This week’s poem, 12 Dancers on 12 Tables, is material collected from watching and listening to an MFA in Dance group rehearsing out in the middle of the quad of Saint Mary’s College of California. The area was used by many students for eating and talking. And in the middle of this normal every day occurrence, dancers unexpectedly got up on the large tables and performed in the middle of the rest of us. A surreal experience where the observers were in the same space as the performers and yet also not formally an audience. In addition as the performance developed there were crows, who were always about, that seemed to become part of the performance, at least for me.
The material of the poem includes description of the scene, found dialogue, observations about the crows. But the mixture of material is attempting to provide the reader with the experience of being in that place and watching that wild mixture of something unusual happening in a usual place.
On the page the form of the poem mirrors this disorientation. It has unusual line breaks, dropped lines and some material is grouped into stanzas while others into single lines. Also the dialogue is not indicated except for “here” “we” “go”, which means it is up to the reader on whether terms like “really beautiful” is from the dance choreographer or from the speaker of the poem. This mirrors the experience, who is just an observer and who is a participant. Like as if you were at a table with one of the 12 Dancers on 12 Tables.
There is a rhythmic run towards the end beginning “cue you every night girl open-mouth at crow…” which has a musicality mirroring the dancers’ performance. I personally loved the evaluation of this rehearsal as “that’s a mess but looks really nice” which to me sums up both what I saw that day and the poem that resulted for me. The poem’s messiness is deliberate, a reflection of the messiness of art making, a chaotic mess can have its own beauty.
The video was challenging for me. And I think is perhaps a mess that looks really nice. Or I hope it is because that will capture the essence of what I experienced and the poem I created. At the time the performance reminded me of the movie Pina, the 2011 documentary that was an homage to the late contemporary dance choreographer Pina Bausch. “Documentary” doesn’t do it justice, it’s a wild and wonderful surreal experience. That is a film that is pure poetry.
I have no hope of creating such a wonderful thing, but I’m hoping the 12 tables being featured in varying scenes around my city, both urban and pastoral, will perhaps aid the reading of the poem so the viewer enters that world of the surreal where the everyday collides with the unusual.
This poem was part of a suite of poems that was a finalist for the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize.
And this video gallery is being developed with funding from: