“...past get-ready, almost at get-set...”

Stephen Burt’s review of Easy, Marie Ponsot’s sixth collection of poems, is in this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. Burt closes the review with lines from “Dancing Day II,” which, along with “Dancing Day I,” closes our latest issue.

We’ve put both poems online, and I’ve posted the second one below, along with video of Marie reading an untitled poem by Scott Walt that received honorable mention for poetry in PENs 2004 Prison Writing Contest. Marie has worked closely with the Prison Writing Program for years, and her thoughts on the “inner exile” of prison appear in PEN America 9: Checkpoints.

Burt praises "Dancing Day II” as “tender, alert, self-ironized and finally unillusioned,” noting that its “coming event is at once the end of a life and the sociable delight of another night out.”

Dancing Day II

Once, one made many.
Now, many make one.
The rest is requiem.

We’re running out of time, so
we’re hurrying home to
practice to
gether for the general dance.
We’re past get-ready, almost at get-set.
Here we come many to
dance as one.

Plenty more lost selves keep arriving, some
we weren’t waiting for. We stretch and
lace up practice shoes. We mind our manners—
no staring, just snatching a look
—strict and summative—
at each other’s feet & gait & port.

Every one we ever were shows up
with world-flung poor triumphs
flat in the back-packs we set down to greet
each other. Glad tired gaudy
we are more than we thought
& as ready as we’ll ever be.

We’ve all learned the moves, separately,

from the absolute dancer
the foregone deep breather
the original choreographer.

Imitation’s limitation—but who cares.
We’ll be at our best on dancing day.
On dancing day
we’ll belt out tunes we’ll step to
till it’s time for us to say
there’s nothing more to say
nothing to pay no way
pay no mind pay no heed
pay as we go.
Many is one; we’re out of here,
exeunt omnes

exit oh and save
this last dance for me

on the darkening ground
looking up into
the last hour of left light
in the star-stuck east,
its vanishing flective, bent

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