Born in New York City, poet, political columnist, and personal essayist Katha Pollitt was educated at Radcliffe and earned an MFA from Columbia University. She is the author of the poetry collections The Mind-Body Problem (2009) and Antarctic Traveller (1981), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her poems have been featured in several anthologies, including The Oxford Book of American Poetry (2006) and Best American Poetry 2011.
Pollitt’s columns for The Nation, the New York Times, and the New Yorker are compiled in Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism (1995), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture (2001); and Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time (2006). The title piece of her personal essay collection Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories (2007) was anthologized in Best American Essays (2003).
A Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, Pollitt has also received a Whiting Foundation Writing Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She has taught poetry at Princeton University, Barnard College, and the 92nd Street Y. She lives in Berlin, Germany. (Poetry Foundation)
Found another poem by Katha Pollitt that feels very close to my heart. When I was a little kid the first thing I wanted to be was a ballerina. My mom had put pictures of ballerinas over my sister’s and my twin beds. I haven’t been able to let go of them. Interestingly, my sister went on to become a dancer — HULA, because my dad always loved Hawaii. Me, on the other hand, I got divested of that ballerina idea whilst I was still fairly young — though thoughts of that linger in my mind, and for years I had an actual pair of toe shoes hanging in my bedroom. Since that young age I have gone to a lot of ballets. We are fortunate here in Utah to have a great ballet company — Ballet West. So this poem brought up a lot of memories and emotions for me.
A ballet blanc (literally, white ballet) is a ballet in the style of the 19th century romantic ballet. The ballerinas and the female members of the corps de ballet wear bell-shaped, calf-length, white ballet tutus. The second acts of La Sylphide and Giselle are representatives of the ballet blanc. Swan Lake, one of my favorites, is another. (This picture is from Ballet West’s Swan Lake.)
Anyhoo, I hope you enjoy this poem and it makes you remember what you wanted to be when you grow up! (Eventually I decided I wanted to be an archaeologist! Needless to say I was predisposed to fall in love with Indiana Jones!)
Baryshnikov leaps higher than your heart
in the moonlit forest, center stage, and pleads
with the ghostly corps, who pirouette, gauzed white
and powdered blue, like pearls, the star Sylphides
of Paris, 1841. You swoon
back in red plush. Oboes, adagio,
sing love is death — but death’s this lustrous queen
who twirls forever on one famous toe
while hushed in shadows, tier on golden tier
swirls to apotheosis in the ceiling.
Miles away, through clouds, one chandelier
swings dizzily. What feeling
sweeps you? Dinner’s roses and tall candles,
a certain wine-flushed face, your new blue dress
merge with the scented crush of silks and sables–
through which, you’re more and more aware, two eyes
stroke, meltingly, your neck. You glow, you sway,
it’s as though the audience were dancing too
and with a last, stupendous tour jeté
turned for a solo suddenly to you
and you become the Duke, the Queen, Giselle,
and waltz in a whirl of white through the painted grove,
your gestures as extravagant as tulle,
as wild as nineteenth-century hopeless love,
as grand as bravo! and brava! On wings,
you splurge and take a taxi home instead.
The park looms rich and magical. It’s spring,
almost. You float upstairs and into bed
and into dreams so deep you never hear
how all night long that witch, your evil fairy,
crows her knowing cackle in your ear:
Tomorrow you will wake up ordinary.
A Ballet Blanc
This is actually an advertisement, but this is what my sister did for years until she was finally teaching. 🙂