Sunday, September 26, 2010

a doozy from Dusie (Kollektiv 4)

Mark Lamoureux
Dance Poems
([no place]: Cy Gist Press for the Dusie Kollektiv, 2010)
[5.5" x 8.5" / edition of 50]
-- and --
Dance Poems
an on-line pdf / expanded edition
[an e-chap in Dusie Kollektiv 4 (September 2010)]
[click here to read]

Well, how’s this for great: ten days ago the Dusie Kollektiv (editor = Susana Gardner) posted 33 new poetry e-chaps (click here to see), just seven months after they put up a batch of 49. Yes, it’s another poem-bonanza, and it’s free for all! Congratulations to the Kollektiv, lucky for us, and everybody please just keep on chooglin’!

Better here, actually, to say keep on pas de bourrée couru–in’! That’s a ballet term [pah duh boo-RAY koo-REW] signifying a kind of running, a progression on the points or demi-pointes by a series of small, even steps with the feet close together. It’s a quick, skilled, and beautiful set of moves (click here for a seven seconds QuickTime video), and in that way perfect to celebrate Dusie’s new batch o’ chaps, which appear so soon after the last big bunch. So keep on pas de bourrée couru-in!

The ballet term is also perfect for this post today because the particular Dusie e-chap I joyfully pirouette around here – Dance Poems, by Mark Lamoureux – presents twenty poems entirely inspired by and actually written during – you guessed it – live dance performances.

I have a relatively long, and unusual relationship to Lamoureux’s dance poems. The poems had me from when I first saw them in April, 2009, when Lamoureux first posted individual examples on his blog. He posted others in June, 2009. All the poems (a total of ten) made me feel – made the mind whirl – in ways very similar to sensations experienced after watching live dance. The poems have lots of space, as if the page (or computer screen) is the stage, and the words seem to take positions and perform.

The dance poems also interested me because I’d remembered that in 2005 Lamoureux had done something similar by writing poems while watching independent or experimental movies. The chapbook of that work – Film Poems – was very well received (click here for Ron Silliman’ s post on it). It also had a beautiful cover design, based on a classic 1960s’ issue of Film Culture magazine.

In August 2009, I e-mailed Lamoureux, who I did not know other than by reading his poetry. I asked if there were other dance poems, and suggested that they would make a great chapbook. I also suggested that similar to Film Poems the cover of any such chap should mimic the look of a classic dance magazine. To that end, I tracked down and attached to my e-mail an image an early 1950s issue of Dance Magazine, featuring a striking photo of a ballerina en danse.

Well leapin’ Pavalova and how-‘bout-that-Nijinksy, Lamoureux replied that he had written other dance poems (some of which he immediately posted), and was interested in having a chap published, although he explained that he still had performances he planned to see, and thus poems to write.

But soon enough, in late January 2010, his own Cy Gist Press (for Dusie) published a hard copy edition of Dance Poems. For the chap’s cover, Lamoureux used the basic Dance Magazine image I’d sent (he kindly thanks me on the colophon page), but he had improved it immensely. Among other things, Lamoureux (presumably via PhotoShop) multiplied the single image of the dancer to beautifully suggest movement, and replaced the word Magazine with Poems. I know the cover of the chap, a scan of it, is at the head of this post, but why scroll when you can have it again right here:

And so now I, a poetry reading fool, have the incredible almost unbelievable pleasure of seeing in the world, of having in hand and reading, a poem-book just about as – really, even better than – I’d dreamed it could be. How sweet is that?

How. Sweet. It. Is!


Dance Poems, in the expanded on-line pdf edition, contains 20 poems, all transcribed from writing done in a notebook during, and in response to, live dance performances. In an endnote, Lamoureux states that he avoided music and dance vocabulary as much as possible, “in order to preserve the abstract quality of sound and motion . . . .” He also writes that each poem is “discrete” from but “conjoined” to the performance from which it arose, and advises readers to refer to the original dance pieces whenever possible.

