PF detail from Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Beach Scene, Guernsey (Children by the Sea in Guernsey) - 1883;

ISSN 
1942-2067

Copyright © 2009 Pirene's Fountain.

TX7-018-906

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Last updated:
April 2010

 

 

(B. 1961)
Photo credit: C.J. Sage

 

J.P.Dancing Bear

  Contents
The Poet
Bear’s Poetry
Publishing
The Facebook Poems
Translator
Interview

 

The Poet

It is easy to understand why J.P. Dancing Bear has a place among the most accomplished poets today. He is a multi-talented writer with energy and drive, his considerable poetic gifts evidenced by publication in such journals as DIAGRAM, No Tell Motel, Third Coast, Natural Bridge, Shenandoah, New Orleans Review, Verse Daily and countless others. He received the Slipstream prize for What Language (Slipstream 2002.) His work has been nominated ten times for a Pushcart Prize and once for a Forward Prize.

He acknowledges his mother and grandmother as having been positive influences during his early writing endeavors. Later, his partnership with poet and editor C.J.Sage, generated the best kind of synergy that sometimes occurs when two writers are married to each other.

Readers respond to the music and imagery of Dancing Bear’s fast moving language. His vision is penetrating and shrewd, but also colored with understanding and compassion. Originating from varied themes, his writing is substantive and polished. His poems are infused with honesty, wit and tonal complexity. His cast of characters appear in a capacious range of voices, from ancient Greek mythology’s Orpheus, and Iago and Hamlet from literature, to current idols from pop culture. Each poem is worked and chiseled, rich with sound, image and texture, creating beautifully crafted work.

J. P. Dancing Bear is the author nine collections of poetry, most recently, Inner Cities of Gulls (2010), and Conflicted Light (2008) both published by Salmon Poetry.

     

 

Bear’s Poetry

J.P. Dancing Bear writes poems that are alive with imagery and lyrical beauty. His voice is unique, his vision clear and confident. His relationship with language is a big part of his ability as a poet— the exceptional use of metaphor and other poetic devices augments the impressive range both in topical and stylistic treatment of his work.

In The Dark Current, there is an unmatched lyricism with its rich and full-bodied language. The imagery alone is exceptional, but there is also a deep sensuousness about this poem. Before you know it, you slip into the ambience as well, feeling each sensation. Carefully chosen words generate a rhythm that make you feel the pull of that dark current:


 

The Dark Current

We have lost the shade of blue;
it slipped beneath the night’s surface
like a slow immense fish.
I dip my hand into the water
to feel the cool current passing
and you watch me, as if I will reveal
some hidden magic, a bright wonder.
And I think I will remember you like this
with a halo of brightening stars,
smiling, daring me to conjure
a bouquet of delicate birds,
a handful of sparkling seeds.
In this twilight, I could change light
and substance into any gift for you.
But this is enough—
both of us knowing what can be done
for the other, knowing and smiling,
one hand left swimming the dark current.

From: Inner City of Gulls
Salmon Poetry, 2010


Like his masterful poem, “After the Diagnosis,” another clever piece is “Sinking.” This wonderful poem contains humor, irony and ambiguity. The delightful departure from ordinary images grabs one’s attention. Read it for yourself and feel its impact:

 

Sinking

In the kitchen light she was the sink
waiting for him. He stared at his mute
reflection in stainless steel. She folded
her arms to meet his at the forearms.
His face was a pile of scrap wood left over
from unfinished odd jobs around the house.
She was the brightness of a raw bulb
burning above them. He wanted to squint
but was afraid to send a false signal,
some other meaning than love.
He never saw himself as she did.
She followed him, sometimes he followed her,
to this place. He heard the squeal of every
hinge in the house; she whistled a tune
she’d learned from them. Behind his mouth
was a garbage disposal. She stared at him
with faucet eyes. Sometimes he heard
his father’s voice in the chopping noise
as he flipped the switch. He had failed
more than once. But she was never part
of his failure recitals. He felt strange
and lucky around her. There was warmth
where their arms met. They were a water dance
circling the drain before returning to sea


This next poem is one of my favorites: precise details anchor the imagination in this poem—the visuals are crisp and clear. Dancing Bear brings you into its snow scene to feel the cold bite of air. So tightly is this piece wrought, you can’t let go. Line by line you are drawn further until you are right there, heart pounding. It takes you deep into the wild, a place that is alien, and fascinating:

 

The Winter Wolf

There is something a little grayer than the snowed-upon
forest background: a watchfulness, a waiting hunger
in the peripheral vision. It is not that the white world
is comfortable to her, but she has found a way
to live in it: winter coat, letting the snow form
around her till it is a blanket that keeps her own
warmth within. It is not hard to see she lives
with purpose. This is where my beliefs begin:
she is the mind of snow. She has brought frost
to the pines, ice to the lake, and glitter to
the hills. Her voice is the wind cutting through
the landscape. When I hear her gospel in the boughs,
I know this is the cathedral, and when her gaze
is upon me, I am already on my knees.

