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The Folger Spotlight

Poetic Pairings: Rita Dove and Ragana Bianco PetNat

Shakespeare’s Sisters: Say Her Name celebrates the poetry of Black women in America. This virtual seminar and writing workshop for adults explores poets such as June Jordan, Ai, Lucille Clifton, Rita Dove, Tracy K. Smith and others. From the Black Arts Movement to Cave Canem to recent Poet Laureates, these poets speak to the contemporary moment with many still alive and producing work.

We are pleased to bring you a special collaboration with DCanter wines, pairing a poem from the Shakespeare’s Sisters curriculum with a recommended wine each Monday of the seminar. Folger Poetry Coordinator and Shakespeare’s Sisters co-leader Teri Cross Davis provides context for the choices.

This week, Shakespeare’s Sisters begins to explore contemporary poetry, looking at poets who are experimental, combining forms and reinventing old methods. Among those is this week’s featured poet Rita Dove, U.S. Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995, and Special Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress during their bicentennial year of 1999 to 2000. She is the second African-American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and was appointed Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia from 2004 to 2006.  Among her many honors, Dove is the recipient of a National Humanities Medal, the National Medal of the Arts, a Library of Virginia Lifetime Achievement Award, a Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, an NAACP Image Award in Poetry, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, the North Star Award for lifetime achievement from the Hurston-Wright Foundation, and 28 honorary doctorates. She is currently the Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

American Smooth
by Rita Dove

We were dancing—it must have
been a foxtrot or a waltz,
something romantic but
requiring restraint,
rise and fall, precise
execution as we moved
into the next song without
stopping, two chests heaving
above a seven-league
stride—such perfect agony,
one learns to smile through,
ecstatic mimicry
being the sine qua non
of American Smooth.
And because I was distracted
by the effort of
keeping my frame
(the leftward lean, head turned
just enough to gaze out
past your ear and always
smiling, smiling),
I didn’t notice
how still you’d become until
we had done it
(for two measures?
four?)—achieved flight,
that swift and serene
before the earth
remembered who we were
and brought us down.

The effervescence of dance mirrors the effervescence of sparkling wine. How, when you achieve the right momentum with the right partner, dancing becomes flying . . . and who wants to come down from that? To keep that feeling going, our friends at DCanter recommend Il Mostro Ragana Bianco PetNat 2020.

Il Mostro Ragana Bianco PetNat 2020

From: Abruzzo, Italy

Description: With clean, soft aromas of canned pear, white peach, and pineapple Lifesaver candies, this wine offers a deliciously tasty combination of ripe pear, subtle pineapple juice, and a hint white peach. The bubbles provide a delightful tickle.

Pairs with: Enjoy well chilled and on its own, with chips and guacamole, street tacos, or grilled shrimp.

Did you know that sparkling wine was actually created by accident? Wine with bubbles caused by an incomplete fermentation process after the bottle was sealed was common before modern technology. Since that time, winemakers have found new ways to create the same effect and these techniques became the norm. Now, natural winemakers around the world are reinventing the original, ancient method of making sparkling wine, commonly known as Pet-Nats. Enjoy this natural, sparkling wine with flavors reminiscent of pineapple Lifesavers! —Beth Richman, DCanter


DCanter logoDCanter: A Wine Boutique is a wine retailer located on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, specializing in sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines from small producers around the world as well as fun, yet informative, wine education. Their selections are available in-store, online, or through a personalized wine shopping service known as Concierge by DCanter. Visit them at to learn more.

You can still join the second session of Shakespeare’s Sisters: Say Her Name, now in its second week. Call the box office at 202.544.7077 to find out more!