The longest of the Dance Poems is ten pages (it’s on a William Forsythe ballet), and two others are seven pages each (written during pieces by Merce Cunningham, and Christopher Wheeldon, respectively). Most of the poems are between two and four pages, and some are just a page long (a few of the latter are labeled “excerpts”). Other choreographers whose works are written on (or through) include Trisha Brown, Melissa Barak, Paul Taylor, Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, and María Páges. It’s a substantial and interesting mix of modern, post-modern and contemporary dance, including even a dollop of flamenco (Vamo’ ya!).

These poems, I think, could only have been written in or around New York City (Lamoureux lives in Astoria, a neighborhood in the northwestern corner of the borough of Queens). Where else could anyone see all these dance performances, in such a relatively short period of time? So here’s a bow and a curtsey for The Big (Balletomane) Apple!


Here’s a one-pager by Lamoureux from Dance Poems that, while shorter than most in the chap, is not an excerpt – it was written over a full performance. It has less than two dozen total words (not counting the title) but seems not austere, but lush. It gets going, I think, godly good:


                               cloud        line

                tuck                         satyr

snake                                      shadow


                echo                        green

grown                                     over


                tube       ripple



                mist                        pulse

lift                          over         part

George Balanchine, Valse Fantasie (1953, revised 1967)

Balanchine’s Valse Fantasie (1953, revised 1967), is a relatively short (eight minute) work for five women (one a lead) and one man, set to a composition by Mikhail Glinka. The ballet’s considered, in the words of a New York Times reviewer, “a small gem” that’s “dotted with leaps and leg beats, with rising on pointe and coming down, and with the step known as pas de chat [a leaping cat-like move].” The music surges and recedes and (quoting here another Times writer) the ballet’s “dancers . . . never stop moving and . . . constantly run or leap in and out with great swiftness . . . .” Or, as another reviewer put it, “[the] music is irresistible in its melody and rapid waltz pulse; the [dancers] spend much of the time airborne . . . .”

Balanchine - Valse Fantasie
“leaps and leg beats” / “much of the time airborne”

Lamoureux’s poem suggests much of the qualities of the ballet mentioned above, paticularly its off-the-floor or “airborne” character. That’s implied directly in certain of the poem’s words, including cloud line, ionosphere, over (twice), mist and lift.

But leaps are also indicated by the structure, or form, of the poem, especially the first six lines. Take a look at those, freeing yourself while you do from the tyranny of top-to-bottom reading:

                               cloud        line

                tuck                         satyr

snake                                      shadow


                echo                        green

grown                                     over

Here, the eyes move up, in a way leap, with the two sets of three words that can be read bottom-to-top, left-to-right, starting at the poem’s left margin (i.e., “snake / tuck / cloud” and “grown / echo / ionosphere”). The eyes also step or move up with the two trios of words that are more-or-less vertically aligned in columns on the lines’ right side (e.g., from bottom-to-top, “shadow / satyr / line”). Aptly, and similar to the airborne characteristics of the Balanchine ballet, each of these bottom-to-top lifts and leaps end, via “cloud line” and “ionosphere,” in the sky, the sky of the mind. Where, I say, the the words dance, especially when, as here, the writing’s spontaneous and simultaneous with the energy of sound and movement.

When I first read “Valse Fantasie” I knew nothing of the Balanchine ballet, and yet the poem worked. The array of words in four vertical columns are interesting to the eye, and provide a structure, similar to ballet positions or the measures in music, in which the words move, and there is, substantively, an interaction that can be narrated (consider “satyr” and “liege,” “snake” and “chime” until the final “part[ing].” The very short lines (mostly one or two words) suggest speed, as does “run” and “arrow” while “echo,” “ripple,” and “pulse” suggest rhythm, momentum and energy.

Interesting too, and maybe my favorite part of “Valse Fantasie,” is the word “chime” (three lines from the poem’s end), and what it does in the space, the white space, that precedes and especially follows it. With its substantive meanings and connotations, a noun or verb of bells and harmony, “chime” is exceedingly musical. And there’s music too, of course, in the word’s actual sounds: a consonant digraph (“ch”) followed by the open vowel (“i”) that when closed off with the concluding “m” results in a particularly resonant laryngeal hum. And that “chime” rings out into, and through, the relatively large white space (air) that follows in Lamoureux’s poem, as if a dancer in glorious mid-leap. It’s also a resonance that associates back to the “echo” and “ripple” of a few lines before.