From: Inner City of Gulls
Salmon Poetry, 2010


The pure and complex beauty of nature is worked in with rare artistry in the Casida of the Mojave. Here the intense imagery elicits an emotional response:

 

From: Casida of the Mojave

To see you naked is to know the truth
                      —Frederico Garcia Lorca

“And all night the desert dreams of horses
rippling their muscles though a tall grass
far from stretches of sand and tumbleweed.

Does the desert dream of another like a lover,
a missing piece, a split-apart; or would it desire
the caress of ocean or meadow against its body?” 

From:  Conflicted Light
Salmon Poetry, 2008


All of J.P. Dancing Bear’s poems employ strong symbolism and metaphor but the treatment here is different; the feelings evoked from this poem are combustible, like the phoenix itself. The sound in the lines is best heard when the poem is read aloud. The words crackle on the edge of the tongue and rise in intensity as one reads:


 

Departing Phoenix

I swallow bird songs that do not resurface—
if I opened my wrists, they will fly out.

I fall into necessity again,
at a gas station, unable to pay

for the fuel, yet yearning for the road.
The attendant balances a pencil

on her nose and talks of the circus returning.
I am flashbulbs of flirtation and shame;

whichever currency is required.
Her register drawer shuts but stays hungry.

A big-lettered sign says not to smoke,
but everywhere there is talk of matches.

In the empurpled desert light
I am an old Buick speeding over a cliff:

seconds of brilliant air singing past my face,
before impact, ignition, my unfurling black

and orange tongue. Oh let me be a song,
a wing of ash escaping from the wreckage.

From: Conflicted Light,
Salmon Poetry, 2008


This next poem operates on more than one level. The judicious use of color satisfies both the visual and the emotional senses, drawing the reader in to discover something under the surface:

 

Here, the Lily

Here, the lily, the broad hands
extend forward and open, inviting
your shadow to join its own:

wanting all of you—your darkness.
Did I say my hands, open in
invitation to the bright petal of you,

and the shadow you lay over me?
Yes, I raise my many hands in joy
like the good songs of the soil.

I take the rays of you, the light,
I grow because of that, I know, I
know and still I take the night

of you too, your shade and cool
balance. How could I not love
this contrast, this twilight,

when I am both the green shades
and bright whites and yellows—
rising up out of this rich soil? 

From: Conflicted Light,
Salmon Poetry, 2008


Another one of my favorites, the visuals here are haunting. This elegiac song of trees in a world where our natural resources are being depleted, has a mystical, prophetic feel to it:

 

From: Believing in Fire

Tonight, the trees are dreaming of fire
They move their branches—
a primitive dance.
One reaches to another,
the vision is passed.
They whisper and hiss out
speaking in flame tongues.
Theirs is a hot prayer,
deliverance from the lumbering
destiny of becoming boards,
furniture, beaten and thinned to paper.

Conflicted Light
Salmon Poetry, 2008


And finally, this exquisite love poem. The infinite nature of love, and the profound connections that last   beyond the chains of flesh is beautifully portrayed here. Taken from his new book, Inner City of Gulls,
this poem is a fitting psalm of lovers:

 

Dia de los Muertos
                        for Jade

When we finally lie down
let peace cover our bodies,
let a fine dust and a scorpion
wander in our pelvic bones.

Our skulls will bend to touch
at the forehead, as we did
each night. Our ribs will clasp
like praying fingers,
no strand of black beads, no cross.

As our arms rest
on each others’ shoulders
we will dance
that night, my Love;
we’ll move across the ballroom,
glitter of the indigo sky.

Salmon Poetry, 2010


Please read J.P. Dancing Bear’s poems in the Current Issue.

 

Publishing And Related activities

 
   

J.P. Dancing Bear is the editor for the highly regarded American Poetry Journal. It is an exceptional journal which clearly shows the skills of its editor, and the poets who are fortunate to be among its pages. American Poetry Journal has been around for six years.  Apparently, readers have been inspired by its excellent standard of poetry. The journal awards an annual “American Poet Prize” which includes $500 and publication.

Dancing Bear also runs the Dream Horse Press, founded in 1999. Read this interview at Adirondack Review about DHP to learn more about what kind of work they are likely to publish and about their annual national chapbook contest.

