Books for Poets | Mailing List | Copyrights | About Us


The Dance 

June 2018

I am, like Emily Dickinson, not a dancer. We certainly are not like the trained ballet dancers in the Impressionist paintings of Degas or Matisse's dancers.

As Emily wrote:

I cannot dance upon my Toes
No Man instructed me—
But oftentimes, among my mind,
A Glee possesseth me,

That had I Ballet knowledge—
Would put itself abroad
In Pirouette to blanch a Troupe—
Or lay a Prima, mad...

Perhaps, Emily and I are more like the dancer in "Danse Russe" by William Carlos Williams. who waits until his household is asleep

and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,-
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself

I can't quite imagine Emily dancing naked around her room, though I hope she did sometimes, but even non-dancers sometimes get lost in "the dance."

Was Williams thinking about the Ballets Russes, an avant-garde dance company of the time and its principal dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky? Nijinsky did not follow traditional ballet technique and often danced half-naked. In his Faun costume for the dance he created to Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune he was known to make gestures of orgasm to a scarf and it was a scandal on several continents.

The poem is, for me, a simple dance of freedom and joy that one can have in the privacy of one's own place. (That doesn't mean the poem hasn't been interpreted quite differently by others - check out this post.)

But "the dance" does not even have to be about dancing.

We use the verb dance to mean "to leap or skip in excitement or joy." We sometimes describe animals or even objects as dancing, as with the mating dances of birds or a toy sailboats dancing on the water.

Figuratively, when we put off or don't address something directly, it might be said that we  "dance around an issue." To use another dance term, it might be said that in that situation we "sidestep" an issue.

The noun "dance" is an important part of many rituals and ceremonies from proms to weddings.

The American NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament is called "The Big Dance."

The Dance of the Planets is a phrase used sometimes in this late spring season when Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury all appear to be right next to each other in the evening sky. Over a period of time, they seem to rotate and change positions, like dancers, with each other.

In "The Dance by Wendell Berry, I think the poet combines the literal and figurative dances.

He begins with the literal:

I would have each couple turn,
join and unjoin, be lost
in the greater turning
of other couples, woven
in the circle of a dance,
the song of long time flowing

but then turns figuratively to asking

What is fidelity? To what
does it hold? The point
of departure, or the turning road
that is departure and absence
and the way home? What we are
and what we were once

Our writing prompt this month is simply "the dance" in any of its literal or figurative or verb or noun forms.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


The older I get the more Jewish I look.
I don’t feel particularly Jewish
but I look like a Jew. Have you noticed
how some people dance around
the word Jew? They don’t like to say it.
As if it sounded vaguely pejorative.
As if they only ever heard it used
as a verb. As if it were somehow
offensive to people of the Jewish
persuasion. But I am not persuaded.
And I am not of the Jewish persuasion.
But I sure do look like a Jew with my
graying beard and famous nose and
curly hair and glasses. And the older I get
the more people are dancing around me.
Everywhere I look these days the people
are dancing. And they’re getting younger
and younger the older I get. They’re laughing
and singing and dancing around and
around like they’re all doing the Hora
and I’m this old Jew in the middle
just standing here all alone like a verb
of being. Because I don’t know the steps.
And I don’t know the time. I don’t
even know the words to the song.

Paul Hostovsky


Girl upon the stage, dream held upon her lap, dancing freely, until perfection’s infamous trap.
Her searching heart spoke wonders to her mind, for inner beauty ready, but they are all too blind.
Prayed upon a misinformed star, to be the one eyes could not leave, the one in which in love, one had to believe.
When that star was first born, the chance of satin shoes and tutus, never knew their seams could become, worn.
Everything she once wanted, yet everything she now feared, the closer to the stage her steps took her, the deeper doubts neared.
From the elevé to the passé, time had practiced this moment in her sleep, yet frozen balance forgot, that every dream was one worthy to keep.
Feared she was just second, never could eyes view her as first, and what good is second, but first place’s not-good-enough curse.
So she danced into five, or maybe it was four, the tap halted her spirit, the ballet silenced her more.
A disaster begging to happen, too young and too early to hit that fan, spinning circles around her head, I promise you, it can.
Sauté to extract all longing legs had to give, jumping over, her mourning feet, craved a life to freely live.
Penché to bend forward, both feet in first position still, but when that dress seam tore, hunger broke her will.
Silenced became her dance, as if that first stage, would be her only breaking chance.
She listened and listened to those who taught that same way, deep down knowing, that feet are meant for dancing, as hands are meant to pray.
And now as those years, have added on thirty or more, her innocent dream has finally found reason to live for.
As if in a moment, that took too long to speak, her dream is hers to hold strong, her dancing was never weak.
Instead it was all meant to be, a perfectly timed chance, her dream to keep her dance.

Jennifer Kosuda


My old dance partner’s rustier
than my joints –
ancient scythe still hanging in the shed.
Now I’ve got a quick-start
motor-trimmer for the 5-acre
dance-floor – hills of boulder heaps,
fields of sunburn wild oats
higher than my head, and thistle
gone to seed; scattered oaks that hum
the leaf-dance song.
I swing my partner side to side
across the swath, swaying
with the rhythm that loosens
what’s gone stiff in my knees.
Do I miss the complex S-curves
of the scythe-dance?
Oh, but how my fingers tingle
with the motor-vibes.
Any dance has its entanglements.
Mine are green-gold garlands
wound about the trimmer head,
so I have to stop,
unwind it grass by grass;
and pause, breathe-in early summer,
fall in love again with my land.

Taylor Graham


Words dance above my notebook,
channel into sentences, half rhymes,
land in haiku sequences, minuets and

Fox trots, rumbas and two steps
try to capture the rhythm as I
tiptoe through a storm of words,
topsy turvy.

