(Masterpieces of American Literature)

On the surface, Grace Notes might almost seem to be a kind of poetic autobiography. As a book, it is neatly divided into five discrete sections, and this five-part format corresponds, in a general way, to phases in Dove’s life. The first section deals with childhood memories, the second with her thirtieth birthday, and the third with her daughter, Aviva. The last sections, however, do not seem to follow this pattern of personal evolutionary growth, at least not on first reading. Sections 4 and 5 contain poems with such titles as “Ars Poetica,” “Medusa,” “Genie’s Prayer Under the Kitchen Sink,” “Obbligato,” and “Lint.” Yet these poems also represent part of the artistic evolution of the poet, because the most sophisticated growth occurs on the spiritual and artistic planes. The final poems thus reveal general truths about art discovered by personal meditation on items as ordinary and ubiquitous as lint.

Grace Notes is such a remarkable example of poetic craftsmanship that it might almost serve as a textbook for literary devices. Similes and metaphors abound in this little masterpiece. In the poem titled “Hully Gully,” the moon is “riding the sky/ like a drop of oil on water.” In “Horse and Tree,” the entire poem becomes a complex metaphor linking horses and trees; the rider of a beautiful tree-horse experiences the magical sensation of “hair blown to froth.”

Many of the poems in...

(The entire section is 527 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

In Grace Notes, Rita Dove explores the implications of being an African American who is prepared to step forward into a world broader than any limiting labels would suggest. Many poems focus on the relationship between her biracial child and herself, revealing how the child discovers and accepts these differences. Others show the daughter learning what it means to become a woman. Still other poems question the effect that the development of identity can have on the artist.

Dove sets the stage with the first poem, “Summit Beach, 1921,” which examines the risk of being at the edge of development. A girl watches her friends dance as she rests her broken leg. She had climbed to the top of her father’s shed, then stepped off. Dove shows that the girl wants to date but that her father had discouraged her. This poem suggests that the search for identity does not occur without risks because the search involves making choices.

Married to a German, Dove’s daughter learns to belong in both worlds. “Genetic Expedition” contains images which delve into the physical differences between the black mother and her biracial child. Beginning with images of her own body, Dove mentions that she resembles pictures of natives in the National Geographic more than she does her own daughter. Because of the National Geographic’s sensual, naked women, her father had not allowed the children to read the magazine. While Dove...

(The entire section is 447 words.)