Cover image for Song and dance
Song and dance
Shapiro, Alan, 1952-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [2002]

Physical Description:
59 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3569.H338 S6 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Alan Shapiro's seventh collection celebrates art as a woefully inadequate yet necessary source of comfort. "Amazingly sensitive and tough-minded" (Tom Sleigh), the poems in Song and Dance intimately describe the complicated feelings that attend the catastrophic loss of a loved one. In 1998, Shapiro's brother, David, an actor on Broadway, was diagnosed with an incurable form of brain cancer. Song and Dance recounts the poet's emotional journey through the last months of his brother's life, exploring feelings too often ignored in official accounts of grief: horror, relief, impatience, exhaustion, exhilaration, fear, self-criticism, fulfillment.

Author Notes

Alan Shapiro was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry wit his title Reel to Reel.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

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

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Everything the Traffic Will AllowThe two boys dont suspect they dont exist.And Ethel Merman is the shade of a shade what Plato says all poetry is a record spinning beneath a needle as the boys lip-sync into imaginary mikes her glottal swagger, brassy, large, streetwise and from their mouths so touchingly naive for being so . . . Theres no people like show people . . .Their parents clap and whistle from the bed, propped up on pillows . . . Everything about it is appealing . . . They are shouting Encore! Bravo! when the boys, like chorus girls, arms on each others shoulders, step-kick their way across the room and out of it, then back . . .stealing that extra bow . . . Shades of a shade.What poetry is. Because theres nowhere else for them to be except inside the room in which it isnt when it is, in which there is no room unless I think of it the boys their arms flung wide on one knee mouthing the last words before the needle slides off into silence, the parents propped up on pillows, half laughing, half shouting Bravo! Encore! All now just the shade of a shade like no people I know . . . Excerpted from Song and Dance: Poems by Alan C. Shapiro All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Everything the Traffic Will Allowp. 1
Transistor Radiop. 4
Sleetp. 8
Scanp. 10
The Matchp. 17
The Phone Callp. 23
The Accidentp. 25
Joyp. 28
Up Againstp. 31
The Last Scenep. 33
Flyp. 37
The Big Screenp. 39
Three Questionsp. 41
Broadway Revivalp. 43
If I Only Knew Thenp. 46
The Old Manp. 49
To the Bodyp. 50
Song and Dancep. 54
Last Impressionsp. 57