Emily Ruth Hazel’s poem responds to the theme of “Dancing” and Jeremiah 31:13 as she builds a poetry collection responding to every theme from the year as a 2013 Spark+Echo Artist in Residence.
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13 Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.
I love how dancing can be a shared expression, and I’m intrigued by how that tradition is kept from culture to culture and in different contexts. In reading Jeremiah 31:13 and reflecting on mourning traditions, I wanted to explore how music and dance can draw us out of grief and isolation, into joy and community.
While it is a focal point at a funeral, the human body has often been considered irrelevant to—or even the enemy of—a person’s spiritual life. As I see it, the physical and the spiritual are closely connected and the body also deserves to be honored, so I wanted to acknowledge in this poem some of the ways we experience both grief and joy through our bodies.
In choosing the title, I was interested in the different meanings of the word “Homecoming.” Within the African American church, it can refer to a funeral service (also called a Homegoing Celebration), based on the belief that earth is only a temporary residence and the deceased is going home to be with God; space is held for mourning a loss as well as for celebrating a life. Then there is the entirely separate tradition of schools welcoming alumni during Homecoming Weekend, the culmination of which is a dance. And of course, the reasons we go home to be with family are as varied as the emotions that accompany our returning. But to me, homecoming always carries a sense of reunion, as much as dancing in a communal way evokes an emergence of joy.
Emily Ruth Hazel is a poet, writer, and cross-pollinator who is passionate about diversifying the audience for poetry and giving voice to people who have been marginalized. Selected as the Honorary Poet for the 25th Annual Langston Hughes Community Poetry Reading in Providence, Rhode Island, she presented a commissioned tribute to the Poet Laureate of Harlem in February of 2020. She is a two-time recipient of national Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prizes and was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for a residency at The Hambidge Center in 2014. Her chapbook, Body & Soul (Finishing Line Press, 2005), was a New Women’s Voices finalist. Emily’s work has appeared in numerous anthologies, magazines, literary journals, and digital projects, including Kinfolks: A Journal of Black Expression and Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature. Her poetry has also been featured on music albums, in a hair salon art installation, and in a science museum exhibition.
Emily has written more than twenty commissioned works for organizations, arts productions, social justice projects, and private clients. Currently, she is developing several poetry book manuscripts and writing lyrics for an original musical inspired by the life of the extraordinary singer and Civil Rights icon Marian Anderson. A graduate of Oberlin College’s Creative Writing Program and a former New Yorker, she is now based in the Los Angeles area.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Pitts-Wiley