Adia Palmer’s poem “Moving” was a submission for the 52nd annual Dudley Randall Poetry Prize at University of Detroit Mercy. We were honored to have her as a member of the English department family.
Daggers scrape the floor she floats aimlessly
An arsenal of artificial light beams on the complexion of her tights
Brown, pink, tan, light pink, suntan, white
Black girls ballet in the light
Click clack shoe taps have the most rhythm
A show of song
Ears stalk following along
Bare pattern practice arches the soles
Celebrating a modern style with cultural currents
Movement ancestors known before they arrived
And became lineage of lives
Said it wasn’t real music
The sound was a beat box
Jump, skip, hop and bop
Amanda Hiber (Senior Lecturer, Detroit Mercy English Department)
Early writers frequently miss the essential element of compression in poetry. They have so much to say, so much to express, and poetry gives them license no other form has. It’s not a five-paragraph essay, it requires no thesis, no citations, no topic sentence. And so, they write. Poetry is beautiful this way; it gives so many people their first hint that language can be a form of play, a release, not a prison. And so, they write. They take the license and keep. writing.
What strikes me most about Adia’s poem is its compression. There are few spare words. She harnesses diction, syntax, punctuation, and lineation to say more with less.
Most poems are meant to be said aloud, but some more so than others. This is one of those. Daggers scrape the floor. Sharp, scratching, rough, hard. She floats aimlessly (no comma: perfect). The repetition of Black. Ballet as a verb. This is just the first stanza.
Adia moves through dance genres as she moves through complexions, as she moves through and to the gravity of all of this. Black girls ballet in the light. Movement ancestors known before they arrived. She moves, too, between rhythms. “Eyes watch/Ears stalk” are like syllables in a haiku but then the prose (but not too prose-ey) of “Said it wasn’t real music.” She leaves out words when necessary. She infuses sounds—click clack shoe taps—for effect and, again, to alleviate surplus.
There’s so much to Adia’s poem. There’s the power of music; there are glimpses of her childhood as a dancer. But this is also a political poem. Some people write dance poems, some people write political poems. Adia wrote political dance poems.
If you knew her, this would come as no surprise. Adia was fierce but also sensitive. She spoke her mind but listened closely, too. She was keenly perceptive but completely self-possessed. She was self-protective but capable of great vulnerability. She’d look at you with the utmost skepticism and then break into that laugh. If you knew her, you’d know that laugh. You’d never forget it.