Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hunt the slipper: a romantic divertissement by Jo Thorpe

‘Taglioni’s lilies,’ he says
handing her a long-stemmed
bouquet in the bar near his chambers.
He’s going through his repertoire –
eyes locked over Brut Cuvée,
fingers brushing hers as they reach
for antipasto. He imagines her
conferring limbs. (After the tangled
sheets. After the moonlight).
It seems like the right time to move.

But she’s miles away, out on the
Russian steppes, not with him
not with anyone she’s ever known,
recalling a tale of that chaste ballerina
stopped by a highwayman wanting
not gold, but demanding she dance
on her black panther skins
spread out on the scintillant snow.
For fifteen minutes she plunged him through.
There were stars. They glittered on her
emerald rings, diamonds bestowed by royalty.
Then the highwayman, Trishka, led her
back to her carriage: ‘I keep the rugs,
mademoiselle. I will never part with them’.
And how later, a pair of her ballet slippers
were cooked and eaten by fans.

He’s talking now of bubbles
beaded, winking at the brim
(having googled her clear loves)
but she’s grasping at memory – a slipper
in a lit case. The memory’s piercing,
is standing in a hushed space, peering
through a vitrine at a single ballet slipper,
feather-light on its see-through shelf,
pale, with a faint blush as if it
might once have been pink.
And caged, like a moth in amber.
Emphatically darned around the sides.

He’s taking off her side-laced shoes –
the kind a sylph might wear
on an occasion calling for boots.
There’s pollen on the sheets (from all those
perfumed lilies) and her limbs!
so lustrous under moon.
But her memory insists. That slipper in its
lit case? Where? In what opera house?
Moscow? Paris? New York?
She can’t recall. And when? No idea.
Decades ago, perhaps.

Author's note: Marie Taglioni was the first Sylphide, the most famous ballerina of the Romantic era. The poem draws on two sources – a real-life experience recounted in Taglioni’s own words in Parmenia Megel’s book The Ballerinas, from the Court of Louis XIV to Pavlova, and an article by Tobi Tobias Taglioni’s 'Shoe: Memory & Memorabilia'. In dance spectacles of the 18th century, a divertissement referred to inter-act diversions or episodes loosely connected with the plot. Taglioni is reputed to have loved Christmas lilies, and the poem plays with all these ideas, moving between the present and the past.

I chose 'Hunt the slipper' as the Tuesday Poem for two reasons. Firstly, it's one of the poems in JAAM 28: dance dance dance, which has recently been published. Clare Needham and I are the co-managing editors of JAAM, and together we selected the work for this issue – Clare chose the short stories, I chose the poetry, and we consulted on everything else.

The initial idea for the issue was Clare's. She was producing a theatre/dance show, Sleep/Wake, and she got 'thinking about how exciting it would be to get writers thinking about dance and dancers thinking about writing, then see what happened.'

It seems to have hit a rich seam of creativity, as we were overwhelmed with submissions. We were delighted at how contributors interpreted the theme laterally as well as literally. Some work is about dance or features dances or dancers – such as 'Hunt the slipper'. Other work dances on the page, or sets up dance rhythms – which 'Hunt the slipper' does also, jumping around in time and with language.

In many pieces dance is metaphorical – people dancing gingerly in their relationships with other people (also true of 'Hunt the slipper'), or dancing with death, for example. As you can see, 'Hunt the slipper' is an excellent example of the kind of work that you'll find in JAAM 28, though the issue is nothing if not varied.

The second reason I've chose 'Hunt the slipper' as the Tuesday Poem is that this week 'Hunt the slipper' will be launched in another form – as part of Jo's second collection of poetry: In/let, which is published by Steele Roberts. It's going to be launched by Greg O'Brien on Thursday (9th December) in the foyer of the New Zealand School of Dance, Te Whaea: National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Road, Newtown. All welcome.

Jo Thorpe is a dancer, lecturer in dance history (at the New Zealand School of Dance), and a dance writer and critic as well as a poet, so you can see that our theme for JAAM 28 was right up her alley. Her first poetry collection Len & other poems was published in 2003 (also by Steele Roberts). She has an MA in creative writing from Victoria University, in 2001. She has danced for many years with the Crowsfeet Dance Collective under the artistic direction of Jan Bolwell.

You can read more about Jo on the Book Council website, and don't forget to check out the other Tuesday Poems in the live blog roll. The Tuesday Poem on my own blog is 'Forty-League Boots', by Vivienne Plumb (my favourite from Viv's collection Crumple, which I've just published as Seraph Press.)

This week's editor is Helen Rickerby who is the author of two collections of poetry: Abstract Internal Furniture (2001) and My Iron Spine (2008) (both with HeadworX); and a sequence of poems, Heading North, published in a hand-bound edition by Kilmog Press. As well as being co-managing editor of JAAM literary magazine, she runs Seraph Press, a boutique poetry publisher. Helen lives in Wellington, in a cliff-top tower, and works as a web editor. She can be found blogging irregularly at Winged Ink.


Helen Lowe said...

A wonderful poem, in a journal edition that I am both enjoying reading and being part of.

Mary McCallum said...

This poem gives me shivers. It GLITTERS. It pulses. It is fairytale. It is legend. I love 'black panther skins spread out on the scintillant snow'. Oh. Thanks Helen. Thanks Jo.

maggie@at-the-bay.com said...

Ballet slippers cooked and eaten - how fascinating - Jo's love of dance and her way with words, never fail to ignite. Looking forward to her new collection. I can imagine Jo dancing in the snow for a highwayman :)

Natasha Dennerstein said...

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Conjures up Angela Carter and those dark,feminist fairytale retellings.

Melissa Green said...

A lovely poem with all the romance of the Romantic era and the seduction dance has for us, and the love great ballerinas of the past were showered with. Beautifully paced, splendid details.