Carmen and Ángel Corella in María Pagés’ Soleá (NYC, 2010)

Here’s the title and first approximately two-thirds of another of the Dance Poems:


                                 String                  breath

                 weary                    circuit

                                 divide                  interior

                 so blue                                long last

                 reliquary                            bridge

                                 brown   flame   gnome

                                 simmer              grave


                                                burn magenta

                                                blossom beat

The poem has eight more lines, but I think this excerpt shows how Lamoureux’s words evoke María Pagés’ Soleá, an eight minute pas de deux that combines elements of ballet and flamenco, specially choreographed for the sister and brother team of Carmen and Ángel Corella. I focus hard here on “reliquary bridge / brown flame gnome,” combinations that bring to mind sacred connections and rich earthly fantasias. There’s also life and death in here (“breath” and “grave”), and the final four words above – “burn magenta / blossom beat” – come across as pulses of almost psychedelic beauty. And the arrangement of the words, the gaps and rhythms, bring to the ear, to mine, the footwork and hand clapping that must have been integral to this dance.


I could, maybe should, go on, and say more about other Dance Poems. When Ron Silliman wrote about Film Poems, he mentioned that Lamoureux’s writing was “studded with fabulous gems throughout.” The same’s true here: stopping on a random page, there are (these from “Melissa Barak / ‘A Simple Symphony’”) “allele division” and “quadrant / hexagram,” unusual combinations that seem entirely personal to this poet.

But the great thing about the Dusie Kollektiv e-chaps is that you can read ‘em all, including Dance Poems, yourself. So have it, please. Besides, I’ve worked myself up way too much. I’m pushing the chair away from the machine, and am off to trip the light fantastic.

Well, okay, probably I’ll just take a walk, maybe just around the block. But with every step, I promise you, I’ll do some kind of choreographed move, up there in the “ionosphere” of imagination and across the “reliquary bridge” of my mind, to honor Lamoureux’s word-dances.


Mark Lamoureux



John Olson said...

I love that phrase, pas de bourrée couru. I had never heard that before. The adjective 'bourré' in French means "packed, crammed, stuffed." So the phrase would translate literally as "step of stuffed running" or "step stuffed with running." That's really descriptive. I should also note that Michael Palmer has spent some thirty years collaborating with the Margaret Jenkins dance company. A recent collaboration resulted in "Danger Orange," a 45-minute outdoor performance presented in San Francisco in October, 2004, just before the presidential elections. Orange metaphorically, and ironically, references the national alert system intended to strike fear (and obedience) in the hearts of trembling America.

Odd to imagine a word like 'ionosphere' in motion, legs spreading in space, arms in elegant flight.

Steven Fama said...

Thanks John, for the comment. I've added a parenthetical to the definition of pas de bourrée couru in the post, within which is a link to a very short quick-time movie of the ballet move!

I wished I'd seen the Michael Palmer piece you mentioned. Somewhat similar, I saw a mention in the "Goings On About Town" section of The New Yorker this week of the debut of a dance-theatre adaptation of Patricia Smith's Blood Dazzler (a book of post-Katrina poems). These dance-from-poetry projects are sort of the opposite of what Lamoureux does in Dance Poems.

David Wolach said...

Awesome, lovely writeup here, Steven. Thanks for this. I don't know how Susana does it, every year without obvious toe breakage. This lot, like so often with Dusie, is like BAM. In both senses, more the fist-action one... Mark is so good--his new Spectre I love as well, really a beautiful (er, haunting) and, often, funny book. I think S co-edited this as well. Not just pluggin it because it's a Black Radish book. Here, tho, I can "attend" the performances, and very often go back and "watch" them online. Lovely. John: Steven recently turned me on to your kick-ass poetry. More on that as I familiarize... the prose poems are fantastic.

Steven Fama said...

Thanks David (Michael), for the kind words, and nice turn of phrase when you ponder how Dusie doesn't stub its toes!

And I am right now reading Spectre (Black Radish, 2010), Lamoureux's new and full-length (125 page) collection. I recommend "Tsotchke Idol" on page 65: a memorable poem about the strange simulacra that surrounds us.