Review: The Art of Gravity: Poems by Jay Rogoff

Initial reaction: A quick read of this respective collection of poems, but I’ll admit this was a collection that was hit and miss for me.

Full review:

If there’s something to be said about Jay Rogoff’s collection of poems in artofgravitycoverrose“The Art of Gravity,” then it’s definitely that all of the poems have an emphasis on their structure and placement as the lines unfold – poetry imitating dance, if you will. I almost wish I could copy/pasta some of the selections from this collection, but then those of you perusing would probably lose out to how the text is spaced out in each poem. That, in itself, is important to the presentation of each poem, given the sparse language – some of the meaning and methodology would be lost.

But there are selections in this that take on a standard stanza format, and are lovely in the context of the language and imagery. Take one of my favorite poems from the selection in its entirety, entitled “Turnout”:

Hovering, there, her precise arms,
caressed by waves of blue stage light,
loom streamlined and supple as the pastel limbs
of dancers Degas turned out,
snapping off pirouette on pirouette,

his weird mauves and gaslit greens
insinuating art turns out dancers
as workers turn out gorgeous, fast machines.
Spectacularly her tutu flares
under unnatural color that blurs

a face calm as a dolphin’s. Her splayed
feet, spread arms, mark her body’s turn-
out, coaxed-open thighs and ribcage, so broad
a smile that from the balcony no one
reads strain under industrious sleek skin—

steel sinews, attent tendons, turned out
on the axis of a lathe, each bone
stark as a cathedral rib, to strut
in magnanimous turnout this taut,
relentlessly taught machine.

I thought this particular poem was gorgeous, especially imitating a dancer’s motions. (The dolphin line is a little weird, though.) In fact, many of these poems feel like they paint dancers on stage in fluid movements, some with grace, others with harried intensity and motion. But sometimes this can be hard to capture, and I’ll admit the collection started with a great amount of steam that wasn’t quite carried through the entire narrative.

I definitely noticed that the poems in the latter part of the collection were more oriented towards the silly and playful (and given theme, appropriately titled “Dance Macabre”), but it made me miss the imagery and form of the first part of the collection that much more, because it wasn’t as consistent to carry over. Among the poems I really liked – “Turnout,” “The Lesson of Orpheus,” “Primavera,” “Yellow Dancers,” “Rehersal in Summer,” “Mid-Air,” “Dance of the Snowflakes,” “Death Goes to a Party,” and “Sweet Decorum.”

Overall score: 3/5 stars

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher LSU Press.

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