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Song and Dance: Poems 1st Edition

2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 004-6442152853
ISBN-10: 0618152857
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Brief, tightly wrought and compelling, this eighth book of poems from Shapiro (The Last Happy Occasion) remembers his charismatic brother David, a Broadway actor who died recently from brain cancer. Shapiro's terse, moving sequence begins with poems about the two brothers as children, then moves swiftly into David's diagnosis, his last months of bodily decay and his family's uncomprehending grief. The poet's tools in portraying it all range from slow unrhymed couplets to prose poems and three-step, all-over-the-page lines, and from defiant show-business exuberance to a grave abstraction. One early, eloquent sentence considers "the still// inexorable autonomous/ machinery of obligations// that displace us even as/ they make us who we are"; the brothers' mix of admiration and struggle show "force/ requiring counterforce/ to feel how strong/ it is." Later poems set (in whole or in part) in the hospital set David's physical collapse against the bravery of his "beloved singers, tricksters/ of solace," "the dying brother/ playing the dying brother." Allusions range from Dickinson (in a poem called "Fly") to nursery rhymes; precedents include Marie Howe, Mark Doty, Donald Hall and Paul Monette, all of whom have published widely admired sequences about tending the dying though Shapiro's terse self-control in some ways excels them all. Shapiro (who won a Los Angeles Times Book Award for Mixed Company) has in the past seemed predictable, or perfunctory, as he took on the emotions of middle-class life; here, however, an awful subject has produced a volume to remember. (Mar.) Forecast: Shapiro edits the Phoenix poetry series at the University of Chicago Press, and is well known to the poetry community. This book should put him in a wholly new category among his peers, and will be a contender for major awards. It will also be a comfort to readers in his speaker's situation.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Ranging through memories old and recent, factual and imagined, Shapiro celebrates his brother, David, a song-and-dance man diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer just three years after their sister's death from breast cancer. The opening poem, in W. C. Williams' stair-step-like variable foot, portrays the brothers as children, lip-synching and step-kicking to an Ethel Merman record for their parents; and the last, in prose, collects some of David's last, jesting responses to his illness, which are genuinely funny. Glimpses of him in agony confirm that he was a real trouper, most indelibly, perhaps, in the depiction of his last day, when his restlessness--"as if in search / of some way / out of the dying / body that just / would not die"--mirrors that of a fly in the room, trying to escape through a windowpane. This book of poems in which not a word seems mischosen is one of the finest examples of the new secular poetry of illness and death that would assuage grief when the consolations of religion ring hollow. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1st edition (February 21, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618152857
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618152858
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,424,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Robert Boswell on May 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Shapiro writes of his brother, a performer who recently died at a young age, and he makes use of personal memories and show business songs in ironic and unexpected ways. This is not a collection of poetry in the usual sense; it accumulates power in the manner of a novel while having the precise beauty of poetry. If there is any justice, it will be a finalist for all of the prizes. Alan Shapiro is a fine poet, but the appeal of this book goes far beyond the typical readership of poetry. This is a book that will speak to anyone who loves literature, but also to anyone who had suffered grief. It is an unsentimental celebration of that which endures after a tragedy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Nina Bennett on February 17, 2012
Format: Paperback
Song and Dance tells the story of Shapiro's brother's illness and death from brain cancer, starting with his diagnosis. Shapiro's writing is raw in a take-no-prisoners manner. He writes the rarely acknowledged emotions of grief, such as anger and rage, and portrays honest snippets of illness and dying that aren't pretty or peaceful.
"What did it mean, the moaning? Or could you even
call it a moan, what bore no trace of a voice
we could recognize as his?"
(The Big Screen)

Shapiro's brother was an actor, a Broadway song and dance man. Many of the poems contain allusions to show business and classic show tunes. The opening poem, "Everything the Traffic Will Allow," has the young brothers lip-syncing to Ethel Merman while their parents cheer them on. Later, in "Broadway Revival," Shapiro says
"I play
the brother
who doesn't know his lines"

Shapiro is known as a formalist poet, and the forms he uses in this collection serve the subject. Some of the poems use short, almost staccato lines, placed at various points on the page. There is a tension, a sense of containment, to the placement that emphasizes the unpredictability of life and the unfairness of illness and death.
"Can't eat, can't drink, can't do a
thing except just lie
in bed before the TV
he's too sick to watch"
(The Phone Call)

Song and Dance is much more than a collection about a brother's death; it is a story of family and memory, a song for a sibling's life.
"You should have
heard him,
his voice was
unforgettable, irresistible, his voice
was an imaginary garden
woven through with fragrance."
(Song and Dance)
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