Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

The Artist's Responsibility

BOND: Do you think about your responsibility as a leader?

DOVE: When I write, I don't think about it at all. When I put down my pen, I think about it. There are poems which I've written which I will show no one because they might hurt someone or because I think that I'm not even ready to ferret out all of the misunderstandings that might arise because of it, but mostly it's because of personal — I'm not going to drag someone else into the limelight. I think an artist is responsible to their art to do it as well as possible and to be as honest as possible. That can lead to uncomfortable and even conflicting emotions. I think an artist is not supposed to only glorify. That's not real. Also, art to protest all the time, that's not real, but to [laughs] tell it like it is in all of that, all of its ways, so when I write, I'm not thinking of an audience. I'm not thinking of reception because that can scare away things. That can scare away the revelations that might be hard to present.

BOND: It seems to me there are two things in what you do: there's you who do it and the audience, the reader, or the listener, in some cases. I think I read something about Elizabeth Bishop and some poems that she had written that were published after she died that she clearly did not want to have published. Is there a Rita Dove archive somewhere that a hundred years hence will be published and you'll be shouting down from poetry heaven — don't do those? Is that going to happen to you?

DOVE: It's not going to happen to me because I think that I have made this pact I guess with myself that even if the things that I haven't published I want people to see eventually when I'm dead. I might put like time limits on things to make sure that it doesn't hurt anyone else, but to see the entire artist, all of the conflicting things and the things that I will say and argue with myself and the fury of unformed or unfinished poems. I want them to see the entire artist. So often, people will come up and imagine that I have it all under control, that I can think of the right word at the drop of a hat and it's not that. It's messy and frustrating and they need to see the whole artist but not yet. I'll let them deal with the messiness.

BOND: But, see, however messy it is, you get it done.

DOVE: Well, yeah. But that's what — Yeah, I guess that's what someone — I was going to say, that's what people are supposed to do. I mean, yeah, I get it done.