From ten original poems, the New York City-based dancer and poet Ian Spencer Bell creates an elegant narrative that explores queerness, home, and the creation of self through art. Bell, who was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in rural Virginia, left home at age twelve to study at the North Carolina School of the Arts and School of American Ballet in New York City.
Through gentle rhyme, surprising line break, and delirious listing, Bell creates song for dance and a particular, regional backdrop. Several of the poems are retellings of folk stories and gossip Bell heard as a child. Often it’s as if he’s talking to himself while dancing, the audience bearing witness to confession.
Bell studied poetry with Marie Howe at Sarah Lawrence College and Sharon Olds at NYU. The New York Times wrote of his work that “his movement itself seems to do the talking, physical sentences inseparable from verbal ones—neither upstaging the other—so that what results is not dance and not poetry but some third medium.” Dancers Gary Champi and Joshua Tuason join him in performance. For more information, visit ianspencerbell.com and check out “Repast,” a poem from Marrow, below.
At supper that summer my mother took off her glasses.
We’d the same sight so I knew what she saw. My brother
was gone by then, feasting on city supper, booze and entrée.
My sister made some other meal from what was on the burner
and tucked in baskets, stacked, leaned to the fireplace,
tailgate picnics tipping out, punching through clingfilm.
My stepfather watched his plate, hamfisted his silver. Me,
as best I could, I tried to swallow what I love,
roots and greens. We were just sitting down to eat,
the night my stepfather told me to get out. I was telling a story
I’d heard since childhood about a family who’d no money for meat.
All they could eat were beans from their garden
until the old man showed up with a ham hock
he left on their doorstep at dusk. Well,
the mother cooked the meat with the beans
and the children ate and were full
and watched the stars gather around the porch until
the dark called out, No more meat with my beans.
We echoed that line, my mother and me.
My sister said it also.
I’d barely sat when he said,
You’ve done nothing, get out. But I’d
made the meal, beans, that evening, and my mother
couldn’t walk and my sister was a teen
and what’d I done, told a story?
Or known all along we don’t need
meat to survive.
—Ian Spencer Bell
Weekend OUT, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival’s LGBT weekend is Aug. 3-5, in Becket, MA. On Sunday, August 5, The G&LR–a sponsor–hosts a brunch at 11am. Ian Spencer Bell performs Marrow at 1:15. For more info, and to purchase tickets –visit: www.jacobspillow.org.