Dancing with Words: Poetry Book Review

Review of Mathieu Cailler’s “May I Have This Dance” by Cassie Ciopryna


I won’t deny it:

I’m a sucker for love poems.

Sad love. Happy love. Unsure-if-this-is-love love. Familial love. Big love. Small love. Heartbreaking love. Everyday love.

And when it comes down to it, what in life doesn’t really come back to love, in any of its shapes and forms?

Now, this is not to say that Mathieu Cailler’s most recent book of poetry is occupied strictly with love poems.

But then again, this isn’t to say that it is not.

When one takes the time to wonder what others are doing out there in the world, both the good and the bad, while they are simply living an ordinary moment of enjoying a cup of coffee, such as in the poem “Somewhere,” is that not love?

When pondering and explaining the process of a cut turning to a scab and ultimately into a scar that you hope will eventually fade, as in the poem “Healing,” is that process not the after-effect of some love?

When thanking the hands that help us do many things and we put through so much, ultimately asking them, “Aren’t you happy/that I showed you a good time?” as in the poem “Ten, Two, One,” is that not illustrating gratitude and self-love?

With a title like May I Have This Dance? – arguably one of the loveliest questions a person can ask another – I can confidently assert that this book of poetry is not not about love.

I can also confidently state that any reader would enjoy dancing with Mathieu.

Throughout the book, Cailler takes us through three very different dances – starting with a slow and steady Waltz, sashaying into the hot and fiery Tango, and culminating with the fun and joyous Swing.

Each section’s dance alludes to the feelings to be evoked in the writings, and they do so through a variety of poems that read like stories dancing across the pages. Although this most recent book is poetry rather than prose, it is evident that our poet is also a storyteller.

Coming after Mathieu’s last published book Loss Angeles, which consists of short stories, May I Have This Dance? also tells the various stories of many different people living vastly different lives – such as a teacher reflecting on a failed marriage during her student’s detention, a man (not so confidently) planning to propose to his girlfriend through a game of Scrabble, and a veteran hiding his possible PTSD from his wife while she cooks dinner. But throughout the diverse lives each poem lives, we as readers learn that ultimately, we can relate to them all – no matter the specific content and story the poems tell.

In one of my very first poetry classes in undergrad, my professor shared with us a quote that I always refer back to when writing or reading poetry. He said that poetry is supposed to share the universal through the specific.

It was scribbled on the first page of a new, blank notebook: “The universal through the specific.”

Mathieu’s poems get about as specific as you can get, from feeling like you truly know the voice of each speaker down to the purposeful punctuation (or lack thereof) in the poems. And after all, isn’t love the most universal and specific feeling of them all?

In “24/7,” Cailler states with so few words what I think is one of the most endearing poems in this collection, which reads:

we carry
our hearts
like wild raspberries
with palms flat
so they
do not crush

This poem is just one from the book that alludes to our hearts, how we live our lives, and simple, honest truth.

Love takes us on a wild ride – from excitement and laughter, to heartbreak, to reminiscing on pastimes, to learning how to keep on keeping on – and May I Have This Dance does just the same. This book brings readers on a journey that I promise you’ll want to go on more than once, as we often do with love and things that move us.




Mathieu Cailler’s poetry and prose have been widely featured in numerous national and international publications, including the Los Angeles Times and The Saturday Evening Post. A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, he is the recipient of a Short Story America Prize for Short Fiction and a Shakespeare Award for Poetry. He is the author of Clotheslines (Red Bird Press), Shhh(ELJ Publications), and Loss Angeles (Short Story America Press), which has been honored by the Hollywood, New York, London, Paris, Best Book, and International Book Awards. His newest book, May I Have This Dance? (About Editions), was recently named poetry winner of the New England Book Festival.






Poems curated by FORTH poetry editors.

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