Poems of the Dance
- Dickson, Edward R.

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Commentary

Dickson’s Poems of the Dance (1921) is one of the most provocative early photopoetry books – a form, it must be remembered, not yet one hundred years old and still in relative infancy – in its links between poetry, photography, and dance; or, the aural, visual, and tactile realms of experience. In his acknowledgements, Dickson claims this to be the ‘first anthology of poems related to the dance,’ a claim more remarkable for the fact that it also happens to be photographically illustrated, with the images recalling the work of Anne Brigman and Imogen Cunningham. (Louis Untermeyer’s introductory essay notes that Dickson himself took the ‘sensitive’ photographs.) The collection proceeds chronologically from ‘Ancient Hindu Classics’ of 1500-1000 BC to ‘Early and Recent Modern Poets’, with several of these later poems about the most famous dancer of the early twentieth-century herself, Isadora Duncan (1877-1927.)

Dickson’s foreword discusses the photographic illustrations, and draws some insightful links between the two media. ‘The accompanying impersonal pictures,’ Dickson writes, ‘espousing the cause of no particular dancer or school of dancing, and illustrating no particular poem, are used as decorative intervals. The photographic medium has been employed to link the oldest with the newest of the arts.’ (Edward R. Dickson, ed., Poems of the Dance (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1921), pp.17-18.) The words ‘impersonal’ and ‘intervals’ are especially revealing, conjuring the sense both that the figures represented in the photographs are ‘types’ (i.e. dancers) and appeal to a kind of common, collective, even ‘primitive’ (in Untermeyer’s term) consciousness; and that looking at the photographs is as temporal an activity as reading the poems, emphasising and equating, in a broad sense, the aural and visual qualities of the photobook.

Book Details

Author: Dickson, Edward R.
Title: Poems of the Dance
Publication Year: 1921
Photographers Featured: Dickson, Edward R.
Subjects: Dancing, Poetry
Photographic process: Relief halftones

This book can be found in the University of St Andrews Library catalogue HERE

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