Kim Rosen, in her essential book for the By-Hearter (Saved By A Poem) reminds us via Stanley Kunitz that the poet’s work “is not only to avoid clichés of language but also to avoid clichés of thought and feeling”.
The first two line of Angus Macmillan’s ‘Dancing in the Waiting Room‘ could so easily sag into cliché.
All our living
is in waiting.
As I begin learning the poem, my mind (because that’s what minds do) misremembers these lines again and again. Always ready with the more vapid versions: “All our lives/ are about waiting”, “Life is just waiting”, “Life is a process of waiting”.
So not only platitudinous, but also reflecting one of my balky, Becketian mental ruts: “Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.”
I’m somewhat surprised (and relieved) when I look again at the poem and discover that this is not at all what MacMillan’s confirming. Rather than recollecting the dregs of emotion in the enforced tranquillity (often not) of waiting, we find the sap of life itself in all those “myriad”, waiting-begat feelings: anxious, hopeful, trembling, wishful, fearful, impatient. Dancing within us in their somewhat deranged fashion; constant shifts and contradictions, caught so perfectly in that phrase “fevers of movement”.
Kalos “beautiful, beauty”; eidos “that which is seen: form, shape”; and skopeō “to look to, to examine”. Hence kaleidscope: “observer of beautiful forms.”
But of course one never feels like an observer of beautiful forms when face-to-face with those fidgety, splintered, self-contradictory emotions. If this is “living”, do I want it?
But I have it.