Tag Archives: Rita Dove

Deformation of Rita Dove’s “Adolescence–I”

Original:

In water-heavy nights behind grandmother’s porch
We knelt in the tickling grasses and whispered:
Linda’s face hung before us, pale as a pecan,
And it grew wise as she said:
        “A boy’s lips are soft,
        As soft as baby’s skin.”
The air closed over her words.
A firefly whirred near my ear, and in the distance
I could hear streetlamps ping
Into miniature suns
Against a feathery sky.

Deformation:

On snow-flurried days behind the school

We leaned against the frozen swings and gabbed:

Allie poised before us, her neck masked by a hickey,

” A boy’s lips are soft, As soft as a baby’s skin.”

The air closed over her words.

A cold wind scraped my cheeks, and in the distance

I could hear the lunch bell of The High School ping.

 

Adolescence is a human experience. Though the possible settings and durations are infinite, the emotions are shared.  I interpreted Rita Dove’s “Adolescence–I” as her own flashback. Crouched in the field of her Grandmother’s Ohio home, childhood began to escape her.

I did not grow up in Ohio, I had never seen a firefly until my first year at Uva. Still, I know this story. I remember Allie proudly tugging at the collar of her parka to reveal that hickey. The swings seemed to begin to creek and buckle under our weight that day. No longer did we race undirected, undeterred by those Buffalo winters, over and under the wooden bridge and tire stacks of recess. We instead stood huddled together, quenching each others curious minds with anything stolen, overheard, or explicit.

I peered over the couch while my older sister screened The OC. Leah got a Myspace. Kayla snagged her Mom’s Cosmo. Allie has a hickey.

It was the start of a new race, towards adulthood. A prize that doesn’t glimmer just as sweetly as we had thought it would.

 

 

 

 

 

Deformation of Rita Dove’s Adolescence-I

Original text: Entire Poem

 

Deformation:

In water-heavy nights behind grandmother’s porch

We knelt in the grasses and whispered:

Linda’s face hung before us,

And it grew wise as she said:

“A boys lips are soft,”

The air closed over her words

A firefly whirred near my ear, and in the distance

I could hear streetlamps ping

Against a feathery sky.

For my deformation, I took out every simile and metaphor that Rita Dove uses in her original poem Adolescence-I. As I was reading the poem, her figurative language really stuck out to me. Each comparison added to the sense of innocence in the young girls who were in the poem. As an experiment, I wanted to see how the poem would read without each of these specific sections.

What I found was that the poem reads just fine, but the characterization of the girls is completely thrown off. The first word that I took out of the poem was the word “tickling” used to personify the grass. In the original text this immediately gives the poem a playful tone. The reader can feel exactly how the grass feels to the girls in the poem. However, if one were to read it just as “We knelt in the grass” the mood is entirely different. The reader would never get the sense of the childish innocence that the original has.

Second, I removed the comparison of the young girl’s face with a pale pecan. Without this description the face would simply be “hung before us” and does not add anything to the characterization of the girl. Reading about the face just hanging before them puts the poem in a rather somber mood. With the simile about the paleness of her face however, a sense of purity and virtue is bestowed upon the girl.

Lastly, I removed the simile comparing the boy’s lips to the soft skin of a baby. In this poem, Rita Dove depicts a scene of a group young girls inquiring about a boy’s lips. The reader can almost feel how intently the rest of the girls are listening and how fascinated they are with this description. The conversation goes only as far as describing his lips- a tame inquiry revealing how innocent and pure these young girls are. Without this tame description of his lips, the reader’s mind could wonder and there would be no telling where the line “A boy’s lips are soft” could take them. However, it simply ends with this pure simile without having to go past the physical nature of his lips.

 

Introduction to Rita Dove

Rita Dove’s poetry is greatly influenced by her real life experiences, as well as Shakespeare, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Heinriech Heine. Dove was born in Akron, Ohio, on August 28, 1952 to Ray Dove (the first African-American chemist to work in the U.S. tire industry) and Elvira Hord. She has two younger sisters and an older brother. Dove says, “my parents instilled in us the feeling that learning was the most exciting thing that could happen to you, and it never ends, and isn’t that great.” She discovered her gift for word manipulation in early childhood. “I wrote, but I always thought it was something that you did as a child, then you put away childish things. I thought it was something I would do for fun. I didn’t know writers could be real live people, because I never knew any writers.”

After earning a National Merit Scholarship and ranking among the Nation’s top 100 high school seniors in 1970, she accepted a Presidential Scholarship to the University of Miami, where she pursued poetry. She completed her education on a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Tübingen in Germany. While she was a teaching fellow at the Writer’s Workshop of the University of Iowa, she earned an M.F.A. in creative writing.

