Rita Dove on Creating a ‘Collage of American Consciousness’ with Poetry

American poet Rita Dove. (Photo by Emaonn McCabe/Redferns)

At Columbia Journalism Review, Brendan Fitzgerald interviews Rita Dove on how she plans to approach her upcoming one-year stint as poetry editor at the New York Times Magazine. Taking over for Terrance Hayes this summer, Dove has free rein to select a new poem that will appear in the magazine each week, along with her short introduction. Dove is the fourth poet to hold the poetry editor position.

My first feeling is not to consider what might constitute the audience’s blinders. In other words, to assume that they are going to be open—that’s for the first read. Something that moves me, I will immediately put into the pile to be considered later.

But there is something else to consider, and that’s something I’ve thought about a lot. That is to imagine what my audience’s lives might be like when they’re not reading my poem. What they bring to whatever venue or event or magazine. To imagine how much time or energy they can devote, and how to pull them in.

I would hope that what would emerge would be a kind of portrait or collage of American consciousness. Which means, there would be poets from the west as well as the east coast as well as the middle, and men and women, and that would shake out, hopefully, to some kind of parity, representative of what the population is like at large. Poems from all races and all cultural ethnicities. But there will not be bad poems because I need a woman or I need an African-American. No. There are so many amazing, beautiful poems out there that we don’t get to see. That’s going to be my goal. Bring a few of them out there.

Read the interview