Posted by: John Looker | 22 July, 2012

DANCER

DANCER

She turns and takes a final look at the room:
the mirrors across the wall, the well-sprung floor.
If you ignore the lights, it’s like a womb
where music finds embodiment in dance.
Re-living the last half-hour, she shuts the door. 

What did they think of that?

This was the feared audition, the longed-for chance.
Those weeks, let’s say the years, of preparation
had worked their alchemy: as though entranced
her mind and the music fused, her body became
line and shape, gesture, and lightness of motion. 

Surely they will recognise, at last,
my true potential?           

She feels so alive! She wants, she needs, this same
exhilaration daily in her life,
to burst out from the chrysalis, break the chain
at the prison door, to give her talents space
to dance on a wider stage, with a full spotlight. 

So near,
so very close,
impossible not to dream.

Back in the street she finally slows her pace.
There’s someone to phone … then coffee …
and a walk in the park
perhaps.

© John Stevens 2012

 

This is the opening piece in a second batch of poems that look at Life through Work.  This group will have a different aim, looking at states of mind, and a different look and feel. Yet to come are poems entitled ‘Hardhats’, ‘Submariner’, ‘Ambassador’ …

I have slightly revised the 3rd stanza following comments from Kalila, below. (28 July)

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Responses

  1. Hi John, this is magnificant, I really admire how you got into the skin of this girl and express her ambitions, and then, after the audition, the reality of the wait and the walk in the park with someone. 🙂 Lovely! A great start of the second batch!

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    • (Maybe I meant; under the skin?)

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  2. You really captured a moment and the emotion. Great poem John

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  3. I like the very gentle almost rhyming lines – they give the first 2 stanzas of the poem a haunting feel of something almost grasped, a little elusive. It would be nice if the third stanza did the same, for me the repetition of life doesn’t really work. I like the last stanza too, that feeling of coming back to earth, albeit reluctantly. Also the sadness of wanting to show your talent but not being confident that it is seen or recognised by others…

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    • I felt you were right about the rhyme in the third stanza and I’ve revised the last line. I think it’s an improvement. Thanks for your observation, Kalila.

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  4. Been there, done that!!!

    Not as a dancer but in other things.

    It is only in later life I have realised that true satisfaction comes in –

    “someone to phone … then coffee …
    and a walk in the park
    perhaps.”

    David

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  5. Ah, the eros of one’s “chosen work,” one’s calling. It is indeed a site of transformation and rebirth. But then . . . . This is a very touching portrait of the human spirit and makes one grateful that we have the human community to fall back on after the vision fades.

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  6. I love Tom D’Evelyn’s comment. The poem has a tenuous feel within the intense passion of the dance and rehearsal. This is not a general portrait, reaching over time and giving us a sense of the universal, John, but more personal.
    …Surely they will recognise, at last,
    my true potential?
    The statement of pride wrapped in self doubt, the pride of the inner voice, the plea of the inner voice:
    …This was the feared audition, the longed-for chance.
    Those weeks, let’s say the years, of preparation
    had worked their alchemy: as though entranced
    her mind and the music fused, her body became
    line and shape, gesture, and lightness of motion.
    O, the beauty of art and the fear inside the beauty, the fusion of spirit and art, the daring wildness of it all, throwing the dice upon the moment that is then…
    So near,
    so very close,
    impossible not to dream.
    And then reality, the waiting, the hope, the need to do something anything:
    Back in the street she finally slows her pace.
    There’s someone to phone … then coffee …
    and a walk in the park
    perhaps.
    Does the dream come true? Can art fulfill itself by reaching out and achieving the dream at last, at long last? The poem does not tell us. It is a portrait of the dreaming artist, the dancer who takes all of her years of work and achieves a fusion of art, dream, motion, music, all of who she is, but then does not know. Will the audience clap? Will hearts be moved? Is what she has achieved enough?
    We throw these poems into the electronic buzzing of the Internet. We reach out. We hope we are doing more than throwing them into a blizzard so dense our dreams cannot be seen. But we don’t know, and, if we are old enough, we almost don’t care.
    David has that right:
    It is only in later life I have realised that true satisfaction comes in –

    “someone to phone … then coffee …
    and a walk in the park
    perhaps.”
    But this poems, and the series, deserves to live, John, to achieve the voice it is written to achieve. That’s what I think of this second start, this fashioning together of a collage of work.

