The Art of Gravity by Jay Rogoff is a collection of poetry that drew me in almost from the first page. The first part seems to be mostly about dance but to imply that is reductive, to say the least, while the second part thematically focuses on death. The title is perfect, suggesting both the beauty of ballet and the emotional weight of loss.
There is so much to praise about this collection that I don’t even know how to begin. From the first few pages, I found myself getting caught up in the metaphors and allusions which included everything from mythology to ballet choreographers and ballerinas to classical music and artwork. Visually, the form of some of the poems has lines that dance along the page. It is not necessary to be familiar with the names (Mr B, Maria Kowroski, et al) nor be familiar with the paintings (Degas, Picasso) mentioned but there’s no denying that some familiarity helps. Knowing that Terpsichore is the muse of dance or that George Balanchine’s first American ballet was Serenade and that it, like Degas paintings, focused on the ballerina may give the reader a clearer frame of reference; however, the details are not essential. The emotions of the poems remain distinct, with or without contextual awareness which can only add a shade of meaning to the driving force of the verse.
Everything about these pieces is deft but the technique is never so blatant that the reader is forced into awareness. It takes a careful reader to recognize that there are forms (villanelles, sonnets) within the free verse that dominates other poems. And it is this effortless perfection that left me breathlessly wanting to both immediately read the next poem while also wanting to linger over the one I had just finished. Sometimes the desire to pause was inspired by a single line or image within a poem or rediscovered in a later one.
“The Code of Terpsichore” begins the collection and “Danses Macabres” makes up the second part with poems that remain flush left, suggesting a shift in theme and a heaviness that the first part visually does not carry. Yet, there are hints of darkness even in the first part, of lust with sinister implications and benign images hinting at the malignant,while there are references to dance throughout the sonnets that dominate the second half. By the second half, I found myself wishing I were in college and could find an excuse to write a paper on this single collection of poetry, to find the ways Rogoff uses an image and then uses variations of the same image, creating an emotional resonance reinforcing a coherence that too many collections lack.
Can you tell I how much I love this collection? My only regret is that I don’t own a copy because I would easily read and reread it, making little notations in the margins. The pleasure of engaging with the text intimately is not often something I find myself aching to do of late. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the poet to come to Atlanta to do a reading. Surely Thomas Lux could make it happen. In the meantime, I’m adding this book to my wishlist and encouraging anyone and everyone who likes poetry to consider buying a copy as well.