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Ekaterini Georgoudaki the Great Palace of Versailles5252

Ekaterini Georgoudaki the Great Palace of Versailles5252

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poetry
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Published by: lisamarie1473 on May 17, 2013
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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
 
Dove's complex experiences in the USA and abroad (Europe, N. Africa, Israel) have affected both hervision and her poetic method. Although she deals with the problems of racism and sexism, she doesnot adopt the polemical voice of either a black nationalist or a feminist poet, and therefore she doesnot let indignation, anger, and protest control her verse. Although she focuses on the blackexperience in many of her works she goes beyond the definition of black literature which reflectedthe black ideal that prevailed since the late 1960s: "Black literature BY blacks, ABOUT blacks, directedTO blacks. ESSENTIAL black literature is the distillation of black life." Her poem "Upon Meeting Don L.Lee, In a Dream," included in her first book The Yellow House on the Corner (1980), expresses herreaction to the black nationalist aesthetic.5 The poet Don Lee, one of its major representatives, isdescribed as "always moving in the yellow half-shadows," as a man with "lashless eyes," surroundedby a chorus of chanting women dressed in robes and stretching "beaded eyes to him." After settingthe stage and introducing the black male poet in a kind of priestly role Dove creates a dialoguebetween him and the first person speaker who is obviously her mouthpiece; and then, through acluster of surrealistic images, she suggests the decay of the ideology that Don Lee embodies:Moments slip by like worms."Seven years ago..." he begins; butI cut him off: "Those years are gone-What is there now?" He starts to cry; his eyeballsBurst into flame. I can see caviarImbedded like buckshot between his teeth.His hair falls out in clumps of burned-out wire.The music grows like branches in the wind.I lie down, chuckling as the grass curls around me.He can only stand, fists clenched, and weepTears of iodine, while the singers float away,Rustling on brown paper wings.6Arnold Rampersad correctly remarks about Dove:Instead of an obsession with the theme of race, one finds an eagerness, perhaps even an anxiety, totranscend- if not actually to repudiate- black cultural nationalism in the name of more inclusivesensibility. Hers is a brilliant mind, reinforced by what appears to be very wide reading, that seeks foritself the widest possible play, an ever expanding range of reference, the most acute distinctions, andthe most subtle shadings of meaning. (53)Rampersad also remarks that Dove wishes to possess the wide world and "longs for the completefreedom of her imagination" (56). As her international settings, characters, and themes show, Dovecrosses socio-political, literary and other boundaries and divisions, and thus overcomes the feeling of displacement they cause.7Her imagination is often compelled by historical events, and she believes in the importance of language in shaping our perceptions and entering history. In her conversation with Rubin and Kitchenshe states:
 
And language does shape our perceptions. So I wouldn't go so far as to say that history is language oranything like that, but the way we perceive things is, of course, circumscribed by our ability toexpress those things...When I started Museum, I was in Europe, and I had a way of looking back on America and distancingmyself from my experience I could look at history, at the world, in a different way because I hadanother mind set. I found historical events fascinating for looking underneath- not for what wealways see or what's always said about a historical event, but for the things that can't be related in adry, historical sense. (229-30)Dove's focus on the underside of history, on the overlooked events, on "things which no one willremember but which are just as important in shaping our concept of ourselves and the world we livein as the biggies" (232), and on the "small people, these nobodies in the course of history" (263), isone way in which she expresses her distaste for conventional hierarchies and interpretations. LikeLorde, Rich, and other contemporary women poets, she adopts a retrospective and reconstructivemethod and she includes what the American and other cultures have excluded. Thomas and Beulah(1986), for instance, which won Dove the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, focuses on the experiences,feelings, aspirations, and thoughts of lower-class blacks who have usually been ignored by themainstream American society and its official historians.8 Dove interweaves her two protagonists'experience with important events in the history of the USA (migration of Southern blacks to theindustrial North, the Depression, World War II and its effects on USA economy and employmentpatterns, life of poor blacks, Civil Rights Movement, J. F. Kennedy's assassination, Black PowerMovement, etc.) in order to suggest the former's actual significance.9 In the case of "BenjaminBanneker (1731-1806), first black man to devise an almanac and predict a solar eclipse accurately"(M 78), Dove imagines his household routine during the day (milking the cows, cooking, sleeping,woken and fed by neighbors) and his scientific work at night. She also records people's reactions tothis gifted black man who dared to cross social and racial boundaries ("Banneker" 1st stanza):What did he do except lieunder a pear tree, wrapped ina great cloak, and meditateon the heavenly bodies?Venerable, the good people of Baltimorewhispered, shocked and more thana little afraid. After all it was saidhe took to strong drink.Why else would he stay outunder the stars all nightand why hadn't he married? (M 36)In the second stanza Dove refers to Banneker's vain efforts to attract the President's attention to hisscientific discoveries: "another inflamed letter / to President Jefferson- he imagined / the reply,polite and rhetorical" (36), and she finishes the stanza by making an ironic contrast betweenAmerican society's marginalization and exclusion of a gifted black man and its glorification of a whiteone:

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