American Smooth: Poems

Rita Dove

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove’s eighth book takes its title from a phrase she coined to describe a style of ballroom dancing, and many of the poems reflect the rhythms of American dance music. As usual, Dove covers a lot of ground in these poems. One section, “Not Welcome Here,” has a long series of poems that explore the experiences of the first black American combat troops in World War I. Another section, “Twelve Chairs,” will be of local interest: It contains a series of “found” poems, adapted from carvings on the backs of 12 marble chairs installed as public art at the federal courthouse in Sacramento. Dove is at her best with narrative poems; among the finest in this collection is “Hattie McDaniel Arrives at the Coconut Grove,” about the first African-American to win an Oscar.