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
In this clip from Bill Moyers’ 2012 interview with former US Poet Laureate Rita Dove, they talk about Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen. “They think Langston Hughes and they forget that Countee Cullen was right there,” she says. Dove reads Cullen’s poem “Incident,” which is, as Dove says, “a heart-wrenching poem about how prejudice and racial hatred can impact someone at a young age.”
By Countee Cullen
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December:
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.
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.