Step-Step-Leap Into Fearlessness

Hello readers! I’m back from my month-long hiatus.

While not blogging in July, I began my stint as a workshop leader for a couple of summer writing workshops for young people, including this one in my neighborhood park.

(Photo credit: Tamara Best)
(Photo credit: Tamara Best)

Writing with seven- to nine-year-olds has been so much fun because most of them have not yet developed the censor, the editor shuts us down when we got too weird or illogical or goofy. They are fearless.

(For example: Last Saturday, as we were writing a group poem about food, a kid who had been pretty quiet the rest of the session got so excited he stood up and sang Weird Al’s “Eat It,” complete with his own dance moves.)

So they leap, create fantastic worlds, images, lines. Like this: “Blue sounds like a drum.” “When I was asleep the wind moved my hair at night.” “If I was able to eat lightning / It would probably taste like me.”

Bill T. Jones, during a recent Merce Cunningham tribute performance, leapt too. As his dancers ended their trio-tribute, he shed his shirt and hat, and, for a few minutes, danced. Simply danced in his own body, that muscular vehicle, honed with over thirty years of dance-muscle-memory.

(Photo credit: Kian Goh)
(Photo credit: Kian Goh)

I watched in awe as he carried/performed the history of his work and Cunningham’s work in his limbs and torso. Then he crossed the stage and leapt like a bodysurfing rock star into the arms of his dancers.

This leap was different from the leap of the children’s writing. It is a leap made knowing full well the foolishness and danger, but done because that is what the performance required. A leap in tribute to the revolutionary work of Cunningham. A leap into the next generation of dancers. A leap that requires both trust and fearlessness.

To turn back to writing, I’ve making a somewhat haphazard way through Barbara Guest’s Collected Poems. Of the same generation as Cunningham, and equally a pioneer in her field, Guest is a good one to learn from when it comes to these things: holding history, leaping fearlessly, the grace of flying headlong and heedless. Like this:


drawn on the burden of light
the pottery throw
in bleat turning

ballast makes fingers twitch
shutters close
“going to pour”

wet to root and pavement
tent sagging like an oyster

“the city has another soul”


“the city also”
stole the bench and echoes

blight and shuttered bleat
soul chews a wilted corner

I can’t read that last line without a slight gasp at her daring. Surely, an ending like this would get the axe in workshop, but while it’s startling, it brings the whole poem into a sort of (il)logical order. “Soul” becomes more than metaphysical; it becomes metonymy, suggesting a person, perhaps, homeless in the city. So much opened, nothing defined, and yet so vital to holding the poem together.

This morning, I started reading Rae Armantrout’s Versed. This poem and its ending gave me such a turn, I’ll leap off this post with it for to you follow where you will.


Lime green
against dark foliage,
the Emerald oil sign
gleams alone.

Stars slingshot
round the center
at millions of miles per.

In rest homes, patients
hang on
as if to love.

Moment to
moment’s stretched

(Body beneath
a wooden plank,

she’s sucking her
grandmother’s cock.)

How did you land? Where will you go now? I will see you next week!