Somatic Beginnings

Craig Santos Perez
January 17, 2013
Comments 2

First, thanks to all the good folks at the Kenyon Review for sharing their blog space with me. I look forward to writing here every week and engaging with the readers of this blog. Please feel free to comment and I will do my best to respond.

I’m teaching a Form and Theory of Poetry course at the University of Hawai’i, Mānoa, this semester.  We started our journey by centering ourselves in our breath, in the poetics of breathing. And from our breath to our bodies. Our bodies formed from genealogy, from history, from culture, from the lands and waters of our respective origins, from skin and muscle and blood. Our roots, our sourcings.

We talked about the poetics of our bodies: memories, sensations, traumas, scars, skin colors, injuries, diseases, perceptions. From body hair to fingernails, from the tongue to the bones in our feet, from our digestive tract to our heartbeats. Our migrations and decay.

We talked about our bodies in relation to other bodies. To grandparents, parents, siblings, friends, teachers, police officers, politicians, lovers, strangers, teachers, students. Our bodies in relation to educational, agricultural, cultural, racial, historical, political, legal, colonial, militaristic, neoliberal, national, and global bodies and institutions.

Perhaps my students think I’m crazy. But for me, this space of intersecting bodies is where poetic form and theory intersect. To imagine and feel your body at the intersection of the past (genealogy/migrations) and future (desire/hope) as it intersects with the entire infrastructure of the present globalized moment is to imagine and feel yourself within the creation of a poem.

So we read and discussed Thom Donovan’s wonderful essay on “Somatic Poetics”, published in Jacket2. An excerpt of the essay’s body:

The body foregrounded by the poem’s content.


The body foregrounded by the poem’s form.


The body, as a form, coextensive with a (written) content.


The body, as a form, becoming written.


Or the body as a site of “material,” of information or content for the making of the poem.


The poem quivering “off-page” and on in this relation.


Or the body as a site whereof language becomes cited.


Or language as a site whereof the body becomes seen.


Or the body between non-site and site, a kind of shuddering caesura, a Shabbat or intervention into what is sensed.


Or the poem as that which makes visible the body as a place where cultural, political, social, moral, and economic forces converge and convolute becoming visible in their play.


As a class, we interacted with each others’ bodies. We did a few simple somatic writing exercises. We watched the Phoneme Choir move their bodies to “Re-English”. We listened to CA Conrad’s amazing poem, “Say it With Green Paint for the Comfort and Healing of Their Wounds.” This poem comes from Conrad’s (SOMA)TIC MIDGE, in which each poem is written after the poet ate only foods of a single color for an entire day, and wore that same color on the body. An excerpt from the introduction: “I cannot stress enough how much this mechanistic world, as it becomes more and more efficient, resulting in ever increasing brutality, has required me to FIND MY BODY to FIND MY PLANET in order to find my poetry”.

We talked about the history of our own bodies, where we come from, how our bodies move through the world, how the body desires to speak, to share, to connect, to understand, to touch, to discover, and to heal…

[to be continued next week]


2 thoughts on “Somatic Beginnings

  1. I’m very taken with this but not just as a poetry lover. I’ve undertaken bodily research as part of my HUman Geography PhD which strays into very similar territory. I carried out research growing vegetables on an allotment and wrote a field diary focusing on my bodily engagements with the plot and as a mode of learning how to grow.

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