Only the Dance

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA PRESS | 1994

Using the words of others as her wellspring, Kitchen takes us on excursions in time, self, and literature to examine the interconnectiveness of past, present, and future pieces of her life. Longer essays form the vertical threads of Kitchen’s autobiographical tapestry, reflecting the shape of her identity as daughter, student, wife, teacher, and finally, well-known writer/editor/reviewer. Her quest defies chronology as she traverses a geography of memories in upstate New York, Brazil, New England, Wyoming, and Washington state.

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Praise for Only the Dance…

“Our time and our culture pivot around the photograph, which has replaced many of our gods and myths and memories and especially our sense of time. Kitchen balances her narrative somewhere between the pure memory of her ancestors and her own memory, which is constantly interrupted by events calling from the pages of a photo album. . . . Kitchen’s voice stands out with its ability to change pitch and mood—from a gust of wind to gravel beneath one’s feet, from a dirge to a whisper. Occasionally the past is nothing but silence, and the voice captures it by making room for what is unsaid or unheard and eventually recalled as a floating image. . . . “Picnic at Paradise,” “Lists,” “Transitional” and “Songs to Undo the Spring” are simply among the most poignant essays published in this country in recent years. . . . Even when the context is large and vague, Judith Kitchen is focused, her words always anchored to an uncompromising voice. This is honest American prose leaving its unique and lasting mark among the losses.

—Dionisio Martinez, “Organica”

Intuition–the sense that one detail is more “right”, or telling than another–governs the way Kitchen turns ” . . . toward the present, taking from it what it needs to keep shaping the past,” and it serves her marvelously well in organizing the rich variety of what she finds: her physicist-father’s oddly engineered badminton racquets (“You don’t play to win—you play to see what will happen”), the second-grade presidential election in which Norman Thomas gets one vote (guess whose?), a Watergate theory based on Hollywood typecasting, Morris dancers on a village green, first news of Hiroshima, a terrifying recollection of a flooding farm, her grandfather’s pronouncements on the value of reading Proust. Patterns are discerned, ideas echoed, new knowledge gained, and the present makes sudden and unexpected sense of the past, which in turn leads to intimations of the future. And what’s most gratifying is that the reader seems to experience this process along with the writer, sharing the sense of coincidence and revelation.

—Fred Muratori, The Bookpress

“Except for volumes of aphorisms, this is the only meditative book I can think of that moves along with such almost dizzying rapidity, leapfrogging provinces, states, nations, and continents from year to year, decade to decade, century to century.”

—Fred Chappell

“It’s like a simultaneous translation of thought (mind at play) into language, and the operative word is simultaneous. I know of no precedent for this.”

—Lisel Mueller