In 1979, Dove married novelist Fred Viebahn, a translator of German editions of her works. They have one daughter. Shortly after the marriage, she published “The Only Dark Spot in the Sky” (1980) and a poetic slave memoir entitled “The Yellow House on the Corner” (1980).

Dove taught creative writing at Arizona State University and received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1987. In 1992 she was named United States Poet Laureate by the Librarian of Congress. At age 40, Dove was the youngest person to hold the position and the first African American to hold the Poet Laureate position, due to the recent title change.

Dove reached literary maturity when she published a forty-four-poem tribute to her grandparents entitled “Thomas and Beulah.” It won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, which was the first prize awarded to a black female since Gwendolyn Brooks’ last won it in 1950. President Bill Clinton presented her with the 1996 National Humanities Medal, the highest honor for scholars. In addition, President Barack Obama presented her with the 2011 National Medal of Arts, making her the only poet to hold both the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal of Arts. Dove has twenty four honorary doctorates, earning her fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Humanities Center. She and her family live in Charlottesville, VA, where she currently teaches at UVA.

 

Deformation of Rita Dove’s “Parsley”

Original: Entire original text

Deconstruction:

Someone

calls out his name in a voice

so like his mother’s, a startled tear

splashes the tip of his right boot.

 

The knot in his throat starts to twitch;

Mi madle, mi amol en muelte

My mother, my love in death

 

Ever since the morning

his mother collapsed in the kitchen

while baking skull-shaped candies

for the Day of the Dead, the general

has hated sweets.

 

The knot in his throat starts to twitch;

Mi madle, mi amol en muelte

My mother, my love in death

 

He sees his boots the first day in battle

splashed with mud and urine

as a soldier falls at his feet amazed

 

The knot in his throat starts to twitch;

Mi madle, mi amol en muelte

My mother, my love in death

 

The general

pulls on his boots, he stomps to

her room in the palace

As he paces he wonders

Who can I kill today.

 

For my deformation, I chose to focus on The General’s backstory, because I found this entire portion of the poem to be a very interesting addition. In the first portion of the story, The Cane Fields, The General is depicted as this capital G, strange, mysterious, and seemingly malicious character. He is abruptly brought into the story in the line, “El General/searches for a word/he is all the world there is” (Dove 4-6), leaving the reader questioning who is this mysterious, important figure? El General’s character is then further depicted as evil through the imagery in the line, “El General has found his word: perejil/Who says it, lives. He laughs, teeth shining/out of the swamp” (13-15). Here, he is illustrated as a monster, emerging from the swamp, sadistically laughing at the pain and horror he has caused. Thus throughout the entirety of the first portion of the poem, not much is known about The General besides the fact that he is mysterious and that he seems to be evil.

Yet, it is very interesting to take note of the backstory provided to the reader in the second portion of the poem, The Palace, and that is why I focused on it in my deformation. In this portion of the poem, the author in a way reaches into the psyche of El General, looking at his past and his relationship with his mother and in this way brings humanness to the general that was completely missed in the first portion of the poem. I thought it was interesting that in stringing various lines together from the second portion of the poem, I was able to create a backstory of The General’s that made him seem more human, that gave him a disturbed and sad past, and thus made him seem, perhaps even, deserving of sympathy. Yet I ended the deformation with the abrupt line “As he paces he wonders/Who can I kill today”, to bring back the reality of the evilness that El General bestows upon the people. This points to the aspect of the ambiguity of evil – one is easily able to mark something as being evil, but the reality is that things are not simply black and white. Obviously this general is sadistic and indeed brings suffering and death to many underserving of it, yet the backstory portion provides the reader with personal knowledge of The General, prompting them to view him in a different light, with a different perspective.

 

 

Deconstruction of Rita Dove’s “Adolescence—I”

Original:

Entire original text.

 

Deconstructed:

In water-heavy nights

In the tickling grasses

The air closed over

Fireflies whirred, near,

Into miniature suns

Against a feathery sky.

 

Behind grandmother’s porch

We knelt and whispered:

Linda’s face hung before us, pale as a pecan,

And it grew wise as she said: 

      “A boy’s lips are soft,

     As soft as a baby’s skin.”

Her words, my ear.

And in the distance I could hear streetlamps ping.

 

In this deconstruction, I choose to take out things that aren’t usually considered natural and separate them from the things that would be considered more natural. While humans are natural, their presence in nature isn’t (in most cases) natural. By this I mean: humans usually feel out of place when being out in nature (out of something with a roof). Likewise, nature generally tends to seem out of place in a human’s domain. Separating the pome to read the nature and human worlds separately, instead of together, goes along with one of Dove’s styles of displacement and “borders of two different worlds.” Although one can happen in the other, they are ultimately two separate worlds that just happen to be encompassing of the same world.

