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May 14, 2009
Rita Dove on Writing

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove spoke at the Crest Theatre Wednesday, reading excerpts from her new book, "Sonata Mulattica."

The book tells -- in poems -- the tale of a young, talented biracial musician, George Bridgetower, befriended and then cut off by Beethoven just over 200 years ago.

But when the audience asked Dove questions at the end of her talk, they hinged more on her creative process than on the the lives of the characters she depicted in her poetic work.

How did she put the poems together? How did she write when she created a work in collaboration with the composer John Williams? Why did she structure her book -- a set of distinct poems on the Bridgetower story -- the way that she did? What did she do as Poet Laureate?

Those were the questions she was asked. And one more, asked by a sixth-grader: "Do you have a suggestion for someone like me to write a character like you do?"

"The first thing I suggest is, well, you have to read," Dove said, answering the youngster. She also recommended the would-be writer should create an impromptu group with others who liked to write. And "to love the sound of words."

Dove told of the genesis of the book. She and her husband were watching a movie of Beethoven's life and saw a black violinist, shown just in passing. "I just googled 'black violinist Beethoven,'" she said. "Really."

That's how she came up with Bridgetower. Initially she planned only a small number of poems, but as she learned more the project grew.

She described how she wanted to bring to life the different characters in Bridgetower's life, which required poems from different viewpoints, in different forms, even a farcical play at one point.

It makes the whole, "fragmented" she said, a series of reflections like a mirrored dance ball. "I never thought I'd compare my book to a mirrored dance ball."

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