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Poems of Gesture: Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet


George Balanchine once described dancers as "poets of gesture." With that evocative line in mind for our 19-20 Season, we invited a group of poets to explore the ways in which the stage and the page unite in a series of commissioned poems, including this piece inspired by George Balanchine's grand plotless ballet Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, from poet Ariel Francisco.

On Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet


Strings pull the lavender twirling
to the center and out again,
the stage breathing
through the dancers,
the dancers breathing
through each other
caught in the intimate
geometry of movement,
delicate desire ascending towards
the closeness of crescendo.

Ariel Francisco holds an MFA in poetry from Florida International University, and is currently working on an M.A. in translation at Queen’s College. His work has been published in The New Yorker, Tinderbox, Pacifica Literary Review, and elsewhere. He has also published two books of poetry: Before Snowfall, After Rain and All My Heroes are Broke, with his forthcoming book A Sinking Ship is Still a Ship due out in 2020. Learn about his writing process for this poem in an exclusive Q&A, below.


What exposure have you had to ballet in the past? If you haven’t attended a ballet before, what did you know about the art form?

This was really my first exposure to it and it was incredible. I don't know much about ballet, only how incredibly tough it is. I've known several people who have had to give it up at some point in their lives.
Beyond later structuring the ballet you saw into a poem — into language — what was your immediate visceral reaction to it?
My immediate visceral reaction was one of complete and utter fascination and engagement. The rhythm of the dancers' movements with the music as well, it was like this giant breathing that I was a part of. I lost any awareness of being in a crowd, in the audience.

What was your process for this particular assignment? Was there anything different or surprising about that process?

This was definitely a bit different then my usual approach to writing poetry. I often engage with the literal world around me, describing what I see and how I interact with it. But for the ballet, the ethereal atmosphere of it is what I found most compelling. How what's happening on stage, when paired with the music, transcends a literal experience and becomes something else.

Balanchine described dancers as “poets of gesture.” How does that line resonate with you given this assignment?

Oh, I like that, and believe it! The importance of each movement both subtle and large, the body as a medium. This line resonates as being very accurate to me.

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