Review: Dancing in Sante Fe by Beate Sigriddaughter

Dancing in Santa Fe and Other Poems by Beate Sigriddaughter (Cervena Barva Press 2019)

Review by Carole Mertz

In Dancing in Santa Fe, Beate Sigriddaughter delivers a fine collection of fourteen poems, all written in free verse. An American poet of German heritage, she has won multiple poetry prizes, including the Cultural Weekly—Jack Grapes Prize in 2014, and multiple nominations for the Pushcart Prize. Her gracious promotion of women’s poetry (at her blog Writing in a Woman’s Voice) is also commendable.

Richness of character and content run throughout the collection. The author presents a wealth of resources and displays her thoughtfulness resulting from inner reflection, along with her skill in defining external scenes surrounding her. Sigriddaughter describes a bus ride, for example, in which a rider is exulting over the sunrise, but fellow travelers give the rider a look of contempt. “What have you done with my exuberance and with my tenderness?” she asks within the poem. “Was it of any use to you to take it like that?” (19)

In “Lines for a Princess” (21), the persona is at once a sheltered flower, a mountain juniper, a “seed that never quite took,” and a poet who “wants sequins and justice both.” I like the depth of this persona’s character and appreciate the clarity with which the narration is rendered. In it Sigriddaughter writes, “Days whisper by. You have to / listen carefully to hear them.” The poem is one among others in the collection that draws on fairy-tale themes

A longer poem, “Dancing in Santa Fe” (4-7), renders alternating verse backdrops of such weighted matters as concentration camps and the horrors of war, contrasted with New Mexico’s beautiful mountain scenes. “…to feel for sins I haven’t committed?” she writes, as autobiography. “…is an unspeakable filter / on this gorgeous world.” 

The poems, “Samsara” and “Nirvana” draw on Buddhist religious terms to deliver their messages. As wanderer, in “Samsara” (8-9), the poet writes:

“Even on the mountain, surrounded

by excellence, the trouble

of the city clamors in my heart…”

In “Nirvana’ (10), Sigriddaughter issues a plea:

I love you world. Send more angels.

Help me fight the dull and dangerous


Here she admits her distrust of “nirvana,” a striving after bliss and the absence of suffering or desire. (Isn’t self-effacing consent like suicide? she asks.) 

“The River” (11) brings to the reader another level of reflection; the river acknowledges being bound to desires. Accepting this, it wants to carve passageways through mountains of unnecessary evil. I enjoy the beauty of this metaphor and how it allows the river to speak Sigriddaughter’s own spiritual desires. 

In addition to her narrative skills, the poet’s mature voice also lends beauty to her verses. We trust her voice all the more, because it doesn’t conceal the imperfections of the world. “I have heard,” she says in Scheherazade (16), “how not forgiving is like drinking poison.” And with further insight, “You cannot be my hero any more…I cannot imagine the cost / of making nice with the entitled predator / like that.” A subsequent line strikes an even stronger point. 

Though several poems lead us to reflect on beauty and dark matters, such as war and unforgiveness, the Sigriddaughter chooses to close the chapbook with a humorous poem. In “The Dragon’s Tale” (23), the princess is hidden away from “benevolent contempt.” We content ourselves with this comedy when the dragon asks, “You thought I was going to eat her?” 

I delight in Dancing in Santa Fe. Its content seems to “fill the narrow margins of reality with beauty.” (15) Beate Sigriddaughter’s poems balance darkness with a joyful light.

Buy this book: Amazon

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