Normally, readers do not think about traditional grammar when they read poetry. Poetry routinely bends the rules of traditional grammar to create new and interesting verbal effects. Such is the case with Simic’s ‘‘Classic Ballroom Dances.’’ The poem, consisting of four four-line stanzas, comprises a single sentence, but the sentence is incomplete, for it lacks a predicate. (The predicate is the part of a sentence that expresses something about the subject, usually consisting of a verb and an object or objects.) Accordingly, the poem is made up entirely of a sequence of phrases, each anchored by a noun. The noun in the first such phrase is grandmothers, whose activity of wringing chickens’ necks is contained in a subordinate clause. (A subordinate clause cannot stand alone, because it depends on the previous phrase for its meaning.) Similarly, the old nuns’ activity of pulling the ears of schoolboys is contained in a subordinate clause. In the second stanza, the noun is not the person but the activity. Thus, the anchor noun of the pickpockets is their intricate steps, and that of the evangelist is his slow shuffle. This pattern continues in the third stanza, where the anchor noun of the pawnshop customer is his hesitation, while the anchor noun of the small child walking to school is his weave. In the final stanza, Simic returns to the grammar of the first stanza, with the pair of ancient dancing lovers as his anchor noun. The poem then in a sense trails off into a description of the place where the ancient lovers are dancing.
The purpose of this kind of grammatical structure is to explicitly avoid making clear, rational statements about the topic at hand. The poem does not have a predicate, meaning that it does not state anything using the conventional grammatical structure of noun plus verb plus modifiers. Rather, it presents the reader with a series of images. The reader is invited to envision the people—grandmothers, nuns, pickpockets, an evangelist, a customer, a little kid, and a pair of ancient lovers—caught in a moment in time doing something that might be regarded as typical of them.
(extracted from) Poetry for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 33, published by Gale-Cengage Learning, 2010