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Dancing with Myself by Adam Fieled
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Dancing with Myself

by Adam Fieled

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Dancing with Myself is a twenty sonnet sequence, which forms the middle section of the 2008 Otoliths print book When You Bit by American poet Adam Fieled. ( )
  afieled | Jul 27, 2015 |
I have a few more things to say about Dancing with Myself. The perspective adopted by the author of a sonnet does not have to be a youthful one, but it tends to be. The youthful voice, exploring feelings of confinement, isolation, or (conversely, as in Keats' sonnets) euphoria and expansiveness, tends to hit us with a sense of something bubbling over or overflowing. The protagonist of Dancing with Myself adopts, uncommonly, a weathered voice and perspective, a voice already scarred by a lifetime of painful experience, even if the voice still believes in the redemptive powers of love and companionship. I think of Wordsworth and "The world is too much with us...", probably the gravest, most profound sonnet of the nineteenth century; my exiled-from-paradise protagonist shares with Wordsworth's the sense of disenchantment and alienation from the dreary intercourse of daily life and its vagaries. Yet the melancholy of age and experience vie here with the poignant sense of not-yet-atrophied emotional responsiveness, and not-yet-atrophied intellectual curiosity to go right along with it. This protagonist is weathered but not defeated.

Another bizarre Romanticism tangent, this time to Keats' Odes: the protagonist of Dancing with Myself finds himself exploring all the silence and slow time he needs, as Keats' does when he beholds his Grecian Urn. What these sonnets are drained of is the sense of original innocence engraved into the urn; that the urn celebrates youth, ecstasy, conflict, faith, and mythology, and Keats ricochets them back into his poem, mirroring the themes reckoned, adding his own gloss and prosodic richness; while Dancing with Myself explores age and aging processes, keeping the conflict, faith, and mythology, losing the youth and ecstasy. Part of the aged or weathered quality of the Dancing with Myself sonnets are expressed in their approach to form: rather than aping the Romantics, as a younger poet might, I employ what I call "clustering" or semi-formal techniques. Thus, I avoid the merely imitative, and express the maturity of a poet who can make formal compromises towards the creation of new forms.
added by afieled | editAs/Is (group poetry blog) (Jun 28, 2015)
 
If there are major constituent weaknesses in When You Bit… as a work of literary art, many of them have to do with the book’s dual ambition— to present sixty autonomous sonnets, and to have them establish, consolidate, and carry along a cohesive narrative threaded through the book. As to what succeeds in When You Bit…: many of the individual sonnets are very strong, both formally and on narrative-thematic levels. Also, the 3-1-2 conceit, how we start with a ménage, move into the solitude of Dancing with Myself, and end in two-person intimacy, is original and interesting. However, the interstices between the three sections of the book are, for my taste, left too loose, too ambiguous, so that the overarching narrative which carries the book along is not as solid as it could be. The opening (3) section, Sister Lovers, establishes an ambiance of sensuality and decadence— fair— sets in place how I am using the sonnet form formally, playing with some conventions, honoring others— fair— but also fails to distinguish the two Chicago Muses from each other, so that by the time we get to Dancing with Myself, one Muse is chosen, seemingly at random, to be the book’s Dark Lady, and the other (it seems) fades into the narrative mist. We never learn why the chosen Muse became the chosen Muse, nor how it happened that the situation between the three subjects temporarily dissolved. “Gist” manages to present us with some hints, at least as to the protagonist’s emotions:

Baudelaire conflated solitude
with multitude. He was wrong.
Or, look how good it can get,
& bad, when you’re backed in
to a corner with only work to
prop you up & give you gist.
I’m in love with you, I spit
when I say it cause I feel like
I live in my churned guts, I
look out the window, there’s
a street called Race, ha ha, I
couldn’t be any slower except
if I started popping ludes again.
Once-a-minute heartbeats rend.

The revelation of the protagonist’s being in love is a major one. Sister Lovers works specifically with the narrative thrust that the ménage is rather cold, clinical, and loveless. Somehow, from this context arose a relationship between the protagonist and one of the Muses in which inheres I-Thou warmth, tenderness, and deep emotion. Since we do not see how or why this happened, When You Bit… forces attentive readers to use their imaginations to fill in the narrative ambiguities. Readers can, thus, decide for themselves how important all the narrative blank spaces are, and whether they interfere with enjoyment of the sonnet sequence as a gestalt whole. This is all part and parcel of one of my ambitious objectives when I first began to write book-length poetry manuscripts— the paratactic approach, of a bunch of more-or-less random poems thrown together in a haphazard fashion (this approach is de rigueur in American verse), was deeply unappealing to me. I wanted to write books that were books, books which each had a specific, autonomous identity. So that, reading one of my books would be a complete, well-rounded experience. The challenge, to pull this off in poetry, is a major one. So that, the narrative lapse between Sister Lovers and Dancing with Myself— of the two Muses, one has somehow been selected and fallen in love with, while the other seemingly vanishes— is one of the book’s weaknesses, even as what audience the book has must decide for itself if it is a distractingly major weakness or a forgivable one. As author of the book, I have moods in both directions— accusatory moods balanced by forgiving or forbearing ones.
 
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