December 10, 2000
Green Eyed Handsome Man
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I can't ever be black. No matter what I read or try to understand, I will never fully understand the black experience in America. I am not alone, however, and many Americans find themselves unable to fully understand each other. Thomas and Beulah by Rita Dove offers works of poetry that can be used to help understand the black experience in America. As a reader, I wanted to be able to feel the poetry in the way that the author intended for it to be felt. Poetry elicits feelings in the people who read it, but what a readers feel depends on their perspectives.
I want to show that Rita Dove's collection of poetry creates more intense feelings in those who understand the people and places in her poetry. The poems may be universal in many aspects, but how a reader responds is affected greatly by the reader's own past experiences. I want to show that my past experiences allow me to read Dove's poems with a closeness that many whites, and really many Americans, would not have. I also must acknowledge that I cannot read the poetry as if I were a black person, which I am not, though I have lived through situations similar to those depicted by Dove. I will use my past immersion in the African American community, as well as my experiences living in a large northern city in order to demonstrate the importance of Dove's poems to blacks who have come North. Rita Dove's Thomas and Beulah has a number of poems that speak to the black population, but I will examine three poems that speak to my experiences in ways that create powerful emotions within myself. These emotions can include fear, hatred, and frustration, but also love and understanding. I will look at "The Satisfaction Coal Company," "Under the Viaduct, 1932," and "Gospel."