The Dance of Reading

It is so tempting to tumble the order of opening and closing stanzas of Sonnet L’Abbé “Epilogue: The Moth’s Lesson” (last poem in A Strange Relief) if only to have the poem bend back upon itself and draw an equivalence between dance and reading. Or to turn to the closing of Robin Blaser’s serial poem (The Moth Poem) which is clearly invoked by L’Abbé. First her opening and closing in the usual reading order:

Once I read of a moth
accidentally closed
inside the flat half-shell
of a grand piano,
the eerie counterpoint
of random notes struck
by frantic wings,
the strange, asymmetrical
tones of its struggle.


I understand that moth.
What we make of living
is remembered only by the living.
The only joy of trying
is to listen
for its brief, absurd music,
and if you are brave enough to hear it,

The word “dance” all by itself on the final line could lift the reading experience out of the poem into the reader’s horizon. I like to pick up the “eerie counterpoint” from the opening stanza and posit that the bravery of hearing the music that one had read about stretches the reader experience to bend the poem back to the initial figure of the reader reading. In essence the poem cycles through a set of stances: reading, listening, remembering, dancing.

Interestingly L’Abbé’s “dance” echoes Blaser’s serial poem which ends with the image of flight in the figure of a moth rising out of ashes:

[…] awakened by my burning cigarette, a brown
moth noses its way, takes flight

This phoenix-like moth may of course have given L’Abbé the notion to hint at the dancer and the dance figuration.

But the rising moth and the piano-trapped moth are not the same moth. Stan Persky in “Reading Robin Blaser” reminds readers that The Moth Poem contains many moths (we are not reading about a single instance):

If the appearances of the moths were a kind of “magic,” as Spicer and Blaser used that term, nonetheless, Blaser insisted on identifying himself as a “literalist,” as the titles of the first two poems in the series put it. That is, it really happened.

The tension is between literalness and figuration. Persky continues “the moth in the piano “will play on,” that is, will continue to play, whether one reads the moth as simply a literal creature or a representation of the poet”.

Playing on may not need be propelled by any given act of courage.

If the intermingling of mortality, memory and meaning making are the lesson (“What we make of living / is remembered only by the living.”) there is another note sounding: what we make in living too counts and this making in living is less an act of will or boldness than mere effect of being. Regardless of the origin of the playing on, it is indeed only the living that remember. And that is where the inflection of being brave rests. Being brave enough to hear rests (as a pause between notes) in remembering one dances between what is listened for and what is heard.

And so for day 2964

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