Extracting Meaning Through Poetry and Dance: Artist Spotlight, Vanessa Rosensweet

Editor’s Note: This Artist’s Spotlight features Vanessa Rosensweet, a poet and dancer. The works included do not comprise a single multimedia piece of art; they are shown together in order to present two different modes of expression, both of which Vanessa uses to extract deeper meaning from her surroundings.



A History of New York from an Outsider/

A Terrarium Built on Sweat and Eyelashes

Born into fever dreams.

Sprung from the hips of Grief and felled trees,

hard heads in hard hats towering to the filthy,

screaming space

between the clouds.

A smoggy bloodstream. A nomad sworn to secrecy,

his ramblings for nobody to give to everybody. His Gods speak in

pigeon wings, in

subway grates. Gravity

is a metaphor for money and the gypsies remain,

and the homeless remain in their

concrete homes like the

foundry of penny-wishes remains too,

the one which regurgitates this city every sunrise and see,

see how our ugly,

the sacred unhappy,


We all think we will die.

And the snow of sugar in tea.

And inside out umbrellas.

They remind you of yourself. Every time.


Names for You

Sweet wonderful stardom, overly understated.

Grace and Grace and Gratitude repeated,

A bucket, fuller

the more it spills out.

You were so perfect for forever,

little girl me gazed upon Monolithic Phantasm,

Poreless, Odorless, Weaknessless, you were.

Years later,

shaken from Mythical Perfection, you glow.

You, Glow.

Your splintered past, riddled with Digress and Mishap

Rots beneath triumphant, tried feet,

always trying.

You are sometimes Natural, sometimes Learned Warrior,

made more by the things that puncture.


About Armor

When a small boy with water in his eyes

is sitting cross legged

in the middle

of the end

of everything,

When you have to crack open

and spill out your tired soul syrup

to quiet the clamoring in his

precious ears, know

that you are his monumental beauty.

And you’ve mastered the giving of your breathing skin

in braided baskets.

You will send him off to his mother

and he will weep for things he can  

never hold again,

and only feeling in crumbs

he will think of you; faceless, radiant, elusive.

and his muddy,

tear encrusted solar plexus will sing praises

and praises

and echoing praises of what was taken,

then given.

The holy steal, and return.


(write about the ocean)

i do believe she is a woman.

like so many things glorious, infinite, fatal,

search for resilience

search for resuscitation

find her glossy white peaks, salty as hell

and you will know what expanse really is.

lovely undulate like a sundial,

leave her to her own devices and offer her sunlight and she is endless,

turning circles and deepening circles

all on her own,

call her Indigo Seamstress,

Hungry Cyan Siren,

she only knows how to meditate in

the colors of Rejoice and Fury.


When You Are 19 and Haven’t Left the House Nearly Enough OR

the lonely old woman writes a letter and a memoir

*sent rolled up inside a bottle, thrown out the window of a high tower with no door.*

I have lived here a long time; all hush like, like the mountain. I am supposed to be not embarrassed by my beard but my sight has gotten keener, I can see how people might be appalled by my sprouting chin. Some senses like Wonderment diminish, while Self sends out its touchy-feelers. They said this would happen. These masterful little all-eyed-bugs left through the doors in my chest a very long time ago, climbed down the funky legs of my rocking chair. I used to sleep or pretend to sleep in a hammock before the floods and we had to move away. Back before the earth wide war, a few years before we found what love was really for. And now my heart is sometimes bleeding sap or bits of rust. The doctor says this is a bad thing. The therapist says it is an ok thing to be a little sticky. To sometimes be stuck. I can never remember the difference between disease and diseased! Maybe I forgot to take my pills again. Maybe I forgot to open the window. For now, I am content with meditation but when you get a chance please send me more

When did you start writing and dancing?

I started dancing when I was three and have continued on and off for my whole life.  For poetry, you know, you write poetry in school for little projects and stuff, but that’s whatever. In 8th grade I read this book called Born Confused, and I think it inspired me to start writing differently. It was written in a way that I had never really encountered before. It broke normal grammar rules, which I didn’t really know we were allowed to do and so I thought, “I’m really feeling a lot of adolescent feelings, maybe I can funnel my feelings into this new style of writing.” It was just sort of a way for me to dump my emotions onto a page and get them out of my body and my heart. It was like a sort of self-validation, and also a way of being creative, which I’ve always loved. Then it stopped being a therapeutic thing, and became more like an art that I spent time on. And now it’s like that one thing, where I’m like, “Oh, I’m good at poetry!”

Do you think your work has changed at all since you’ve come to Vassar?

I don’t know. I don’t know if Vassar specifically changed my work. I’ve been able to see that my work has changed in the past five or six years, just because it’s gotten better as I’ve worked on it more. At Vassar, I’m writing more regularly because I go to writing workshops here. I guess I’m challenging myself to observe more here, to get out of my own head and try and write about me–not just in relation to myself, but in relation to my surroundings and other people. It sort of inspired me to interpret the outside world, and not just word vomit my own words, and own emotions.

In your poetry, I noticed a lot of character development and personification. Is that something you do intentionally?

I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. I just have always liked the idea of everything having a purpose and everything being active. Like, I wrote a poem about commencement hill, and there’s a poem in here about the ocean and I like thinking of my surroundings as influencing me as much as I can influence them. I like taking things and giving them a deeper meaning.

Is your writing meant to be read aloud? Or to be looked at on the page?

I don’t really think of my things as being read aloud. I do like playing with line breaks, so my writing is usually meant to be looked at on the page. I used to hate the sound of my voice reading poetry, but since I’ve performed poetry a lot, I’ve gotten used to it. But I’m not an orator.  

What does dance give you that poetry doesn’t–and vice versa?

Dance gives me the physical release of energy and feeling that poetry doesn’t allow. Also, it’s a great way to exercise and feel beautiful while doing it!

Do you think that poetry and dance are connected at all for you? Like, does having a physical awareness of your body influence your work in any way?

Yeah, like also in terms of music. I think I feel things very deeply…just like a lot of things, like emotions…Oh boy! I extract a lot of meaning from art. I think that with poetry, that’s like me extracting meaning from my surroundings, and with dance, that’s me taking music into my body and taking something that’s auditory into something that’s physical. I always choreograph to music. And a lot of my choreography is me being able to feel my body being pushed into different shapes by the music. All of the art that I do is sort of like interpretation.

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