 

Further, we see two different things happening in the poem. We see coming of age and curiosity of the children(?) as they discuss lips and probably other sexual related things. But we also see individual pieces of nature doing whatever it is that nature should be doing. Dover however makes them interacting with one another but never become part of one another. For instance, “the air closed over her words” and “a firefly whirred near my ear” show interaction, but change and borders to each individual world.

Deformation of Rita Dove’s “Parsley”

The original text is the whole poem.

Deformed text:

There is a parrot imitating spring / in the palace, its feathers parsley green.

Like a parrot imitating spring, we lie down screaming as rain punches through/ and we come up green.”

There is a parrot imitating spring.

The general/ pulls on his boots, he stomps to / her room in the palace, the one without/ curtains, the one with a parrot / in a brass ring.

The parrot, who has traveled/ all the way from Australia in an ivory/ cage, is, coy as a widow, practising spring.

He orders pastries/ brought up for the bird; they arrive/ dusted with sugar on a bed of lace.

Even / a parrot can roll an R! In the bare room/ the bright green feathers arch in a parody/ of greenery, as the last pale crumbs/ disappear under the blackened tongue.

For my deformation I took out all the sentences that were about the parrot and looked at their development.  This parrot is present throughout the poem and I found it strange in comparison to the rest of the poem that is more narrative. It is obviously an important image because Dove brings it up over and over again.  I think the parrot lines are sort of a story within the larger plot of the poem and you have to isolate the lines about it and see how it parallels and relates to the main plot. What does it mean that the parrot is imitating spring? I interpret the words “imitating,” “parody,” and “practicing” as the parrot trying to be a thing of beauty and life, like spring, but its just a bird in a cage in a curtained room.  Trujillo’s actions of slaughtering many black Haitians may have been seen as a sort of rebirth of the society of the Dominican Republic, something maybe he sees as beautiful but in reality it is just awful and sad.  The parrot could be a symbol for the black Haitians, who came to the Dominican Republic from Haiti, like the parrot came from Australia; both are foreigners.  The parrot is also in a cage, like being enslaved and under the control of its owner, the Haitians are enslaved in a sense by their work in cane fields.  The bird is “parsley green” with a “blackened tongue.”  To me, this contrast shows the outward appearance of beauty, like greenery in the spring, but on the inside it is blackened and lifeless.  The General values this bird more than he values the lives of people he deems as lesser than himself because they can’t pronounce the r in perejil. But just because the bird can pronounce the word, doesn’t mean it has any meaning, its just superficial imitation, an arbitrary way to decide if someone should live or die.  In the context of the poem as a whole the bird as the General’s pet makes him more human, while at the same time, the parrot seems to parallel the tragic situation of the black Haitians living in the Dominican Republic.

 

Deconstruction of Rita Dove’s “Adolescence-I”

Original text: 

In water-heavy nights behind grandmother’s porch

We knelt in the tickling grasses and whispered:

Linda’s face hung before us, pale as a pecan,

And it grew wise as she said: 

      “A boy’s lips are soft,

     As soft as a baby’s skin.”

The air closed over her words. 

A firefly whirred near my ear, and in the distance

I could hear streetlamps ping

Into miniature suns

Against a feathery sky.

Deconstruction:

Tickling, whispered,

“A boy’s lips are soft, 

As soft as baby’s skin.”

Whirred, feathery. 

I chose to do the deconstruction of this poem by selecting the words of the original poem that created the most sensual images and juxtaposing them before and after the statement on which the poem focuses. I left Linda’s description intact because I feel that it is the centerpiece of the poem. To me, the entire poem describes the innocent curiosity of young adolescent girls gossiping about what a boy’s lips taste and feel like. The original poem is neatly divided into three apparent sections; the first describing the scene, the second is Linda’s secret, and the third describing the narrator’s reaction to the secret. There is a sense of enchantment throughout the poem as the young girls lacking experience with boys listen intently to the one with knowledge of such things.  The “tickling grasses” and whispers of Linda (Line 2) provide an image of innocent sensuality and anticipation. Following her rather elementary description, (“soft, as soft as baby’s skin” (5-6)) the poem’s narrator is captivated by her imagination. Dove does not invite us into the narrator’s thoughts at this time, but we can understand what she is thinking based on her description of her surroundings. The air is suddenly lost and the fireflies begin to whir. The sky appears “feathery” (10) rather than “water-heavy” (1) after being entrusted with the description of a boy’s lips. Overall, I thought this poem gives a subtly intense look inside the mind of an adolescent girl, not by directly describing her thoughts, but by providing alluring descriptions of her surroundings before and after her first exposure to any kind of sexual interaction, no matter how innocent.