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Thomas and Beulah

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,161 ratings  ·  87 reviews
A collection of poetry by Rita Dove.
Paperback, 80 pages
Published January 1st 1986 by Carnegie Mellon University Press
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Average rating 3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,161 ratings  ·  87 reviews

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May 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Reading Road Trip 2020

Current location: Ohio

ride joy until
it cracks like an egg,
make sorrow
seethe and whisper

When my son started college, he was dating the same girl he'd been dating since his sophomore year of high school.

This raised the eyebrows of our more conservative family members and at a summer gathering before his first semester of college, one of the most old school of them all declared (with a big lipsticked smile), “Well, he's been dating her long enough by now, shouldn't we be hear
Mar 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018, poetry
No one can help him anymore.
Not the young thing next door
in the red pedal pushers,
not the canary he drove distracted

with his mandolin. There’ll be
no more trees to wake him in moonlight,
nor a single dry spring morning
when the fish are lonely for company.

She’s standing there telling him: give it up.
She is weary of sirens and his face
worn with salt. If this is code,

she tells him, listen: we were good,
though we never believed it.

And now he can’t even touch her feet.

Sep 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
I probably shouldn’t admit to it: I do believe this is the first time I ever enjoyed poetry. No harp played. No angels sang. But as I was reading, flowers kept blooming inside me, so furtive and beautiful the images were. I loved this elusive, intimate flash of a book.

As close to prose as I could ever hope for, casting flourishes light as air, the book grabbed my full attention with its genuine people at the forefront, the dusty afternoon sunshine of their couple’s story and the muddy truths tha
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I'm going to dock a star for the time being because I'm legitimately baffled as to why this ended with "The Oriental Ballerina". This was really great—I read it twice back to back—but the purpose of "The Oriental Ballerina" continues to elude me. Especially as a closing number. But so many moments of stunning, quiet beauty that I'll probably up this to a full 5 eventually
Mar 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This was deliciously well-done; Dove is witty and touching and lyrically adept. I found the two halves so brilliantly complementary that I couldn't easily say that I preferred one to the other; in both, she dissects disappointment so skillfully, so lovingly.* It's striking how artfully she constructs the two figures as mirrored, both pigeonholed into the roles society has fashioned for them--Thomas haunted by the loss of his first love (platonic or otherwise) and Beulah struggling against the re ...more
Dan Simmons
May 20, 2016 rated it liked it
I enjoy Rita Dove’s poetry but tend to come away from her work feeling as if she has exposed a deficiency in my poetry reading skill because I don’t absolutely love her work. This feeling has intensified after attending her delightful reading at OSU earlier this year and after reading this collection, which won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Once again, I enjoyed this collection, but did not absolutely love it (pitiful, I know). That said, I think these two poems from this collection are es ...more
3.5 stars

This is a very good collection of poetry. A two part narrative, one detailing the life of Thomas and the other of Beulah's. Their lives together, their shared moments exposed in different perspectives, the more personal, contemplative moments between the narrator and the reader. However, and this is entirely my fault, I didn't love it because I don't enjoy poetry. I find it difficult to connect to and leave feeling cold or touched by a few lines at best. I read the collection on its own
Phil Jensen
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
About 3/4 of this book described moments from the lives of Thomas and Beulah in beautiful, symbolic verse. The other 1/4 was a little beyond me. I might get more out of it if I had done more college-level work in reading poetry. Some of my favorites include "The Event" and "One Volume Missing."
Sep 13, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommended to Grace by: Literary Ohio
Shelves: for-class
To start off, I like the way this book feels in my hands. The cover is a pleasing texture and the thin paperback poetry books are always flexible and light on the hands. I appreciate that this book is based in Akron, Ohio. Can't say that about many of the Pulitzer-prize winners! This is not my favorite collection of poetry, nor does it contain any of my favorite poems. However, there is something endearing and very normal about the poetry topics. The fact that the normal stories of Akronites are ...more
D.A. Gray
Apr 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is not my first reading and it won't be my last. Thomas and Beulah is a great love letter from the poet to her grandparents, and whether or not the stories contained are exact they provide the kind of truth that only a poet can give.

Splitting the collection into two strong Points of View, shows art dealing with opposites, male/female, light/dark, black/white -- the poems start in a place that feel deeply personal. But the great poems that start with the personal, by being specific touch on
Angie Orlando
Mar 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
What a beautiful story about a man and woman, told in both voices, who marry in Akron, Ohio 1920's. This book follows the black migration northward and ends up in my own area. But this is a time period and culture so unlike mine. I had trouble understanding some of the poems, although I highly appreciate Dove's imagery and lyrical quality. It is helpful to read the timeline at the end of the book and then re-read the poems.
Mar 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, forms
Shoot. Jeannine told me I should read this, given the current trajectory of my thesis, and she wasn't wrong. These poems are elegant imaginings of Dove's family history rendered in such an understated way. Offering the two halves of the story of Thomas and Beulah, the book paints such a stark picture of Depression-era and WWII family life. I'm going to have to work my way back through this again.
Sep 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I read this book in about two hours and immediately turned back to the first page and started reading again, slower this time, so I could savor the imagery and beauty in the simplistic details. This is the far superior precursor to the modern novel in verse. It is a story woven by poetry rather than a story forced into poetic form. No wonder it won the Pulitzer.
Jeffrey Bumiller
May 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Rita Dove's haunting and beautiful book Thomas and Beulah won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 and I can see why. These very layered, very distant, yet somehow extremely emotional poems trace the life of Thomas and Beulah, the two characters who are loosely based on Rita Dove's grandparents. I would like to get to know them better, so I will be reading this one again someday.
Mar 13, 2016 marked it as to-read
Shelves: poetry
Many like this book of poems loosely about lives of maternal grandparents.