As a natural offshoot of these activities, Dancing Bear also hosts the weekly hour-long poetry show, Out of Our Minds, on public station, KKUP.

 

The Facebook Poems

Originally J.P. Dancing Bear started writing these poems for friends as a way to celebrate their birthdays, and considering how many friends he has, it was a highly ambitious project. He composed the poems in an impromptu spirit, each one written on the day of the intended recipient’s birthday. These came to be known as the “birthday poems.” He did not realize the magnitude of this project until he was well into it. What started off as an informal project turned out to be a year-long odyssey, with an amazing yield of over a 1400 poems! Undaunted, he wrote a few poems every day for the entire year. It turned out to be serendipitous for the poet in more ways than one. As readers became aware of the existence and quality of the poems, various journals started accepting them. Also, as an added bonus, Dancing Bear had a whole new batch of poems to put together a book. (Please make sure to read the interview that follows, to learn from the poet himself how these remarkable poems came into existence.)

Each line of these poems builds from the preceding thought and slowly picks up pace. It reminds me of eating tapas—with their small, intense bursts of flavor. As compact and substantial, these little poems burst with images and rich sensory information that tug at our subconscious. The fact that these poems were written on the fly is all the more remarkable and demonstrates the considerable talent of this poet.

 

El Amante
                      after a painting by Tino Rodriquez

You say: love is the flowers of my mouth: and out spill color: petals: leaves: roots: an early spring: enough that I call you Green Tongue: your irises: are irises: that rise up to the roiling dark skies: your hands bleed beautifully: the field: here I pick the strawberry of your heart: and dream your body in dark broad leaves: you spread your arms: become the field: while I sway: a daisy


As punctuation, the colons work splendidly here. The poet used this kind of format because of formatting limitations on Facebook. He explained to us how line breaks were a problem, creating difficulties in using traditional stanza forms:

 

“So this left me to work with a prose poem format…The most recent, predominant style I started using…is a prose style I found C.D. Wright had employed in a few of her poems which used colons as the main form of punctuation in her book Tremble.”


Many of the poems are ekphrastic in nature, in that they are written as a response to a piece of artwork, thus creating highly visual poetry:

 

Martha’s House of Cards  
 
                      after a sculpture by Richard Shaw

Let’s not talk about how you cheated: that bending Queen of Hearts: on her third floor balcony: or how you finally chewed your pencil to a nub: just as your mother once predicted: let’s not talk about the other faces: locked in the chambers of your house: you said: we picked our pleasures: and it’s true: something else was bending: the books began to warp in the ocean air: your feelings becoming suits: bludgeoning clubs: cutting spades: the sharp edges of diamonds: the lonely curves and point of a heart

 

Translator

Anyone who has translated poetry knows it is a task of great courage and magnitude, and those who have read multiple translations of the same work, know about the intricacy and subjectivity of interpretation—the interplay of text and subtext. Those of us who have read poetry in languages outside of our native tongue are grateful for being allowed the treasures of these works that would be lost except for writers dedicated enough to translate as close to the author’s original intent as possible. It takes a deep study of the poet, sheer work, and a willingness to be subservient to the essence of the work in order to understand, and transfer intact, the very delicate and subtle nuances of language, meaning and music contained within.

This excellent and meaningful poem by J.P. Dancing Bear says so well what is often difficult to articulate. Fluency alone is not enough to translate effectively. This poem offers some stunning insights into the business of translation, the difficulties inherent on reading deeply into a foreign language, of understanding the complex emotional content—the language of the heart that is not easily given up to another tongue:

 

Gacela of Translation

So many arcs of the sun spent translating a hummingbird.
So many pages to explain feather, smallness and hum.
Say green, say red, say nectar, but fast, almost humming.

I never wanted to say the number of wing beats per second.
I saw the words—dust of emeralds, rubies, amethyst.

The word territorial was introduced upon revision.
The word migratory was crossed out of the text.

All the love of the world is no more delicate than a green wing.
All the love of the world is not unlike a tongue to the nectar.

Say ruby, amethyst, emerald—and someone asks a question.
My tongue struggles with the refraction of light.
My tongue is not long enough to hold first meanings.

From: Gacela of Narcissus City
Main Street Rag, 2006


In addition to his writing, editing and publishing endeavors, J.P. Dancing Bear translates Spanish poetry. He obtained permission from Óscar Wong to translate his work. Dancing Bear has also translated, for his personal purposes, and without permission to publish, works by other Nicaraguan poets: María Amanda Rivas, Helena Ramos, Octavio Robleto, Carlos Rivas Martinez and one poem of Juana de Ibarbourou for Liz Henry's Composite magazine. He has also done the same with Federico Garcia Lorca, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, and Pablo Neruda. Unfortunately, the limitations of time do not allow him to delve further into the world of translating poetry.

