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The Art of Gravity


96 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

ebook available


  Paperback / 9780807138908 / September 2011

George Balanchine, one of the twentieth century’s foremost choreographers, strove to make music visible through dance. In The Art of Gravity, Jay Rogoff extends this alchemy into poetry, discovering in dancing of every kind, from visionary ballets to Lindy-hopping at a drunken party, the secret rhythms of our imaginations and the patterns of our lives.

The poems unfold in a rich variety of forms, both traditional and experimental. Some focus on how Edgar Degas’s paintings expose the artifice and artistic self-consciousness of ballet while, paradoxically, illuminating how it creates rapture. Others investigate dance’s translation of physical gesture into allegorical mystery, especially in Balanchine’s matchless works. Rogoff pays tribute to superb dancers who grant audiences seductive glimpses of the sublime, but also to all of us who find in dance a hopeful and redemptive image of ourselves.
The poet reveals dance as an “art of gravity” in the illusory weightlessness of a “dance that ends in mid-air,” in the clumsiness of a Latin dance class’s members “trip- / ping over each other in the high school / gym,” and in the comic terror of a dreamer suddenly finding himself onstage starring in Balanchine’s Apollo. Finally, in a deep exploration of ultimate Gravity—a sonnet sequence titled “Danses Macabres”—Rogoff confronts with unflinching precision and mordant humor the dark consummation of all our dancing.

JAY ROGOFF has published five previous books of poetry, including Venera, The Art of Gravity, and The Long Fault. His poetry and criticism appear widely, and he writes about dance for the Hopkins Review and Ballet Review. He lives in Saratoga Springs, New York, where he teaches at Skidmore College.

Advance Praise for The Art of Gravity

“Jay Rogoff, a poet and a dance critic, has produced an entire collection that is both informed by a ranging knowledge of American and European poetic traditions and deeply and happily drenched in balletomania. . . . Mr. Rogoff seems to appreciate ballet dancers as real people and as incarnations of thought from every possible angle. He brings us the transcendent stars within the constellations of choreographic form and human beings whose youth and beauty, subjected to the merciless ticking of the clock, are chronicled from close by. A remarkable feat of aesthetics and empathy.”—Mindy Aloff 

“In poems that fly high but whose aperçus land securely, Jay Rogoff’s The Art of Gravity approaches the world of dance as its own inimitable art, and also as symbol. ‘So what if love is carnality / cross-dressing as caritas?’ the poet asks with characteristic wit and euphony. Closing this exuberant book, we feel that we’ve been spectators of ‘a dance that ends mid-air and doesn’t end / not even when the curtain must descend.’”—Mary Jo Salter

“I first sat up and took notice of Jay Rogoff’s work with the superb performance in Sapphics, “Making a Fool of Myself over Maria Kowroski,” one of the best poems in this ancient meter I have encountered in English.  It fully exploits Sapphics’ advantages in English—its knack for proper nouns and brand names, its risky (risqué?) enjambments, its exuberance and control, its humor and pathos, all while making a graceful bow to Sappho herself in alluding to the physical symptoms of love (“eyes gone flashbulbs,/  . . .  my glib tongue/ dumbing to granite”).  What a pleasure, then, to encounter this volume of terpsichorean turns.   "Poems on pictures seem to me an illegitimate genre," Housman wrote his brother, in a famous snub of the ecphrastic.  What would he have made of a book of poems centered on dancing, and even pictures of dancers?  One answer is that poetry comes by its dance figures honestly—its measures and feet—from those ancient odes at the foundation of our lyric—turn and counterturn and stand.  Lining up his sly, internal rhymes so that we can see their harmonizing gestures even when we barely hear their shuffling feet, Rogoff’s white page stands for the stage flooded with light, facing the audience, the ogling darkness.”—A. E. Stallings

"In a collection this focused, a poet risks monotony, but Rogoff surprises the reader again and again with the variety of his rhetorical approaches, poetic forms, and meditative aims." - Stephen Kampa, The Hopkins Review

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