Embodied Poetics Project

A good poem rarely speaks to our minds alone. It stirs our blood, quickens our appetites, or lets us breathe the expanded air of a fresh perspective. It is full-bodied. Maybe all good poetry is embodied in some way, if only through our visceral reactions to the sound of its words.

So why devote a special project to embodied poetry?  Because the skills that poets cultivate are needed elsewhere. Poets cultivate the ability to put into words experience that is not usually spoken. They are experts at expressing in words what it is hard to find words for.

There is an enormous and growing field of experience that until now has been poorly articulated, and that concerns itself directly with embodiment. It doesn’t even have a workable name. It has been called somatics or bodywork or kinesthetic re-education or healing arts or complementary healthcare, all slippery categories that overlap and shift and dissolve on closer examination.

When the practitioners of these arts are asked to describe what they do, they usually resort to vague generalizations that fail to describe their deeply remarkable work, and that leave the public clueless about how their disciplines might affect experience or differ from each other.

The experience of a Feldenkrais session is quite distinct from its nearest cousin in the Alexander Technique, never mind from something as different as yoga or chi gung, but you would never know from the language in which these services are marketed. Unity of mind and body, balancing the body’s energies, learning to overcome destructive habits, and achieving more freedom are all platitudes that tell us almost nothing about the actual experience of putting ourselves in these people’s hands.

And what hands they are!  Exquisitely trained to listen to the myriad ephemeral cues we emit, they guide us into realms of inner adventure we might never have stumbled into on our own, as rich as dreams and as life-giving as weeks spent at the beach. Some practitioners of these arts do write poetry and attempt to give voice to the realms they have discovered, but they are a small minority. Compared to the renaissance of exploration in their fields, their literary output remains a very small sketch. A much larger effort to map these territories is needed. That is the task of the Embodied Poetry Project.

The format of the project is simple.  Practitioners of the healing or educative arts of the body offer free sessions to poets in exchange for poems that are written immediately after the session concludes. The poets are free to revise or shape their work however they like later on, but the raw material gets generated as close to the experience as possible. Practitioners are free to make whatever use they want of the poems composed, posting them on their walls or webpages as they wish, but the poems should also be submitted to participating journals that comb through the submissions in search of the best work. There are journals already devoted to each of the body disciplines; hopefully this project will encourage them to publish more poetry. There are also countless poetry journals that might begin to take notice if the work were good enough. Journals could be created online to support the project itself.

The mutual benefits of such a project seems obvious. The poets get a rich source of inspiration and free benefit to their own health. The practitioners get free publicity and skilled verbalization of their work. The public gets vivid personal descriptions of health alternatives that might otherwise languish behind platitudes and be ignored. The society gets enrichment of its cultural capital.

Profound and unprecedented exploration is taking place in these fields, most of it beneath the radar of public knowledge. It is time to give more articulate voice to the discoveries being made.