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Liz McSkeane – Learning to Tango

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, Volume One, December 2020.

Liz McSkeane is a Dublin-based poet, novelist and short story writer, born in Scotland to an Irish/Scottish family. Her poetry has been published in the Irish Times, Poetry Ireland Review, The Irish Pages, The Shop, The Stinging Fly, Orbis and others. In 2016, her novel Canticle was one of twelve winners in the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair. She was 1999 winner of the Sunday Tribune/Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year Award for her poetry. Liz has had one novel published, Canticle (2018, Turas Press) and three poetry collections: a chapbook, In Flight, (Lapwing, 1996); Snow at the Opera House (2002, New Island); So Long, Calypso (2017, Turas Press). She is currently working on her second  historical novel,  set in the aftermath of the Great Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Her new collection, Learning to Tango will be published by Turas Press in late 2020.


Those figures of eight can take you
anywhere you’ll allow:
permit the toe-tip of your shoe
to trace infinity here, now,
on this wooden floor, heart open
to your partner, you pivot just
as much as you are led, take one
step – forward or back? – drawn in dust.

Tango Solo

They say it takes two and on the surface
they’re right.  But tango is an iceberg,
you see only the tip. The rest that stirs us
to the dance and makes it happen, is submerged:
posture, breathing, muscle memory,
concentration, as mind and body meld
to control the change of weight in harmony
with every step, your own balance held
unwavering, ready, poised to respond
to any invitation the leader
may propose. But there’s no magic wand
for this and once smitten, you’ll go deeper
to summon powers no one can learn for you.
To breathe, to walk alone, know what you can do.


some days, to be honest
you’re a little afraid of tango

afraid of how  you must
be on the dance floor and off to show

that you deserve a place
in this world where it’s so often touch

and gothose nights you brace
yourself to meet the gaze of the judge

who decides if you’re good
enough the one withinor outside

yourself who says you should
settle for a quiet night inhide

then you make up your mind
you’ll wear redas red as you can find

The Private Lesson

I am about to pay good money
to a man who barely says hello
and is much too cool to crack a smile.
But my experience reminds me
how the tango embrace, though silent,
says more than hours of talk; and I know
that if the class goes not too badly
later, if he’s at the milonga,
who knows, at some point he might even
invite me to dance for one tanda.

© Liz McSkeane