The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Diane Lockward reviews Barbara Crooker.
Line Dance, by Barbara Crooker. Word Press, 2008. 80pp. $17.00.
In Line Dance, her second full-length collection, Barbara Crooker paints life as a dance. Her dancers perform at weddings, parties, and reunions. They dance through the garden and while doing the laundry. They change partners; sometimes they dance alone; sometimes they stumble. But they keep on dancing. They are the living and the dead who weave their way back and forth between the past and the present, through dance lines and poetic lines.
Crooker scatters poems about dancing throughout the collection. The title poem, which serves as the preface, is followed by "Miss Susan's Dance Academy," "A Sonnet for Mr. Rutherford," who had his own School of Dance, and "Fortieth High School Reunion." All kinds of dances take place—line dance, ballroom dancing, ballet, dirty boogie, and even "the dance of love" as Crooker lifts dancing to the metaphorical level. Undergirding this central motif are numerous references to dancing. The dark vegetables in "Eggplants" do a "lovely dance" and invite us to join in: "Come," they say, "sway with us in the dark." In "Listen" we are told that the "cardinals' red song dances in your blood." And in "This Poem" sheets on the clothesline become sheets of paper doing "their own kind of crazy dance."
The collection comes alive with motion. People dance, but they also travel, cook, garden, and climb. All of nature participates in this frenzy of activity. In "The Slate Grey Junco," for example, wind "rattles the windows, shakes the house, / and blows the snow in great sheets across the yard." Crooker energizes her poems with skillful use of personification. "The moon spills its milk" and "Two crows / resume their argument." A hummingbird wears a cape, and a crow plays a guitar. ". . . trees breathe in what we exhale, / clap their green hands in gratitude," and "Morning / draws her curtains."
Of course, we can't have a dance without music. That music is provided by such poems as “45s, LPs,” “One Song,” “Question Mark and the Mysterions,” “Blues for Karen,” and “My Middle Daughter, on the Edge of Adolescence, Learns to Play the Saxophone.” We also find singers, especially rock singers, scattered throughout—Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, Mama Cass Elliot, Janis Joplin, and Elvis.
Numerous references to singing add to the joyful noise. In "Gratitude" "the whole world sings." In "The VCCA Fellows Visit the Holiness Baptist Church, Amherst, Virginia" the visitors, upon arrival, find that "the choir is already singing, swaying to the music." The poem ends with a musical metaphor: "our hearts / lift out of our chests, tiny birds flying off to light / in the red buds, to sing and sing and sing." Several poems bring in instruments—piano, chapel bells, guitars, and drums. Others incorporate song lyrics. Nature, too, makes its contribution to the music. "Hard Bop" refers to mockingbirds singing. In "Valentine" even "the snow is busy, composing / its small white music . . . ."
The music motif is aided by this poet's ear for the music of language. In "Zero at the Bone" Crooker cleverly repeats the first syllable of "ticket" in the last syllable of "arithmetic." In "Arabesque" she uses a lovely echoing technique in "sunlight / filtering through the plane trees, / a dance of shadow and leaf. / Café filtré shimmered . . . // roses everywhere, / crinkled and ruched flirts . . . ." "The Slate Grey Junco," with its "snow, folding back / on itself, warping and woofing / the scarf of the storm," gives us a series of hard syllables and the rock and roll of the f, s, and r sounds. "Poem on a Line by Anne Sexton, 'We are All Writing God's Poem,'" uses anadiplosis. Note how each new line or sentence picks up a word from the preceding line or sentence:
I've driven into spring, as the woods revive
with a loud shout, redbud trees, their gaudy
scarves flung over bark's bare limbs. Barely doing
sixty, I pass a tractor trailer called Glory Bound,
and aren’t we just? Just yesterday,
I read Li Po: "There is no end of things
in the heart," but it seems like things
are always ending—vacation or childhood,
relationships, stores going out of business,
like the one that sold jeans that really fit—
And where do we fit in?
The dancers may sometimes be out of step, the musicians occasionally out of tune, but this poet never is. With admirable poetic craft, Barbara Crooker sets in motion a dance that her readers will find consistently graceful and familiar.
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