Yvonne Rainer might be the iconoclast of the moment. A cofounder of the Judson Dance Theater in 1962, she has received her due on stage and in print over the past few years. Following the publication of her autobiography Feelings Are Facts: a Life in 2006 and Carrie Lambert-Beatty’s excellent monograph on her work from 2008, Rainer’s Poems marks another chapter in the dancer-turned-filmmaker’s remarkable trajectory.
This slim volume features Rainer’s verses from the late ’90s and early 2000s. A corollary to her task-oriented dancing and pared-down films, the poems are lean and muscular, at times emotionally unsparing yet suffused with dry humor. Accompanied by images mostly of bodies in motion, the lines address the movement of everyday life, from post office lines and the New York City subway to the frightening and unglamorous forms of aging. In “Breakfast of Champions,” she describes a gathering of her avant-garde contemporaries in typical flatfooted language: “We’re here all together / minus kidneys and breasts.”
As the book’s concise introduction by Tim Griffin points out, Rainer’s focus on the body follows a rich history in corporal writing. Indeed, the writing is best when she meditates on how the body and mind are closely knitted together. “Trio A” grounds her poetic ethos through a succinct summary of her famous dance sequence, one that she described as a kind of daily exercise: “the forward momentum / of practice / of object / no ritual here / the weight of the body / is material proof / that air is matter / and mind’s married to muscle”.