Ars Poetica by RITA DOVE


Thirty miles to the only decent restaurant

was nothing, a blink

in the long dull stare of Wyoming.

Halfway there the unknown but terribly

important essayist yelled Stop!

I wanna be in this; and walked

fifteen yards onto the land

before sky bore down and he came running,

crying Jesus--there’s nothing out there!

I once met an Australian novelist

who told me he never learned to cook

because it robbed creative energy.

What he wanted most was

to be mute; he stacked up pages;

he entered each day with an ax.

What I want is this poem to be small,

a ghost town

on the larger map of wills.

Then you can pencil me in as a hawk:

a traveling x-marks-the-spot.

From “Grace Notes: Poems” (W. W. Norton: $9.95, paper). Rita Dove won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for “Thomas and Beulah”; she teaches writing at the University of Virginia. 1989 Rita Dove. Reprinted with permission.