Poets & Writers

A Poet a Day: Rita Dove

"The First Book"

A Poet a Day: Rita Dove

During these trying days of social distancing, self-isolating and quarantines, days rife with fear and anxiety, my colleagues and I thought you might like some company. So each day we will be introducing you to poets we have met over the years. The only contagion they will expose you to is a measure of joy, reflection and meditation brought on by “the best words in the best order.”
— Bill Moyers

A 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner for her collection Thomas and Beulah, Rita Dove became the youngest and first African American Poet Laureate of the United States and Consultant in Poetry in 1993. The next year, Bill Moyers interviewed her in an hour-long special. In this clip from that show, she talks about how much she loved reading as a child and reads her poem, “The First Book.”

“The First Book”

By Rita Dove

Open it.

Go ahead, it won’t bite.
Well … maybe a little.

More a nip, like. A tingle.
It’s pleasurable, really.

You see, it keeps on opening.
You may fall in.

Sure, it’s hard to get started;
remember learning to use

knife and fork? Dig in:
you’ll never reach bottom.

It’s not like it’s the end of the world–
just the world as you think

you know it.


Rita Dove’s numerous scholarly accomplishments also include serving as a White House Presidential Scholar and a Fulbright Scholar. On February 13, 2012, Dove was honored by President Obama with the 2011 National Medal of Arts.

Watch Bill’s 2012 interview with Rita Dove.

See all poets in the A Poet a Day Collection.