1. Rita Dove: On the Bus with Rosa Parks | 92Y Readings

    "So what if we were born up a creek and knocked flat with the paddle, if we ain’t got a pot to piss in and nowhere to put it if we did? Our situation is intolerable, but what’s worse is to sit here and do nothing. O yes. O mercy on our souls."

    Those are the words of the silver-tongued poet Rita Dove, who visited the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center in May, 1999 to read from her collection On the Bus with Rosa Parks. The passage comes from a poem titled “Our Situation is Intolerable” – and it’s one of a few that Dove read that night at 92Y.

    In observance of Black History Month, we’d like to share with our readers the chance to hear not only the beautiful words of Rita Dove, but also recordings of readings by other great black writers. Those readings – including James Earl Jones (reading the poetry of Walt Whitman), Chinua Achebe, Jamaica Kincaid, Derek Walcott, Lucille Clifton, Terrance Hayes and Yusef Komunyakaa – can be found at 92Y Poetry Center’s Virtual Poetry Center.

  2. In May of 1999, the 92Y Poetry Center celebrated its 60th anniversary with a gala reading. Appearing that night were Stanley Kunitz, Grace Paley, Edward Albee, Reynolds Price, Tony Kushner and Rita Dove, who read poems from her latest collection, On the Bus with Rosa Parks. In a note at the back of the book, Ms. Dove shared the origin of its title:

    “In 1995, during a convention in Williamsburg, Virginia, as the conferees were boarding buses to be driven to another site, my daughter leaned over and whispered, ‘Hey, we’re on the bus with Rosa Parks!’ Although the precipitating incident did not make it into a poem, the phrase haunted me—and so this meditation on history and the individual, image and essence was born. (By the way, Mrs. Parks took a seat in the front of the bus.)”
    This recording is Rita Dove’s reading from that evening.

    Ms. Dove returns to the Poetry Center this Thursday to read from her latest meditation on history and the individual, Sonata Mullatica, a book which reimagines the life and times of George Polgreen Bridgetower, a 19th-century violin virtuoso. She will be reading with Philip Levine, whose new collection is News of the World.

    Unterberg Poetry Center webcasts and access to our archive are made possible in part by the generous support of the Sidney E. Frank Foundation.