“I’ve had a whole lifetime of song. It had been so long since I had published a book. In a way, I think I was trying to make myself into a child again, someone who was learning how to walk again.”
– Rita Dove
All the big events in our lives have soundtracks – weddings, road trips, summer vacations and parties – so why not the apocalypse? In her first new book of poetry in 12 years, “Playlist For The Apocalypse,” Rita Dove presents a piercing, beautiful, and mordantly humorous collection of songs to carry us through any present-day, end-of-days mood and deliver us renewed and hopeful on the other side. (Apocalypse also means revelation.) As one of our nation’s best-known poets, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, former U.S. Poet Laureate, recipient of 28 honorary doctorate degrees, and the only poet ever honored with both the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal of Arts, she’s the perfect DJ for the job.
Comprising three decades of new and selected works, commissioned and special project pieces, and poignant revelations, her expansive book explores the crossroads of history, democracy, race, family and memory – and moves, as any good playlist should, with fascinating rhythm through linked thematic sections. In one section of poems, she traces the word origins of “ghetto” back to 16th century Venice; another covers 50-odd years of American unrest from the perspective of the Statue of Liberty; while still another follows a spring cricket ruminating on hip-hop, critics and Valentine’s Day. No matter the subject, Dove shines at persona poems – rich music to magnify the marginalized, sing the unsung, and illuminate the dark corners of history through the spirits and voices of others.
In the final section, “Little Book of Woe,” Dove turns profoundly personal as she confronts her own multiple sclerosis, a 25-year secret never divulged or publicly written about. The poems she uses to reveal daily life managing her condition – re-learning to walk and write – are tender and inspiring. Even in dark times, she maintains a sense of play and optimism in her work. It’s her music of humanity that makes this playlist necessary, and makes Rita Dove one of our national treasures.