“Dance is present at every stage of human life,” declares editor Emma Wright in the introduction to her wonderful anthology. “From lessons to courtships to celebrations and moments when music just demands a response, dance is an essential part of our textured existence.”
This is a small, delightful book full of contemporary poems about dance in short, staccato bursts. There are forty two poems included from both established poets and emerging voices. What is interesting as well is that four of the contributors (Katherine Gallagher, Hilary Gilmore, Melinda Kallasmae and Lana Faith Young) have links to Australia.
A very diverse assortment of dance styles are included ranging from ballet, Flamenco, street, historical, Irish, ballroom to even in private dancing.
Some of the poems are inspired by a painting, or a story, or dance lessons. The vivid black and white line illustrations included have drawn by the editor herself.
There is a short introduction by Wright as well, a handy table of contents at the beginning and brief biographies of the contributors at the back.
The anthology opens with a number of poems which explore the sheer hot, sweaty physicality, exuberance and sensuality of dance.
Ginger Takes The Floor by Stephanie Arsoska proudly celebrates the female body, Volta by Felicity Maxwell observes Elizabeth 1 and Leicester dancing and the crackle of attraction in the room.
In George David Clark’s Lullaby with Succotash, the erotic, surreal and the domestic are skillfully blended. The second section takes us to some of the remote places of the world, to cold pier-ends and Scotland, where the dancers in question are either wrapped and sheltered by tradition and community, or caught up and exposed to the elements of nature.
His Sister’s Version by Pam Thompson is strange and compelling. Sophie F Baker’s fluent, vivid and dynamic My Mother as a Horse is another highlight though I wonder about the quote that she annexes to the poem.
Ballet is in the spotlight in the book’s third section, Rachel Piercey’s The corps attempts to analyse the dichotomy for corps de ballet dancers between enjoying a sense of belonging but also wanting to be ‘set apart’ and dancing the principal roles in the spotlight.
Hilary Gilmore’s Ballerina of the Night-Pool is a quicksilver dream. Catherine Smith’s My Dancers is about the dancers she draws in her books and her teacher’s attempts to forcibly quash her imagination.
“I wanted to dance them away from the teacher,
from the chalk dust, glue, the morning tapes
of Elgar or Shostakovich they played
to civilize us – it wasn’t Swan Lake,
my classmates were lumpen and wrong”.
I enjoyed Rosie Sandler’s Breathing Underwater with her feet as fish attempting assorted dance styles trying to find one that they enjoy the most.
The fourth section consists of poems that explore relationships with parents and the effects of ageing. It also includes Geraldine Clarkson’s eerie The dancers on graves, imagining a cluster of dancers gathering on the summer solstice to happily dance their final revenge on the graves of their enemies.
James Coghill plaintively tries to explore the link and split between the artistic brain and its apprehension approaching the physical world in Munch was Probably a Terrible Dancer:-
“You asked about my mood
and I replied: amphibious
then slithered out onto the floor
as you hung up
into a small, horrible puddle of me.”
Romantic entanglements are the main insight of the fifth and sixth sections, with the poets attempting to express the balance between the spiritual and the physical.
Maria Taylor’s poignant Learning The Steps features Greek folk dancing and includes the great line “We dance to learn about a part of ourselves that books can’t teach”, and makes us question ourselves about our own place in dance, whether we do this consciously or not.
In the book’s final grouping of poems the structure is far looser, gathering a rather motley assortment– a sea tossed Le Corsaire by Flora de Falbe , and Emma Jane Hughes’ Dance In The Round. a saga of three generations of dancers and different dance styles.
The anthology concludes with Anna Kisby’s haunting, exuberant Grandmother Was a Showgirl which vividly conjures a figure of huge proportions in the poet’s own personal mythology.
A very enjoyable book that should appeal to both dance fans and poetry lovers with its strong message of the potential of dance to empower and change people’s lives.
THE EMMA PRESS ANTHOLOGY OF DANCE
Published by The Emma Press
Edited by Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright
Format: Paperback, 96 pages
Other Information: 10 black-hand drawn line illustrations