On the Bus With Rosa Parks by Rita Dove
Reviewed by Bianca Chapman


"Solitude, for the first time, took her hand and set a new expression of feigned bravery on her face. No one would see her cry."1

The study of the self or of the individual in an ever-changing environment can propel the vision of a poet –allowing for the kind of intimacy and development required for rendering emotional and viable life occurrences. We enter the world of Rita Dove, former Poet Laureate of the United States and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Her lyrics dazzle in an array of heartwarming images and are given the opportunity to build and impact because of her focus on the individual and their intricate reaction. Dove delights and excels in the details, and the details of responses. She achieves this detail oriented excellence through an ever-present tension throughout her pieces. In "Singsong," each stanza is self containing but also inclusive of other stanzas in the movement of the piece. The initial stanza uses rhythmic line breaks to enhance the movement of the piece. The images of a "moon" and the "stars" are as magical and viable as the nature of the I. The momentum is steady and the metaphor is clear. While the "moon" and "stars" have the ability to be touched in this world by the employment of personification, the "I" has been objectified and conceived as a "new toy."

The images relay a steady energy of youth and bewilderment, the abstract is made concrete as the second stanza weaves us unexpectedly through an end-stopped couplet. The following stanza supplies adjectives, but used in a peculiar manner. The speaker was "narrowly sweet" and "infinitely cruel." The strongest descriptions are the moments of prolific verbs such as, "tongued," "coddled," "sunburned," "scabbed." Dove couples these verbs as descriptions to enhance a lovely sense of unexpected energy and persistent rhythm.

I was narrowly sweet, infinitely cruel,
tongued in honey and coddled in milk,
sunburned and silvery and scabbed like a colt.

The speaker is only one being, one force, but the dynamic images seem to cover a lifetime of pain and diminished innocence.

Dove continues to fascinate throughout the collection with a primary focus lying upon the individual; the solitaire against the outstanding weight of the world. In the piece "For Sophie, Who'll be in First Grade in the Year 2000," we are invited to meet the future designed for a child by the mishaps of her predecessors. Dove shines in her irony and carefully constructed metaphor. She treats the world as a tattered gift, and personifies its spirit with induced imagery. Dove's details are handled so delicately, as well as the instructions, that we are forced to swallow the sadness of the "gift" we've help to create. The instructions are simple, but the line breaks demonstrate the tension in the application of the commandments. The movement of the piece is pushed forward and we are left without a didactic view on the treatment of the earth. We are, instead, given the opportunity to hone in and be "Sophie" a young person in the position we once were.

Wait a moment before
you pick it up. Study
its scratches, how it
shines in places. Now
love what you touch,
and you will touch wisely.

One of closest ways towards understanding humanity is to understand the motives of an individual. The heart learns to envelope these intentions. In "The Enactment," Dove steps out of the perspective of the individual to itemize the ‘selection' of a pioneer. Each description takes us on a narrative journey, giving exposition without extraneous commentary. In this piece, we find Dove's strength in the construction of scene, emotion, and voice. The piece builds with itemized details similar to a shopping list:

It's gotta be a woman,
someone of standing;
preferably shy, preferably married.

Yet the tension of the piece is within the third stanza as Dove builds the narrative with the voices behind the action. Here we find the conflict and the plight of the woman and of a people demonstrated through two isolated voices

Why do you push us around?
and his answer: I don't know but
the law is the law and you
are under arrest.

The following stanzas exhibit Dove's genius in narrative emotion. The lines build from the previous with precise and intricate descriptions of actions. Dove's manner of constructing the story is phenomenal and emotional without over-sentimentality. Her form compliments the strong attention to detail, until she earns the final image, the final standpoint. The poem's subject beams with intensity as we have journeyed with her, even through a metaphysical selection. Dove transcends perspective as the reader becomes part of the journey; a contributor and not just an observer. She elevates this journey of the human experience, with dramatic, delicate, and persistent force while opening the windows into/of individual beings. She jewels her culture by understanding and exhibiting the fragile nature of the human spirit.


1Rivera-Garza, Cristina. No One Will See Me Cry. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 2003. 10-63.