Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Shakespeare Poem by Rita Dove

Dove, Rita. "Shakespeare Say." Museum: Poems. Pittsburgh: Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1983. 33-34.

I've been wanting to continue in the vein of African-American poets writing with Shakespeare in mind, but end-of-the-semester madness has intervened. Still, I'm determined to call our collective attention to a couple poems by Rita Dove, U.S. Poet Laurate from 1993 to 1995.

"Shakespeare Say" was published ten years before Dove became poet laureate. I don't have too much in the way of explication of the poem, but I enjoy the feel of the poem—I feel some Langston Hughes here, though not in the imagery from German—and I'm very fond of these lines: "Shakespeare say / man must be / careful what he kiss / when he drunk" (41-44). The last few lines of the poem are also pretty magnificent.

Without much ado, here's Rita Dove's "Shakespeare Say."
Rita Dove (1952—     )

Shakespeare Say

He drums the piano wood,

Champion Jack in love
and in debt,
in a tan walking suit
with a flag on the pocket,
with a red eye
for women, with a
ear, with sand
in a mouthful of mush—

poor me
poor me
I keep on drifting
like a ship out
on the sea

That afternoon two students
from the Akademie
showed him the town.
Munich was misbehaving,
his ass to ice
while his shoes
soaked through. His guides
pointed at a clock
in a blue-tiled house.
And tonight

every song he sings
is written by Shakespeare
and his mother-in-law.
I love you, baby,
but it don’t mean
a goddam thing
In trouble

with every woman he’s
ever known, all of them
ugly—skinny legs, lie gap
waiting behind the lips
to suck him in.

Going down slow
crooning Shakespeare say
man must be
careful what he kiss
when he drunk
going down
for the third set
past the stragglers
at the bar,
the bourbon in his hand
some bitch’s cold
wet heart,
the whole joint

stinking on beer;
in love and winning
now, so even the mistakes
sound like jazz,
poor me, moaning
so no one hears:

my home’s in Louisiana,
my voice is wrong
I’m broke and can’t hold
my piss;
my mother told me
there’d be days like this

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Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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