There was a big to-do about poet Rita Dove while I attended the University of Virginia from 2002-2006. She was a tenured professor there, but she had just been named Poet Laureate of Virginia (after being named Poet Laureate of the U.S. about a decade prior), and I remember there being a kind of hallowed hush about her in the corridors of Bryant Hall, home of the English Department, which aptly overlooks the amphitheatre just off The Lawn. I say “aptly” because Bryant Hall, in other words, countenances — hosts, courts! — performance, which is more or less what I learned to do while studying literature there. Pursuing English at the University of Virginia pronated me toward experiencing art in new, more open ways.
Anyhow, I guess I was not yet fully pronated, as one of my big academic regrets — aside from shying away from collegiate-level coursework in mathematics — is not finding a way to take or at least audit one of Professor Dove’s courses. College is such a ridiculous glut of intellectual richness. Had I been more disciplined, or more aware of how quickly the experience would end, I could have simply walked into one of her lectures and taken the course “for free.” Just listened. Just sat in the presence of one of the great poets of our generation.
I am pleased, however, that I had the foresight to attend a poetry reading by Seamus Heaney held in a small white church off Rugby Road in 2005. The evening is forever imprinted on my memory. It was standing room only, and you could have heard a pin drop, so entranced were we by the incantatory rhythm of his voice, the way it turned sing-song, then muckish. I still consider that path-crossing one of the greatest experiences of my intellectual life. I was electrified; I still am.
I am electrified, in a different way, by this poem by Rita Dove, which is as good a reminder as any that “nothing changes if nothing changes.” Each day is a second chance, an empty page; get up and go. Or, as we fashion it here: “Onward, Magpies–!” I can almost smell those prodigal biscuits…!
By Rita Dove
Imagine you wake up
with a second chance: The blue jay
hawks his pretty wares
and the oak still stands, spreading
glorious shade. If you don’t look back,
the future never happens.
How good to rise in sunlight,
in the prodigal smell of biscuits –
eggs and sausage on the grill.
The whole sky is yours
to write on, blown open
to a blank page. Come on,
shake a leg! You’ll never know
who’s down there, frying those eggs,
if you don’t get up and see.
+You can hear Professor Dove read the poem herself here. 90% of the time, I enjoy listening to the poets read their own work, and find the audio experience additive. There is a small sliver that ruin the experience for me — ha!
+Every morning, a million miracles are born.
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