Dancing, with Mirrors by George Amabile — review by Mark McCawley

Dancing, with Mirrors


by George Amabile


review by Mark McCawley


Dancing, with Mirrors amabileDancing, with Mirrors
George Amabile
Porcupine’s Quill
$19.95 pb, 192 pages
ISBN 978-0-88984-343-1

More than twenty years in the making, George Amabile’s ‘lyrical retrospective’, Dancing, With Mirrors is Amabile’s thoughtful fragmentation and re-arrangement of his personal history. Essentially one long poem which examines the major events and themes of the poet’s life, organized thematically into a roughly chronological narrative, this long poem is broken down into eleven distinct ‘cantos’, each with a different focus — pain, affection, desire, disappointment, loss, those small graces of the everyday found among the mundane aspects of living. These are intense snapshots of life-defining moments distilled over a lifetime of experience and poetry in which there is general sense of continuity with each of the cantos rather than an imposed unity.

When I began this project, my hope was that, looked at closely, fragments of an individual life — moments of intensity or understanding, crossroads, discoveries, the dynamics of family and friendship, the shifting gestalts of public and private events, glimpses of the interplay between mind, spirit, and world — might become a vehicle for speaking to some of the concerns that have emerged, with some urgency, from the cultural matrix of the last half century. The cantos, as I call them, are organized by juxtapositions which reveal thematic linkages, or narrative connections, and sometimes both.

~George Amabile, Author comments, Porcupine’s Quill webpage

While “a good deal more than half of the book is new material…many, if not most, of the poems or parts of poems that have been recycled into this book were seriously transmogrified, cut down, edited, compressed, rephrased, or entirely rewritten…” (Ariel Gordon, Prairie Books Now, Spring 2012)

In Dancing, with Mirrors Amabile has moved away from the individual poem to possibilities inherent in the association of scattered moments and insights to provide a different kind of poetic coherence than the purely sequential as narrative, but a complex mosaic of associative threads and sparks weaving through time and individual life experience.

This is made no more evident than the vivid and visceral poem concerning Amabile’s brother’s death, “Accidental Death” from his 1972 Sono Nis Press debut collection, Blood Ties, reworked within the third ‘cantos’, “What We Take with Us, Going Away”:

I step out onto the pavement.
Smoke boils in the headlights.
He’s lying on his back,
arms crossed over his chest.
My mind spins…

                            It was late
morning. Woodflies
whirled around our heads. I struggled
with his hand-me-down bike, the bent
frame, the loose chain
I cut my knuckles fixing; I shouted, STAY
BEHIND ME every time
he stood on the pedals, tall
in the saddle of my new Schwinn,
trying to surge by his big brother.

I heard the rattle of a dump truck, a screech
of brakes, then the gunshot
of a burst tire. Over my shoulder
a splitsecond glimpse of handlebars
raking the air at a sick angle,
milky smoke and black
smear on the highway. I was in the air
when his body slammed on the grass
shoulder, rolled up in a heap.
I landed running, tearing
                                         his name loose
from my throat (42)

Or a relationship with a younger woman, as in the title ‘cantos’, Dancing, with Mirrors — rendered in exquisite imagery and fierce intimacy — in which “sex is a language, not an event”(136):

We lie in the bath, touching
until what we feel rising
is shocked by porcelain
and we drop back into small talk,
our stomachs fluttering
like the thin flame
that sends waves of tinted gloss
over her collarbones
and I can feel years of darkness
dissolve under her hands
as we pause between flights
half in
          half out of the water (132)

In Dancing, with Mirrors George Amabile not only pushes personal boundaries of memory and vision, and the conventions of form and imagination, he transcends them — adapting older poems and fragments alongside newer ones, distilling into the eleven cantos of his long poem a voice both authentic and recognizable to readers already familiar with his body of work. Indeed, Dancing, with Mirrors should take its place alongside bpNichol’s The Martyrology and Robert Kroetsch’s Completed Field Notes as an intriguing example of the best of the Canadian long poem form.UG

Copies of Dancing, with Mirrors by George Amabile can be ordered through Porcupine’s Quill.


georgeamabileGeorge Amabile has published his poetry, fiction and non-fiction in the USA, Canada, Europe, England, Wales, South America, Australia and New Zealand in over a hundred anthologies, magazines, journals and periodicals including The New Yorker, The New Yorker Book of Poems, Harper’s, Poetry (Chicago), American Poetry Review, Botteghe Oscure, The Globe and Mail, The Malahat Review, The Penguin Book of Canadian Verse, Saturday Night, Poetry Australia, Sur (Buenos Aires), Poetry Canada Review, Canadian Literature, and Margin (England).


BLOOD TIES (Port Clements, B. C.: The Sono Nis Press, 1972)
OPEN COUNTRY (Winnipeg: The Turnstone Press, 1976)
FLOWER AND SONG (Ottawa: The Borealis Press, 1977
IDEAS OF SHELTER (Winnipeg: The Turnstone Press, 1981)
THE PRESENCE OF FIRE (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1982)
FOUR OF A KIND (Winnipeg, Pachyderm Press, 1994)
RUMOURS OF PARADISE / RUMOURS OF WAR (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1995)
TASTING THE DARK (Winnipeg: The Muses Company, an imprint of J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing Inc., 2001)
ILIARJUK: AN INUIT MEMOIRE, by Draque Drecc (Gideon Etorolopiaq) Edited by George Amabile Libros Libertad, Vancouver, 2007
DANCING, WITH MIRRORS (Erin, ON. The Porcupine’s Quill, 2011)
SMALL CHANGE (fiction) (Vancouver, B. C. Libros Libertad, 2011)

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