As a Pulitzer Prize winner and former Poet Laureate of the United States, Rita Dove is among the most accomplished and recognizable poets of our time. Her collections of poetry include Thomas and Beulah, American Smooth, and, most recently, Sonata Mulattica, an ambitious and fascinating poetic recreation of the life of George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, a mixed-race violinist born in 1780 in Vienna.
In this recording from the 2010 Key West Literary Seminar, Dove delivers a reading and talk entitled “How Does a Shadow Shine?” In it, she reads excerpts from Sonata Mulattica and discusses her motivation in applying poetic language and intensity to the strange life and times of the violinist Bridgetower, whose prodigious talents and exotic ethnicity were exploited by his showman father to considerable commercial and creative success. We learn of Bridgetower’s relationship with the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven, whose Violin Sonata No. 9 was originally written for Bridgetower, and we hear poems including “Prologue of the Rambling Sort,” “Disappearance,” “The Wardrobe Lesson,” “Black Billy Waters at his Pitch,” “Ludwig van Beethoven’s Return to Vienna,” “Cambridge, Great Saint Mary’s Church,” and “The End, with MapQuest”
From KWLS 2010: Clearing the Sill of the World