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  7. I really do appreciate, and think about, the feedback you give me everyone, so thank you for all your comments and for the time you have taken. It’s interesting how you can see your own poem differently through others’ eyes.

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  8. First a general thought on work—or at least on making things—from Giambattista Vico—that I recently came across:
    As rational metaphysics teaches that man becomes all things by understanding them, this imaginative metaphysics shows that man becomes all things by not understanding them and perhaps the latter proposition is truer than the former for when man understands he extends his mind and takes in to things but when he does not understand he makes the things out of himself and becomes them by transforming himself into them.
    Of course one thinks of the movie, The Black Swan, with all its storm and stress, with all its melodrama—at least as a contrast to this poem, for clearly this young dancer does not occupy the same world as did the dancer in the movie.
    The first stanza is a tiny perfection—the subtle rhymes, the well sprung floor, the womb (which is an arresting comparison). I’m tempted to add, where music finds its embodiment in poetry. It captures the world and the self of this dancer amazingly well. And it’s an interesting place to start a poem, just after the audition. We don’t know what the performance is about, what music, not even if it is a classical piece—or modern—or some weird avant-garde thing. We don’t know if she is a good dancer. She closes the door on her womb, shut the lights, and thinks she might like a walk in the park. A poem about ‘perhaps’.
    And a nice poem it is, Mr. Stevens, a moment arrested, held in the mind: O brightening glance, how can we know the dancer from the dance?
    One modest suggestion: have the penultimate line read, ‘and perhaps a walk in the park.’ The perhaps in the final line will then ring back through the poem.

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  9. errr, I dunno about repeating perhaps. I don’t think John will do it! Will you John? “a walk in the park” is an idiom, and the “perhaps” is spoken in the voice of the poet and suddenly frames the poem from outside the dancer’s point of view, as I see it anyway. The “perhaps” has a bit of “the less deceived” about it, which I take it is very British; I wouldn’t know, of course. So maybe I’m wrong. Yet, that strong simple ending would have been carefully considered, I should think.
    But John, will you do it?
    So fun to be so keen about such a small big thing.

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    • Thank you Tom for entering a debate on this pin-head-sized point! Please see my response to Jim.
      You are right that the ending was carefully considered – after a dozen or so different attempts in my head, I settled on a stanza in which the regular metre and rhyme would start to relax (as the dancer’s mind and body do) and with a single word that (for me at least) looked back over the whole thing.
      I’m afraid I’ve made a huge mountain out of this mole hill (to use more idiomatic speech).

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  10. No, Tom, perhaps you are right. Nietzsche suggested to philosophize with a hammer, not write poetry—except Twilight of the Idols might just be poetry, and then to philosophize with a hammer might be to write (subtle?) poetry. Of course, if I thought John would actually take my advice, I wouldn’t have made it.
    Fun indeed.

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    • Jim, I’ve been pondering your suggestion and the debate with Tom.
      For me, this dancer’s whole state of mind is torn between confidence and self-doubt. I hoped that the final ‘perhaps’ would sort of sum that up.
      I can see several ways of introducing the word earlier fro greater emphasis, but in the end I prefer to leave things unchanged. I sense that it is sufficiently strong, exposed as the last line, to do its job.
      Of course, few readers will care much about this, and I am enormously grateful to you and Tom for showing such a spirited interest.

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  11. Wow…right from the beginning, I feel this woman’s sense of doubt and her longing to thrive in another environment. I find the ending of the first stanza very strong with, “She shuts the door.” Shuts the door to her dreams, closes the door and then walks away…she feels somewhat lost and I sense her helplessness or powerlessness over her own fate. She has done her best, and can do no more…

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  12. there is great progression, great movement to this piece, which of course goes wonderfully since its about a dancer.
    wonderful poem…

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  13. Can feel the tension from word one – then the adrenalin, then … the waiting, super work, capturing the mood.

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