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 New York City-based poet and writer who is passionate about making poetry accessible to a diverse audience of readers and listeners. Twice she has been awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize in a national competition for emerging poets. A collection of her poetry, Body & Soul (Finishing Line Press), was published as a finalist in the New Women’s Voices competition. Her work has also appeared in Kindred, Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature, Brown Alumni Magazine, The Mochila Review, Texas Poetry Calendar 2014 (Dos Gatos Press), Deep Waters (Outrider Press), The Heart of All That Is (Holy Cow! Press), and Mercury Retrograde (Kattywompus Press), among other publications.
A graduate of Oberlin College’s Creative Writing Program, she has led creative writing workshops for youth at schools, libraries, and community centers in Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, and South Africa. She has also mentored underserved teens through Girls Write Now, a nonprofit dedicated to nurturing the next generation of women writers.
Emily enjoys cross-pollinating with artists of all kinds and has performed her work solo and collaboratively at numerous events. Two of her recent appearances were at the International Arts Movement conference and at the album release concert for "Soon We Will Not Be Here" by James Hall Thousand Rooms Quartet, a CD featuring poems transformed into songs by jazz trombonist/composer James Hall. You can connect with Emily on her Facebook Artist’s Page: facebook.com/emilyruthhazel.