In this exclusive interview with The Los Angeles Press, David Gere generously shares his thoughts on marrying an embodied dance practice with poetry.
Linda Ravenswood and David Gere sit in a plaza having tea— Linda leans in to ask ….
LR: Thanks for your time David! Here’s a question I want to start with – as a dance scholar, why open your practice to poetry?
DG: I have to giggle a little bit because I don’t think of myself as a dance scholar these days, and I’ve never consciously invited poets into my life. Yet I am surrounded by poets, starting with the late John Unterecker, better known as “Jack,” my mentor at the University of Hawaii where I studied Ethnomusicology. It was 1983. I had just arrived at the Manoa campus after three years teaching in India. I was feeling a deep writing urge, and I heard through the grapevine that there was this wonderful poet who also wrote dance criticism for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. So I wrote to him and he said yes to guiding me in an independent study. I met with him once a week. We would start by reading dance criticism, mostly by people like poet Edwin Denby, and then more poetry, mostly his and Hart Crane’s. (Alongside Jack’s poems, which are quirky and fun, Jack had written Voyager, a critically acclaimed and weighty biography of Crane.) And then, on weekends, we would go to dance performances. Afterwards, we would both write about what we saw, he for the newspaper, and I, as an experiment for my independent study. One Friday night he took sick and asked me to fill in for him, which is how I became a newspaper dance critic, because of Jack. I guess that’s why, for me, the channels between dance and poetry remain wide open.
LR: How can dance and literary poetry connect in a pioneering way?
DG: These days I’ve drifted away from dance and dance criticism to become more committed to arts activism, encompassing the broader array of arts, as a way for all of us to engage with our innate creativity. Which leads me to another poet friend: Meryl Friedman, the director of education and special projects for the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA. Meryl and I co-teach the university’s Arts Encounters course, where we introduce general education students to an array of art experiences. We always teach a class focused on poetry. Together, we recreate the wonderful chaos surrounding Alan Ginsburg’s Howl. Meryl reads from Mary Ruefle. I offer one of my favorite Galway Kinnell poems—“Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight.” And then the Melrose Poetry Bureau—of which you are a member—comes and shares zany, playful, unpredictable takes on improv poetry. Whenever we’ve done this before, we’ve been amazed at the number of students who begin sharing their own poetry with us. Not because it’s assigned, but because they want to.
LR: What are some strategic projects aimed at marrying poetry with dance/choreography that WAC/Dance hasplanned for 2019? What would you like to see happen that hasn’t materialized yet?
DG: I said before that I’m surrounded by poets, and it’s true. Bobby Gordon, a founder and member of the Melrose Poetry Bureau, is also the assistant director of my Art & Global Health Center. His office is overflowing with antique manual typewriters, which are a poetic obsession with him. Several times a year, he and colleagues—both professionals and students—set up an outdoor poetry booth toshare newly written poems with passersby. I love the serendipity of this, how the creative spirit finds a way to unearth the exact words that people need to hear, almost as if for spiritual nourishment. Bobby’s big heart and his generous spirit have everything to do with this, but I’m always amazed by how other poets in his sphere share similar gifts.
The other place where poetry and the arts intertwine is in the Sex Squad,which Bobby co-leads. Most years, the Squad writes group poems, which start with students responding to simple prompts, with the answers woven together into a poetic chorus. I’ve begun to use this technique in my classes as well, to elicit shared responses to class topics.
As regards other plans for the year, don’t tell Bobby, but I’m nurturing a secret desire to join his next typewriter poetry event. If he’ll allow me!
LR: So exciting!