By: JOHN LARSON
On Sept. 22, Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate Rita Dove gave a public lecture for the 6th Annual Bender Scholar-in-Residence Lecture.
The lecture, part discussion of art, part recitation of it, saw a crowded theater at the Louise E. Addicott and Yatish J. Joshi Performance Hall. The main focus was Dove’s latest original work, “Sonata Mulattica,” released in 2009. It consists of 84 poems, as well as a play which Dove described as “farcical.”
As to be expected of the poet, her lecture was given largely in poetry. After a brief introduction by other speakers and Dove herself, she introduced the audience to her life as a poet through a piece she delivered about her life as a child. She discussed her life in Ohio, and her memories growing up as a mixed-race child.
Dove also spoke about the things that influence her work. “Sonata Mulattica,” for instance, came about when she and her husband were watching an unnamed biopic of the composer Ludwig von Beethoven, when she spotted a well-dressed black character carrying an instrument. “I’ve heard of color-blind casting,” she remarked, “but that was a bit much.”
To her surprise, that character was a real mixed-race musician, George Bridgetown, whom Beethoven knew, and once dedicated a song to before changing the dedication. Bridgetown had become a footnote of history, which inspired Dove to learn more about him and ultimately tell his story through a long series of poems.
Dove read selections from the book and explained her process, showing the same scene from various perspectives. Some poems describe what is happening externally, while the next may pull inside the characters minds to demonstrate the differences between what they did and how they feel.
Matthew Partridge, one of the people in attendance for the lecture, took particular note of Dove’s style.
“The way her words flow are really something. It feels very loose but it’s so careful and evocative,” he said.
At the end of her lecture, Dove took some questions from the audience. Of particular note was her advice on overcoming creative dry spells. “I don’t abide the process [of waiting out dry spells]. I always keep writing. Most of it is, pretty bad, but… I always want to experiment.”