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By the Book


'Dances and Lies':
discovering truth

By SANDY LONG

For Dale Laszig, author of the recently published poetry chapbook, "Dances and Lies," poetry is "a meditation that helps me get into my center, to hear my true voice, to touch something sacred in my essential self." The 14 poems presented in "Dances and Lies" explore the issues of loss and relinquishing, of betrayal and the search for solace.

The perspective and tone of these poems is decidedly feminine and intentionally so on Laszig's part.

Several years ago, she submitted a chapbook into competition for the Moonfire Woman Poetry Award, given by Still Waters Press, Galloway Township, NJ. The work garnered second place, but Laszig sensed she could do more. She ordered "What Is A Chapbook" and "The Poet's Persona" by Still Waters editor Shirley Lake Warren and went back to work. The publications helped Laszig to identify various voices within her work and to organize the poems in a progression. The effort resulted in "Dances and Lies," which earned first place in the 1999 competition, and was published in August 2000.

Laszig is deeply grateful to Lake Warren, who lauds the poetry for its "forceful serenity" and also to the Upper Delaware Writers Collective (UDWC), a regional group of poets and writers. As a member of the UDWC, Laszig feels that every poem in her chapbook was influenced by other members of the group, which meets regularly to discuss and offer commentary on one another's work. The group also saw publication of their first chapbook "Gatherings" this August, with two poems included from each member.

Some of the poems in "Dances and Lies" originated as exercises assigned to members of the UDWC. One I found particularly pleasing was "Seven Mornings," the result of an exercise whereby Laszig agreed to write immediately upon waking. The simple structure of the poem, each day a numbered stanza, belies the depth revealed in a 24-hour period. The poet questions the fleeting quality of time as she writes in her planner, "imposing today's schedule / like a crude template / on the dawn chorus." The voices of this chorus, a train whistle, an old refrigerator and a clock, combine with the human strain of her own heartbeat, "measured and precise." Another morning, "Grace comes," then self-revelation, as the poet admits to a "quiet style, perseverance / an attitude of questing indifference / that people misinterpret as sarcasm."

The consistency of tone throughout the work is notable. Dealing with loss, Laszig invokes a soft surrender and conveys this effectively with imagery that is suppressed and subtle. In "Back East," as the poem's subject moves from a state defined by "hands raw from clenching" to one marked by "Grief. Past hope. Past understanding," the poet gradually releases the poem from its technical correctness, dissolving it into fragments, eliminating punctuation. In "Castaway," the poem's subject seeks solace from the loss that accompanies death as she carries the crematory remains of her loved one along a beach burgeoning with life. Climbing into the cliffs, she releases the ashes to the wind, and finds in this relinquishing a certain peace. And in "Eating," the refrigerator is solace for loneliness and for a life that is a bluff. Eating becomes "a process, not a pastime, / a journey that begins when / everything else ends." In keeping with the other poems, there is no raging, no drama, just a silent acceptance as "she turns now / to the big door in the dark / her numb face bathed in soft electric light."

The poems don't linger in this steep, however. A few pages later, one smacks into "Tattoo," a tight exploration of the ironic permanence of an old tattoo whose "Colors shine Kool-Aid cheap... in an old woman's behind," in contrast to the impermanence of relationships and seasons.

Laszig anchors all of this with her opening poem, "Dances and Lies," the only poem presented in a centered format, giving it a quality of movement absent from the other poems. This poem sets the stage for the poet's dance with self.

"Start small, corners are best places where debris has gathered where danced-out lies have gathered where one lover's sweater bears the scent of another."

The poet likens the process of overcoming loss to that of cleaning a large house. As one resists the hugeness of dealing with what's left behind, of starting over, the poet advises starting small, in a corner, deep in a pocket where a crumpled candy wrapper rests with its memories, waiting for the poet to "lick the last thin shavings off the wrapper," before she begins again. There is reassurance in this suggestion of the cyclical, the ebb and flow of one woman's experience. Like breathing, things are given and taken away again. Ultimately, the poet accepts this, relinquishing any attempt to control what can not even be manipulated. And so, around the fact of lies, the poet discovers the truth of her dance. No small feat for a first chapbook.

"Dances and Lies" is available from the publisher, Still Waters Press, 609/652-7062 and at Church Street Books, Honesdale.

 
 
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