I persevere, try to set them
still to no avail. They cha cha
through the room, a bit of the
merengue, march to a different

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello

Jean Bilinski 1913-2015

I live in a converted dress factory,
Where for a hundred years women bent over their machines, drudging piece work,
Sweating long days stitching dresses
They could never afford.

In the late morning,
When everyone else has gone to work, and I’m reading in my favorite chair,
From somewhere down the hall,
I swear I hear the sound of sewing machines.

Back in my primitive school days,
The nuns would turn this into a parable,
How the ghosts are sewing shrouds for the blessed,
Special ones with open backs
So the saints can more modestly whip themselves
In god’s presence,
As if that’s the benefit of heaven.

But, luckily, there were better people in my life,
Like my godmother, who, for forty years, worked in a factory like this;
A woman who believed it was a poor god that didn’t make you want to dance.

I hope now that she’s gone,
She has sown herself a fancy dress for dancing her beloved Polka,
Something in red and white, with diamond covered ribbons,
In which she would be the glory of the chosen;
Where before a rhythm section of fallen angels
The Lord, with his voice like thunder,
Sings one traditional Polka after another,
His Polish blue eyes smiling on her

As she high-steps around the floor
Ron Yazinski


As stars revolve in space, they
round each other in pas de deux
of image and sound, stand on
point in silent rectitude, turn,
and leap in patterns of rhyme.

They abound with endless tropes,
whirl like onion peels in measured
riffs, skip like stones in widening
arcs to the edge of sense in waves
of bacchic, sonorous cries.

They flow in stately cadence
from aisle to aisle, rise in solemn
waves to fill celestial domes
in formal garb and layered chant,
tracking the revolving year.

Rifts in the stasis of space,
stands in the vortices of time,
they enshrine the passing rose,

the flight of birds, the morning sun,
the instant, the ever now.
Robert Miller


around the topic
like we dance around
this banquet hall.
Nothing close.
All 1970s loose
and unconnected
as if we were teens
and this was just
a summer fling
and we both knew it.

Lianna Wright


dance she said
and I did

an audience to be me
how could I fail

sing he said
I did

birds flew from my heart
by way of a swollen throat

laugh they said

but all the days before
got caught in my heart
my throat

how can I dance, sing, laugh

when sitting, standing, lying

in cages a number
no one seems to know
child hostages

never again

Patty Joslyn


We see monsters everyday
On TV, or in the news
Others we don't see at all
Not all of us but some of us, a lot of us
I'm afraid of meeting one
Have been for some time
I know they're out there
Just ask anyone who has met one
So most of the time, because I have not
I can pretend that they don't exist
Or at least that I will not meet one
It's this dance I do
With all things scary
Dancing tells stories
Makes us happy, makes us sad
Soothes us, unsettles us, moves us
It connects us to others, to ourselves
And the world we inhabit
It communicates - Look at me, listen to me
And we are moving
Always moving
Something within compels us
Compels me - to keep moving
Keep dancing; the monsters won't get you
Like dance, it is an art form
The art of deluding oneself just enough
And if you keep moving, keep working
You can get good at it, sure you can
But no, you will never master it
Like the dance marathons of the 30s
Within the grand ballroom of the Great Depression
An exhausting contest of endurance
For those already tired and desperate
Seeking relief and shelter from dire circumstances
The hunger games of the old new decade
Spectators watch, participants compete, music plays
Music and dance - ongoing partners
Yet it is possible for dance to exist alone
It does not cease to be without it
Must music guide the movement?
Is dance unable to stand on its own?
Like a movie without soundtrack
The answer is no; expectations do not define
My dance too, needs no music
Though my movements are not rhythmic
Rather they are disguised, controlled frenzy
With no set sequence of steps
Still, like dance they are purposeful
My movements express emotion, release energy
Yet they lack pleasure, aesthetics
My movements are a response
To what has come and what might be coming
From the mouths of dangerous fools, to the cries of children
And the sounds of more licensed gunfire
To what lies in the sunless depths of a dying ocean
Or a certain hallway closet
Or the past and present history of evil men and the genocide of millions
I fall asleep wearing worn out red shoes
Thinking of sunflowers and smoke and fake news
Of monsters living and dead
And in between this roiling sea of horror, sadness and disgust
Comes the release of unconsciousness
A sweet nocturnal intermission of silence
In an unending dance

Terri J. Guttilla


She's so innocent, skipping and twirling.
Look at her go! Of life she knows nothing...
Alone in her room, hidden in Spring,
She is free, she is dancing.

And though her moves be clumsy,
It is the art of it that charms me.
So however naive she be,
She has the power to dance in glee.

Indeed not many can,
Despite a judge glance,
And not bother adjust stance.

So forget your briefcase,
Leave your workplace,
A life un-meditated embrace,
And find your pace.

Armance Flesselle


Those who can and those who can not
What one has to learned
How the beat is to match with the music
And where does it is coming from.

I drove a dancer, who worked with me,
And left her where she had her ballet lessons,
She gave a nice answer
When I asked about lessons and being embarrassed
“We are so interested in ourselves
It does not matter to us what you do
And you not the sort of man
The male dancers are interested in.”
Another girl told me of her class
Where a famous movie star came with his friend
And that was that,

I am an irregular person
Tell me to do something in time
Or as the other are doing it,
And it was a real challenge
To get fingerings or footings right

When I got a little better,
There was a circle of four men
In a Czech folk dance,
Whirling with small steps
Arms link to support us
Faster than I could ever imagine myself.
Always I am coming back in dreams
Spinning and spinning
Not knowing who I was or who I am.

Edward Halperin