Gabrielle Foreman in 'Miss Puppet Lady', WRB March 1993 review of novel of childhood 'Through the Ivory Gate ' is not positive about this book, tho I would probably find it interesting to read. It seems from Wikipedia that she has not written any more novels, but plenty of poetry, plays etc.
Ann Keller
Feb 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I really enjoyed this wonderful view of the history of the Akron area. The poems about constructing gigantic zeppelins were especially intriguing.
Mar 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
(Read in the collection Selected Poems.)
John Molina
Feb 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
I do not feel equipped to critique poetry. This was beautiful though, like the shine in your morning coffee
May 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Rita Dove tells her grandparents' story through poetry.
Dec 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
So I finally caught up to my semester today and read all of Thomas and Beulah in a single sitting. Dove's poems are fluid and accessible, capturing two lives in episodes to provide a multifaceted picture of the title characters. If anyone ever asserts that Black experience cannot be universal, this collection proves a magnificent counter-example, giving immense personal and cultural specificity to the characters while presenting a story that resonates far beyond the boundaries of their milieu. T ...more
Jessica Freeman
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Such an important and moving book, we are lucky Dove wrote this. Something notable to me is that these poems are able to be read independent of the book as a whole. A small and obvious point I know, but something vital to consider. I mean, that’s part of where the greatness exists in poetry and in art forms-that they can be independent from a larger piece, but also fit into a container or book. I’m thinking a lot about how stories arc and change as they exist near or with one another, and how th ...more
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
What strikes me most about this two-sided story is the great amount of disappointment that existed, even at the heights of life, such as weddings and births, and throughout daily life as well. Dove successfully creates a male and a female character: their concerns and fears, desires and disappointments. Thomas longs for sons, for Lem, for his houndstooth vest, for his South; Beulah longs for time alone, for Paris, for a man of distinct tastes, for magic, but neither he nor she is fulfilled. Dove ...more
To be honest, a lot of these poems were out of my depth. While I understood what was happening in most of them, and I liked a few as well, I was at as loss to understand the rest. Who was Lem? How did he die? Did Beulah's dad rape her or did her mother stop him? Was she happy with Thomas? Why was Willemma so important to Beulah? So many unanswered questions. That being said, the poems are good. I enjoyed them. Some were dark, others sad but also beautiful.
Matt McBride
Nov 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Dove's ability to both reveal while also allowing for the ways memory make things opaque floors me. Thomas and Beulah is a staggering work of empathy. Each poem is a glimpse in a life that is quickly enveloped by the radical inability to know another's consciousness (which is mimetic of the unsuitability of history itself). Dove both gives us the lives of her grandparents, while also protecting the parts of them they never shared.
Overall, I liked this poetry collection, but didn't love it. To be fair, I'm not a big poetry fan to begin with. Poetry is usually the last thing I reach for when reading for pleasure.

As for the poems, some of them were vivid and wonderful, highlighting tender and nostalgic moments from Thomas and Beulah's past. Others, were...well...very cryptic and abstract. All in all, not something I would ever pick up by choice, but a decent read regardless.
Dec 08, 2016 rated it liked it
granted, I have little experience reading poetry, but I found this to be an interesting yet at times perplexing collection. some of the characterizations of the title couple are quite compelling and touching, but other times I wasn't sure what to make of her imagery, or able to read as deeply into her meaning as I would have liked.
Cody Stetzel
Aug 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
The strength of this work is the gentle and scathing light with which Dove points on the minute grandiosity of lives. Purely from this work, I may not learn exactly what Thomas or Beulah had for lunch on a Thursday (perhaps, likely, they skipped lunches), but instead learn a more totalizing judgment on their characters and relationships, the nature of their beings.

Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Sews memorable images from two lifetimes into a thread we can follow. This could be your grandparents' (or great-grandparents') story.

So much poetry relies on obfuscation to sound profound. So much fiction depends on the fantastic to seem worthwhile.

Rita tells you how it and it moves you.
Jack Heller
Oct 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the best collection I've read by Rita Dove. (The others were Grace Notes and On the Bus with Rosa Parks.) I most appreciate the focus and implicit narrative that develops through representing a couple's lives through poems.
Oct 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, midwest, poetry
I wish we had gotten more of the story from these poems. It was difficult to piece some of it together without more context. But the poems were, generally, accessible, and the storyline moving. I'll revisit this to study in the future.
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Rita Dove, former U.S. Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner, and musician, lives in Charlottesville, where she is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

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