Rita Dove

3 posts

“Go on. Get on, girl.”


This week’s New York Times Magazine poem, selected by Rita Dove, is “One-Way Gate” by Jenny George. I immediately liked the poem, but I cheered even more when I read the brief bio stating that “Jenny George is a poet whose debut collection, The Dream of Reason, was published last year by Copper Canyon Press.”

“Debut” and “Copper Canyon Press” in the same sentence? Very, meet impressive! That’s a top-of-the-line poetry publisher, so breaking through is worthy of all available kudos (“All kudos on deck!” as was once said).

Now back to the poem. As it is, like us, set in January (take a look out your window if you need any reminders), and as it features lines where the speaker looks one way while the cattle look another, one can’t help but think of Janus, the Roman god famous for being two-faced.

Sounds bad, but is he any different from the rest of us, looking both to the past and to the future, regretting on the one hand and hoping on the other? Just don’t tell the Buddhists with their “PRESENT” pennants, will you?

Reading this poem, one can see why Jenny George might catch an editor’s eye. For one, her topic is unique. For another, she has an interesting facility with words and the underlying thoughts that marry them.

For a taste, let’s read “One-Way Gate” together and then run back through the gate because, unlike the cattle, we can.


One-Way Gate
by Jenny George

I was moving the herd from the lower pasture
to the loading pen up by the road.
It was cold and their mouths steamed like torn bread.
The gate swung on its wheel, knocking at the herd
as they pushed through. They stomped
and pocked the freezing mud with their hooves.
This was January. I faced backward into the hard year.
The herd faced forward as the herd always does,
muscling through the lit pane of winter air.

It could have been any gate, any moment when things go
one way and not the other — an act of tenderness
or a small, cruel thing done with a pocketknife.
A child being born. Or the way we move
from sleeping to dreams, as a river flows uneasy under ice.

Of course, nothing can ever be returned to exactly.
In the pen the herd nosed the fence and I forked them hay.
A few dry snowflakes swirled the air. The truck would be there
in an hour. Hey, good girl. Go on. Get on, girl.


In S1, I just love the simile, “It was cold and their mouths steamed like torn bread.” It’s one of those “stops-me” similes. What the…? Torn bread? But wait, I kind of get it. There’s slant rhyme and there’s “slant simile” (and if there wasn’t, I just made it up, so now there is.)

Torn white bread! Maybe circa 19 Wonder-Bread-Three. Like steam “tearing loose” from the mouth in the winter air. Get it?

Then, at the end of the stanza, the herd is seen “muscling through the lit pane of winter air.” Not as high on the Wowzer Scale, but still very nice indeed.

S3, which follows the middle stanza’s more philosophical turn, brings us back to concrete details. It’s one of those deadpan, “life is just so banal, but…” finishes. Nothing spectacular or catchy,  instead going for effect through the sheer simplicity of moving dumb beasts that are juxtaposed to a one-way gate of fate. These poor beasts don’t know the quarter of it (or should I say, the “quarter pound with cheese” of it?).

All that banal stuff only heightens the impact of those parting words: “Hey, good girl. Go on. Get on, girl.” Alas, the time to “get on” comes for all of us, eventually.

Our truck will be waiting someday. As will a market in the sky….

Salad Days for Poetry: They’ve Arrived


As Shakespeare would say (and did in Act I, Scene 5, of his 1606 play, Antony & Cleopatra) these are “salad days” for poetry.

No, he didn’t mention the poetry part, just the salad days part, through the mouth of the beautiful Cleopatra reminiscing about her foolish, younger (read: greener) days.

Over time the foolish part has fallen off the salad, leaving the younger part, so “salad days” (the green of youth, which we have a tendency to worship) now indicate a good thing.

The New York Times Magazine, a Sunday staple in this house, is an example of salad days for poetry, but it’s not the only evidence to be seen. The poetry renaissance is partly due to political events in the U.S. Political poetry, once frowned upon, is very much in style these days. And the voices of minority poets have flourished in recent years thanks to the oppressive policies of the very vanilla and very wealthy powers-that-be.

But back to the Times Magazine. For over three years now they’ve been publishing poetry. One poem a week. Formerly curated by Terrance Hayes, Natasha Tretheway, and Matthew Zapruder, the honor is now Rita Dove’s, who recently assumed the title of “Poetry Editor.”

It’s viewable on-line in the Magazine section. Check it out Sundays. This week’s entry, about a couple in the Puerto Rican countryside, reads like a side of salad. It’s written by the very cooly named poet Blas Falconer. I leave the dressing to you:


“A man and a woman touched”
by Blas Falconer

at night under stairs,
pinball machines ringing, and,
Sundays, he drove her to

the springs of Coamo, the chapel of
San Germán. Had she ever known
happiness? The road
littered with mangos seemed

to go on
forever. She thought,
The people can’t eat

them fast enough,
as if she were not
one of those people.


Ah, love and sadness. And mangos. And salad days growing exactly where you want them—in as many broad circulation periodicals as possible.

T. G. I. M., people. Greens are good for you. And all of us. Even very vanilla and very wealthy powers-that-be, if only they’d partake.



There’s still time before Christmas! Give a little salad to a language lover you know!

Riddle Me This


Good news: Poetry continues to work its way back into everyday media. Or every weekend media, anyway, as evidenced by the New York Times Magazine, a Sunday insert that includes a poem selected by Rita Dove each week.

Yesterday, the magazine included an Elizabeth Spires poem. I’m going to hold back on the title to see if you can guess what it’s about. Game? Good. Here we go:


A shirt I was born in.
I wear it. Or it wears me.
White, of course.

A loose fit.
Growing as I grow
but slowly going dull.

It must be washed
once, twice, three times,
then hung to dry.

There, can you see it?
Hanging high
on the hill.

Waving its arms
in the wind. Beckoning.
Sun shining through.


I don’t know about you, but as I read it yesterday, I thought it sounded like a poem for children. One of those puzzle poems. One of those here-are-the-clues, now-see-if-you-can-guess-what-I-am deals. Sold at Personifications R Us. Aisle 6. Bottom shelf (where wee ones can see riddles rolling among the dust bunnies). Where teachers buy poems without titles and put students on the hunt.

If you haven’t guessed already, it’s about your immortal (thinking the best here) soul and carries the title “Picture of a Soul.”

Nice, but nicer still is the quote Dove alludes to in the short introduction. It’s a Wallace Stevens bit I’d never heard before: “the poet is the priest of the invisible.”

I wonder if someone has stolen that for a book title yet. Or is it too cheeky? Priest of the Invisible: Poems. I’ll check with Dewey, then Decimal, and get back to  you.

Until then, Happy Indigenous Peoples Day!