing Boundaries."
In her bio-critical survey of Afro-American women poets from the times of slavery to the 1970s,Gloria Hull stresses the "inhospitable conditions" under which black women have created poetry:Being black, they were ignored, discredited, dismissed, or patronized as novelties or secondarytalents- by both white men and white women. Being women, they were subject to even furtherexclusion, sometimes by their own brothers who, like most males, did not feel that literature waswomen's legitimate province.Hull also stresses the double nature (Anglo-African) of the tradition which these poets created, "onewhich forced together African and English modes of thought and expression" (165). She furtherpoints out black women's cultural isolation, the "underground sisterhood" they have formed tonurture each other, and the "unique tradition" they have "forged and developed" (166).1Although conditions were more hospitable for black women writers after the Black Power / BlackArts Movement of the 1960s and the Feminist Movement of the 1970s, the ideologies of class,gender, and race still persisted in American society in the 1980s, when Rita Dove started publishingher work. She therefore, shares certain dilemmas and concerns with previous Afro-American womenpoets, such as their feelings of displacement, fragmentation, and isolation, and their distaste forconventional stereotypes, hierarchies, divisions and boundaries. She also continues their search forwholeness, balance, connection, continuity, reconciliation with the self and the world, as well as theirefforts to redefine the self and history, and to renew cultural values.2As a black person living in the predominantly white societies of the Old and New World, havingentered an inter-racial and inter-cultural marriage (her husband is a German writer), and trying toforge an autonomous female poetic voice against the background of a male dominated Euro- andAfro-American literary tradition, Dove has often crossed social and literary boundaries, violatedtaboos, and experienced displacement, i.e. living "in two different worlds, seeing things with doublevision," wherever she has stayed (USA, Germany, Israel).3 Talking to Judith Kitchen and Stan SanvelRubin about her European experiences which inspired her second book, Museum (1983), Doveadmits that she had a sense of displacement while she was in Europe, and that she expressed thissense through various characters and situations in Museum. She remarks, however, that her stay inEurope broadened her world view and contributed to her growth as a person and an artist:When I went to Europe the first time- that was in '74, way before I had thought of this book- it wasmind boggling to see how blind I'd been in my own little world of America. It had never dawned onme that there was a world out there. It was really quite shocking to see that there was another wayof looking at things. And when I went back in '80-'81 to spend a lot of time, I got a different angle onthe way things are, the way things happen in the world and the importance they take. Also as aperson going to Europe I was treated differently because I was American. I was Black, but theytreated me differently than people treat me here because I'm Black. And in fact, I often felt a littlelike Fiammetta; I became an object. I was a Black American, and therefore I became a representativefor all of that. And I sometimes felt like a ghost, I mean, people would ask me questions, but I had afeeling that they weren't seeing me, but a shell. So there was that sense of being there and not beingthere, you know. Then because you are there you can see things a little clearer sometimes. Thatcertainly was something, I think, that informed the spirit of Museum. 4