When I Dance

Poem by James Berry

When I dance it isn’t merely 
That music absorbs my shyness,
My laughter settles in my eyes,
My swings of arms convert my frills
As timing tunes my feet with floor
As if I never just looked on.

It is that when I dance
O music expands my hearing
And it wants no mathematics,
It wants no thinking, no speaking,
It only wants all my feeling
In with animation of place.

When I dance it isn’t merely
That surprise dictate movements,
Other rhythms move my rhythms,
I uncradle rocking-memory
And skipping, hopping and running
All mix of movements I balance in.

It is that when I dance
I’m costumed in a rainbow mood,
I’m okay at any angle,
Outfit of drums crowds madness round,
Talking winds and plucked strings conspire,
Beat after beat warms me like sun.

When I dance it isn’t merely
I shift bodyweight balances
As movement amasses my show,
I celebrate each dancer here,
No sleep invades me now at all
And I see how I am tireless.

It is that when I dance
I gather up all my senses
Well into hearing and feeling,
With body’s flexible postures 
Telling their poetry in movement
And celebrate all the rhythms.

James Berry (1924 – 2017) was a pioneering writer, educator, editor and activist – a wonderful poet whose writing for both adults and children was characterised by compassion, humour and an acute eye for the political and social factors that shaped his life, and the lives of others. He came to Britain in the post-war era of Jamaican emigration, sailing on the SS Orbita, the second ship after the Windrush. As a writer arriving in the first wave of Caribbean settlement in England, Berry was influential to the generations of poets that followed. In 2004, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but despite the serious nature of his illness and its worsening over the years, he would enjoy listening to poetry, engage the people around him in conversation, and respond with warmth and delight to music. A winner of the 1989 Signal Poetry Award, When I Dance, is a 59 poem gem, swinging in Caribbean rhythms of endearing mixture of Westindian dialect and English and celebrating the exuberance, vitality, bruises, dates, bicycle rides, love, toothless grannies, and the impossible, innocent fantasies that childhood conjures. To paraphrase Berry’s own words, it is a “toast to everybody who is growin.” [Words taken from texts by Hannah Lowe, Melanie Abrahams and Snehith Kumbla]

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