Dancing on a Pin

By Katerina Vaughan Fretwell

Dancing on a Pin
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Dancing on a Pin is Katerina Fretwell's eighth poetry, and art, collection. Honest, stark, brave, and at times a humorous evoking of feelings and ideas, this collection of evocative poems is focused on the poet's husband's illness (cancer) and eventual death, her close sharing ... Read more


Dancing on a Pin is Katerina Fretwell's eighth poetry, and art, collection. Honest, stark, brave, and at times a humorous evoking of feelings and ideas, this collection of evocative poems is focused on the poet's husband's illness (cancer) and eventual death, her close sharing of this process, and the frustration of dealing with modern medical treatment, that is controlled by the pharmaceutical industry. But mostly, this is a series of poems that make meaning of two people on a journey.

Katerina Vaughan Fretwell

Award-winning poet and professional artist, Katerina Fretwell's poetry and art reside across Canada and in Denmark, Japan, and across the United States. Recent poetry collections include Class Acts, Angelic Scintillations, Samsara: Canadian in Asia and Shaking Hands with the Night. Dancing on a Pin is her eighth published volume of poetry. Her poetry has appeared in over 50 North American journals, and in over 40 anthologies. She chaired the Lowther Jury in 2006, performed at the League of Canadian Poets Cabaret in Winnipeg in the 1980s, was interviewed by Susan Helwig on In Other Words in the late '90s, and read her poems on Poetry In Motion on television. Her poetic sequence "Quartzite Dialogues" was set to music by Michael Horwood and performed at the Festival of the Sound in 1999 and 2004 and at the Takefu Music Center in Japan in 1999. She is a member of the feminist caucus of the League of Canadian Poets. She lives just south of Parry Sound, Ontario.


"Katerina Vaughan Fretwell's Dancing on a Pin is a powerful threnody for the loss of her husband Jack to the ravages of cancer. It is also a cultural, ecological, and spiritual inquiry into the history of the disease. This poignant process work, complemented by Fretwell's masterful sketches and paintings, spare us neither a direct gaze into cancer's ravaging maw, or an easy dismissal of hope. As readers, we become not merely spectators, but fellow travellers, participants, as we dance with Katerina and Jack on the head of a pin, the pin both of the first tiny cancerous tumours and the pinhead of pain and loss. The sequence is at once a fierce battle and a surrender, not to the "non-being" of cancer, but to love that is "stronger than death." The poet's tender ironies guide us into the abyss and back. Fretwell's creative energy, her proliferating metaphors out-metastasize cancer and stand as undefeatable eruptions of creative consciousness. Facing down cancer, the poet, partner, friend challenges: "No matter what, we allot you not one God-particle of our fertilized love." After etching the messiness and devastations of the disease, the poet is given a glimpse beyond death: "To nurse, friends, your eyes stay shut. To me they open."--Susan McCaslin, author of Into the Mystic: My Years with Olga"Katerina has translated the broken DNA codes of her husband Jack's cancer, and the broken chains of love it tried to make of their lives, into life. This is mastery: rhyme, metre, space, timing, air, sound and silence, are laid out in DNA strings and sprays of all shapes, all masterful, using the whole page and all the spirit and physicality of a poet at the peak of her craft. This is the whole world of bodies in love. Katerina refuses to distance cancer. She lives with Jack through it. There is the intensity of Emily Dickinson here, the physicality of Ted Hughes, the radiance of Kathleen Raine, the transcendent mourning of Phyllis Nakonechny, and now, I must add to this list: the full presence of Katerina Fretwell."--Harold Rhenisch, author of The Spoken Word"In detailing her husband's ordeal with cancer, Katerina Fretwell leads us through a maze of harrowing hospital bureaucracy but she does not leave us caught up in medical trauma. Given her keen eye and open heart, Fretwell's perspective is poignant, sometimes wry, always immediate in its visceral grasp of a language that will translate events as they unfold. Grief has left the poet the gift of clarity, the gift of transforming raw experience into nuanced poetry. All of us who face such trials (and that is all of us) should read this book and take solace in the transformational love it offers us." --Penn Kemp, poet, playwright and editor, Creative Age, London's Writer-in Residence and recipient of the League of Poets' 2015 Spoken Word award"In her book Dancing on a Pin, Katerina Vaughan Fretwell proves to the reader--this is what poets do with pain and loss--they transform suffering, defeat despair, wrestle the lousiness of growing ill into a line of poetry--take death by the lapels, look it straight in the eye, shake it by the body till it rattles and sometimes she even laughs out loud-- as with her poem "Earth Matters": Sitting beside you, I broke wind. The nurse rushed in, exclaimed, Eureka! Then looked at my headshake, No, mea culpa. Our hysterics ran down the ward.These brave poems embrace sorrow and loss when a loved one is dying from terminal cancer. Not evoking Atwood's "please die so I can write about it." Rather, more like Yeats who wrote, "Let the fools rage, I swerved in naught, /Something to perfection brought';/But louder sang that ghost, 'What then?'" she concludes her book with these lines, ... I saidBut you are dead. You replied, But I am alive.thereby throwing her lot in with Dickinson whom she quotes in one epigram, "Hope is the thing with feathers."In the end these poems are life affirming like a reversal of the line from The Book of Common Prayer, "in the midst of death we are in life."--John B. Lee, Poet Laureate of the city of Brantford in perpetuity and Honourary Poet Laureate of Norfolk County

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