Dancing Bear has been working with Nicaraguan poet Blanca Castellón on translating her poetry into English and we will share a couple of samples below that have appeared in The Bitter Oleander previously:


 

Estación lluviosa
 
Mira la lluvia como si me vieras dibujando el paraíso. Entiéndela. Es la
 misma humedad que te ofrezco en los días comunes. Huele la lluvia. Tócala.
 Mójate las manos.
 Escucha cómo se cuela mi silencio entre sus gotas.
  
By Blanca Castellón


 

Rainy Season
 
Look at the rain as if you saw me drawing paradise. Understand it. It's
 the same humidity that I offer you these common days. Smell the rain. Play in it.
 Wet your hands.
 Listen to how my silence slides in among the drops.

Translated by J.P. Dancing Bear


 

From: LA VOZ DEL IMSOMNIO
 
Duerme dice una voz, duerme, que sólo en el sueño puedes ser igual a todos los mortales. Todos van al mismo lugar cuando duermen. Despégate de tu cuerpo. Déjalo ahí. Inicia tu jornada de los sueños. Viaja por ahora.Vuelve en ti y en mí. Volvámonos en contra del vacío.

By Blanca Castellón


 

From: THE VOICE OF THE IMSOMNIAC

“Sleep, a voice says, sleep so only in a dream you're equal to all mortals. Everyone goes to the same place when they sleep. Remove your body. Leave it there. Start your daydreams. Travel for now. Return to yourself and to me. Let's go back against the emptiness.”

Translated by J.P. Dancing Bear


Also, Mr. Dancing Bear shares his translation of Óscar Wong’s beautiful poem. It is surprising this work has not been picked up by a savvy publisher interested in making available to a wider readership, the lush imagery and emotive content of this poet’s words:

 

LUNA FÉRTIL
 
           by Óscar Wong

El mar, la dentellada oscura donde brama la serpiente,
el disco rojo que trasmina.
La Luna viene, fértil,
ilumina tu mirada de ámbar.
 
Esbelta y tierna me cobijas,
gardenia cándida
tu pupila resplandece.
 
Bebo tu amor en densos gajos,
insaciable bulle el alba en nuestros cuerpos.


 

Fertile Moon
           by Óscar Wong

The sea, the dark bitemark where the serpent roars,
the red disk that boars. 
The Moon comes, fertile,
makes you appear illuminated in amber.

Slender and tender you shelter me,
candid gardenia
your resplendent pupils. 

I drink your love in dense gulps,
insatiable disquiet of the dawn within our bodies.  

Translated by J.P. Dancing Bear


Poets too, are translators, although their tools are a little different. They use language to explain language and through figures of speech like metaphors, similes and other poetic devices, through music and rhythm, they clarify thoughts, imprint visuals and literally make magic. Poets make sense of what we find incomprehensible and translate abstract ideas by wrapping those ideas around an image. We take their words, each of us, and combine them with our personal perspectives and experiences to make them our own.

J.P. Dancing Bear’s vision of the world is compelling and articulate. His poems underscore the quality of being human and what it means to live together in this flawed yet amazing world. He is interested in finding solutions for the disparate experiences of life, and from the wisdom he has earned, he knows a few things we could all stand to learn. 

I have always felt that in addition to all the usual requirements for a great poet, the quality of humility is essential, the ability to adapt and change when necessary, and to welcome new experiences. It is a grand privilege to learn, to keep learning and never reach that point of satiation, to stretch ourselves and exult in the process, not just the end product. In an earlier interview, when asked what advice he would give poets, J.P. Dancing Bear put this so well:

 

“Constantly push and challenge yourself to do new things and learn new things.  If you've never written a sonnet, then challenge yourself to writing a crown of sonnets. If you've never written anything other than formal verse, write a prose poem.  Breaking down things, understanding the craft behind them and rebuilding the way you write only makes you a stronger and better writer. Never, ever think you are "there"—always be on the journey.”


Ami Kaye
April, 2010

Please click here to read the interview with J.P. Dancing Bear

Pirene’s Fountain thanks J.P. Dancing Bear for permission to use all materials, poetry and photographs for this article, and for his illuminating interview that follows. We are grateful to Blanca Castellón and Óscar Wong for sharing their superb work with us through J.P. Dancing Bear’s translations. We are also indebted to his publishers for the opportunity to reprint poems from his various books. We especially thank Salmon Poetry for their generosity in sharing the poems featured here from his newest collection, “Inner City of Gulls.”