Blot Lit Reviews: Dancing on Broken Glass by Barbara Moore
Each poem in Barbara Moore’s Dancing on Broken Glass feels like a snapshot of memory. Although the memories are not your own, Moore manages to capture something unmistakably familiar with each one—conjuring the melancholy comfort of looking back. This is a book that admires small moments and the sometimes big emotions we associate with them, revealing them for their vast importance. The poems in Dancing on Broken Glass are like bite sized stories, packing small but impactful punches. The flexibility of her language—her ability to go from crisp simple images to abstract emotions—lends itself beautifully to her material. Moore’s poem “The Letter” demonstrates this combination of stark language and deep emotion:
“I am standing by the birdbath,
wearing my red and yellow slicker.
My eyes inspect the distance between
last summer and this spring.
I hold the rain-drenched letter in my left hand,
doubling over, sinking to the newly watered crabgrass,
My body curls into itself.
I am a ball of nevermores, round and brightly colored,
out of place in this ordinary day.”
Moore brings the numbness of sorrow to life by creating artificial flowers out of the image of the red and yellow rain slicker. We don’t need to know the content of the letter to grasp the depicted breakdown, the emotion is created through Moore’s masterful use of imagery and language.
Dancing on Broken Glass progresses the way life seems to, from one moment to the next, suddenly but naturally, beginning in childhood and moving forward. One moment you’re reading “Dad,” a poem about waking up early to eat breakfast with Dad before he goes to work (“He pours coffee into/my milk/I wrinkle my nose/He passes the sugar”). The next moment, “Where I Come From,” a poem about being in love at nineteen (“I am finally born of the look I see in your eye/the day we cut classes, choosing instead/to hole up in your room, playing Eli’s Coming/over and over on the stereo”). After that maybe “The Fade,” a poem about the oddness of a woman getting older (“nodding at the absence/of whistles and catcalls, accepting this new stage/between sexy and dead”). Moore’s poems are beautiful and thought provoking individually, but there is also something to be said for the order and choice of each selected work coming together to create something in addition to itself.
I’d like to end at the beginning by looking at the first poem in Dancing on Broken Glass, a poem that encapsulates the essence of childhood courage which can be so difficult to hold onto, “Pony Girl”:
“Bouncing on my father’s knee,
wearing his beat-up soft felt hat,
there is nothing I won’t try.
Nothing I can’t master.”
This confidence and feeling of safety are intrinsic to the themes of Moore’s book as a whole. As I progressed through each poem I felt, as I have felt in my own life, a fluctuation between confidence and defeat and the places in between. I highly recommend Dancing on Broken Glass as a book of poetry that explores life at its highest and lowest, becoming not just a series of separate experiences on the page, but a fullness—a life.