Poetic Inspiration from Rita Dove

April is National Poetry month. I have often turned to poetry–both as a reader and writer–especially during those moments where I am seeking understanding during difficult times. Poetry has a knack for providing an entry point, a spark that makes you think, something for you to latch onto as you ponder its meaning. One of my favorite school programs from my museum career juxtaposed a short, simple poem with an artwork as a way to get students talking about what they saw, often facilitating a lively open-ended discussion with no right or wrong answers.

A few years ago, I bought an anthology of poetry by Rita Dove as a birthday present to myself. Dove is an accomplished poet who also has been teaching at the University of Virginia for decades, and in fact, not taking a class from her might be one of my few regrets from college.

Rita Dove is the second African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1987, and she served as the Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2004 to 2006. Last year, the U.S. State Department named Dove one of five Black women “trailblazers.”

I’m copying one of my favorite poems that I hope speaks to my friends and colleagues who try to make the world a better place through the nonprofit sector and beyond.

May we all touch wisely and rise always with wonder.


For Sophie, Who’ll Be in First Grade in the Year 2000

No bright toy
this world we’ve left you.
Even the wrapping
is torn, the ribbons
grease-flecked and askew.
Still, it’s all we have.

Wait a moment before
you pick it up. Study
its scratches, how it
shines in places. Now
love what you touch,
and you will touch wisely.

May the world, in your hands,
brighten with use. May you
sleep in sweet breath and
rise always in wonder
to mountain and forest,
green gaze and silk cheek—

dear Sophie,
littlest phoenix.

Cover photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications. Source.

Published by Ellen Spangler

Hi, I’m Ellen Spangler. With nearly twenty years in nonprofits, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. My first love will always be museums, but I have also cherished my work in education and membership organizations. I’ve worked as a Development Director, Communications Director, Educator, Trainer and Project Manager, and now own and operate a consulting business, Three Notch’d Nonprofit Solutions.

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