In medieval studies, Oxford defines “danse macabre” (dance of death) as “an allegorical confrontation of the living with death […] that aims to remind readers and viewers of their own mortality.” Traced back to the mid-14th century during a time characterized by social class distinction, anguish, and pestilence, the danse reminded society that life was delicate and, most of all, that no matter rich or poor, sinner or saint, death was inevitable.
Poet and playwright Nick Lantz comes close to constructing a modern-day danse in his latest poetry collection, “How to Dance as the Roof Caves In.” As we begin to work through the collection, we find ourselves captivated by the visceral snapshots that are these poems of hopes and dreams that are soon brought down by dilapidation and death — whether literal or figurative. There is darkness to the collection, a questioning reverberating after each piece as if the narrator has placed their hands up, saying, “What now?”
As the third work to be added to his prize-winning collections, “We Don’t Know We Don’t Know” and “The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors’ House,” Lantz continues to demonstrate a growing maturity and diversity in his poetry. Among the collection is a preponderance of “how-to” poems. Standout pieces include: “How to Forgive a Promise Breaker,” “Ways of Beginning,” “Re: 5 Ways to Enhance Your Love More Passionate,” and “How to Appreciate Inorganic Matter.”
In the latter poem, Lantz writes: “We didn’t see your father again. We checked out / of the hotel with the little red light / on the phone / still blinking, and only later wondered / if the next occupant / would pick up that phone, thinking the message / was for him, and hear your father rambling on / about leftovers in the fridge, the neighborhood boys / he can’t tell apart, or how all day he sweeps / his driveway, how the leaves, those goddamn leaves, / keep falling.”
Without being verbose in each poem, Lantz gives us hard-hitting, everyday societal issues — recession, foreclosure, homelessness, divorce, deception, and loss after loss — our very own modern-day plagues. While the themes unravel and provide a somewhat dismal view of life, Lantz manages to perk readers up with varying degrees of humor and empathy, circling back to the idea that no matter our lot in life, in the end, the light will always go out the same. The imploring “what now” becomes the reality of how we choose to view our existence when the music begins to play and the danse begins. The collection reminds readers that life is best lived knowing it could be gone tomorrow.
‘How to Dance as the Roof Caves In’ by Nick Lantz Rating: W W W W