Title: Playlist for the Apocalypse
Author: Rita Dove
Page Count: 113
Publication Date: 2021
I decided to start off 2022 with a book of poetry during the crisp chill of December when I found this collection of Rita Dove’s poems on the “Must-Reads of 2021” shelf at RoscoeBooks. While I like poetry, I’m no connoisseur of the genre, and had never heard of Rita Dove. I decided to give the collection a chance when saw the acclaimed title of “Pulitzer Prize Winner” below her name on the cover.
After doing a quick Google search before starting the book, I realized how little I know about the acclaimed names in current poetry. Rita Dove is a poetry pioneer for women of color. She was the second African American to ever receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (Gwendolyn Brooks being the first) and was the first African American to ever hold the title of United States Poet Laureate, which she held from 1993 to 1995. She also served as Consultant of Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1999/2000 and Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. She’s held many other celebrated positions in her life, but these were some that really jumped off the page to me.
This latest piece of her work contains 74 new poems, broken up into six sections:
- Time’s Arrow
- After Egypt
- Spring Cricket
- A Standing Witness
- Eight Angry Odes
- Little Book of Woe
Dove’s poems cover an array of topics, so she never fully pigeonholes herself into a specific style of poetry, which is refreshing. While some of her poems are very intellectual and go over my head, I find the way Dove presents her work very digestible for the masses. I especially found her notes section in the back of this book very useful. She gives insight into what inspired each section and even does a deep dive into specific poems, so definitely don’t skip over her notes when you decided to pick this title up and give it a read.
As I said in my last review of a poetry collection, I find the genre of poetry very difficult to judge. I have found a poem that spoke to me from each section and will dubbed one of the sections my favorite overall at the end of this review. Here are my favorites:
- “Vacation” (Time’s Arrow; pg. 19) – An energized observation of an airport boarding gate
- “Sarra’s Blues” (After Egypt; pg. 29) – A call-and-response poem honoring Jewish Italian poet and writer, Sarra Copia Sullam
- “The Spring Cricket Repudiates His Parable Negritude” (Spring Cricket; pg. 50-51) – A call-to-action for the ignorant
- “The Sunset Gates” (A Standing Witness; pg. 73) – A vocalization of the Statue of Liberty’s frustrations
- “Shakespeare Doesn’t Care” (Eight Angry Odes; pg. 84-85) – A witty poem analyzing the Bard
- “Voiceover” (Little Book of Woe; pg. 96-97) – An acceptance of how vast and painful reality can be
The fourth section in Dove’s book of poetry, A Standing Witness, was my favorite in the book. The poems focused on pivotal moments in American history from 1968 to the Trump Era. The collection is bookended by poems seen through the eyes of the Statue of Liberty. I found these poems to express a combination of frustration, jubilation, mourning, and wit. Spanning over fifty years of U.S. history, each poem strikes a cord and remembers moments in time that will never be forgotten.
In her notes section, Rita reveals that these poems were meant to be a part of a collaboration with composer Richard Danielpour. The world premiere of the collaboration was set to take place at the 2020 Tanglewood Music Festival but has been postponed due to COVID. I would love to see these poems performed live as intended and hope the collaboration can hit the road sooner rather than later.
I found Rita Dove’s book to be equal parts highbrow and lowbrow – she creates poems that the most tenured literature professor can enjoy alongside poems a standard American will understand. I respect and am impressed by her ability to reach across societal divides and unite us all in her words. I look froward to looking out for her next collection, whenever that may come.
You can purchase Playlist for the Apocalypse here if you are interested in reading. I will be reviewing The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah for the month of February, which you can purchase here if you’d like to read along. The review will be up February 27th. Stay tuned for this month’s florilegium, a poem formed from poems, coming out Sunday, January 30th! Happy reading!