The Hermit Poet

February 14, 2005

Poetry and Dance

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 10:14 am

One of the more interesting things that Pinsky mentioned in his afternoon Q&A session which preceded the evening lecture, was the similiarity between learning to dance and learning to write poetry. He noted that like the dancer, the writer must learn and practice the steps and forms over and over again until they come naturally. It’s hard work, requires plenty of time, and often hurts. But the results are worth it. It occured to me that this parallel really goes even further — it relates as well to composition. Ballroom dancers must practice and learn all their steps and moves until they become a natural extension of their expression, but once they step on the floor to actually perform, these steps and moves must arise unconsciously and spontaneously — the man leading must have both foresight and skill to navigate the floor and the perform the maneuvers with elegance and flair.

In writing poetry we must acquire a similiar set of moves, turns, and skills. Timing is also important. Elegance and beauty arises out of the seemingly natural execution of these things. Dancing is a narrative of its own. Poetry as well. The poet must let go of an overly conscious control of the poem, trusting instead that instinct and intuition will guide him to someplace new. He/she steps out from the concrete first position and into the unknown where anything can happen. The dance floor and the page are both liminal spaces. The poet and the dancer both engage in composition which is driven by a strange blend of passion and foresight.

Even the dance itself is a figure — a representation of the play between the lyric and narrative — or the concrete and the abstract.

3 Responses to “Poetry and Dance”

  1. barbara jane Says:

    this is a very good, apt metaphor, neil. i appreciate your sincerity, and your sensitivity towards the nuances of craft and skill. best, barbara

  2. Neil Aitken Says:

    Thanks Barbara. I’m not certain why it didn’t occur to me earlier — I vaguely remember taking some social dance class as an undergraduate and discovering that the more thought I put into it, the worse I was. Should’ve been an easy leap from there… Guess time and distance teach us many things.

  3. Anonymous Poet Says:

    Interesting comparison. Or, it’s like learning to play an instrument. Or learing to paint.

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