One of the most fascinating aspects of becoming a dancer has been observing how another art form can weave itself into the backdrop of one’s life, and inevitably become part of the imaginative “well” we draw from when we write. Most often when I write about dance, I do so with the intention of meditating upon something for this column, but perhaps more interesting are the surprising ways dance has cropped up in my fiction and poetry writing: in the past two years, the subject has arisen in my short story “An Evening Unveiled,” part of Burrow Press’s first 15 Views of Orlando anthology, and in numerous poems, like the one below. Often a dancer “persona” speaks out in such poems, but this one captures an onlooker viewing a scene—a point-of-view which may have sprung from my unorthodox approach when I sat down to write.
Why the different approach, and how do writers change things up to suit the circumstances of vacations, work-related trips, conferences, family visits, holidays, the birth of children, etc.? This month I’ve been traveling—first to D.C., now to PA where my sister will get married this weekend—and so I haven’t been writing much. Prose, at least, refuses to be born. There is too much interruption and anticipation of last-minute dress fittings, trips to the hair salon, the rehearsal dinner. I’ve found myself snatching hours in the rainy afternoons, and using one of my favorite tried-and-true writing exercises which could work for prose, I think, as well as poetry.
You may have encountered this exercise before: first, create a list of concrete nouns in one column, then a list of modifiers in the other. Without thinking too much about making connections, draw lines from one to the other, making pairs. Then use the pairs in a poem, or to jump-start a prose piece.
“Final Adjustments” is the result of such an exercise—“gutted candle,” “sunlit blade,” and “blurring yellow stick” are pairs derived from my two lists. Other pairs appeared in the first draft, but I ended up editing them out. This is a fun exercise, great for when you’re out of your routine or on the road, when your mind is unsettled but stimulated and jumpy with creativity.
So, happy summer vacation from your Shimmying Writer. Now you have no excuses not to write while hopping that airplane or setting off on that camping trip.
A dancer swipes a gutted candle
across her saber
and takes the lakeside stage.
Bejeweled, burgundy crowned—
with sunlit blade raised high.
The others—hidden, backstage,
slip into dance-paws, headbands,
tug on sweat-striped knee pads
to gently rumbling tambourines.
A soloist twirls, sends cane airborne,
helicoptering over bushes, into crowd.
A passerby hurls it back blindly—
a blurring yellow stick.