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.
and tone of these poems is decidedly feminine and intentionally
so on Laszig's part.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
Lies" is available from the publisher, Still Waters Press, 609/652-7062
and at Church Street Books, Honesdale.