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Writing From the Body
by Cheryl Pallant
Editor’s Note from Susan de Wardt: "The body has its own poetic language, its way of combining sounds, rhythms, images, sensation, and voice to create meaning." Learn how Cheryl Pallant combines two passions - writing and movement - to explore the language of the body through writing process.
Poetry conveys magic and energy, illuminating the invisible workings of our heart, mind, body, and soul, an otherwise hidden landscape. Words have the ability to transform sadness to calm, confusion to clarity, an arid temperament to lush splendor. As a writer, professor, and writing coach, I've witnessed words catalyze insight, healing, and a crafted work. My approach mixes writing with a somatic awareness from years of experience as a dancer, a potent combination that continually amazes me.
Many of us write because a welling of emotion or thought, a backlog of memories and impressions, needs release. We may be overwhelmed with grief, suffer from the throbs of a headache, or dizzied by some future choice. Writing from emotion and thought is valuable. These starting points honor what is present and gives voice to what otherwise may never receive attention. The writing begins the process of making and remaking meaning.
Sound, image, metaphor, meaning, and voice -- any one of these function as portals to wanted and surprising destinations. It's helpful but not essential to know which element draws you in. Do you think, for instance, in images, as if watching a mental movie? Or do words line up on an invisible page of your mind and wait their passing onto a page?
I propose a less common, but highly powerful entry. Write with the body. Write with an eye on the page and another focused on the subtle events taking place within the body. Turn inward. Note the twitch, nudge, the rise of heat, the surfacing of an image. Note them and go the extra step; write from them. Write as the voice of the twitch, from the site of the nudge. Shift your perspective. Directly engage the language of your body and the flesh of being.
Rooted in bones and breath, gesture and strain, and moving body, mind, and soul, this type of writing is transformative. An invisible source manifests into received form. The writing takes seed, water, sun, and earth to grow cob and husk. Writing with the body lets us see what dared not come forth in our vision. It lets us hear and feel and come to know an insight that previously scurried away like a squirrel up a tree.
Here are a few prompts to get you going:
Sound - Play with sound in your mouth. Go for consonants and vowels and witness where in your body sound vibrates. Choose one of the sounds and use it to start writing.
Sensation - Find a site of pain. Breathe into and feel the place. Let it speak to you. Let it write you a letter.
Image - Let an image arise. Consider it a metaphor. Write freely without stopping and expand upon the image. Follow the rhythm of your breath.
This somatic approach develops intuition and encourages a creative flow in which language not only conveys what we know but also reveals what we need to know. As long as we relax reason and our need to control every turn of speech, every comma, and chase after the right word. When we give ourselves permission to breathe and feel our body's natural expression, the poetic process illuminates new understanding. A great example of this came from a participant in my Writing From the Body workshop. Each class meeting, following instruction to tune into her body, she incorporated garden imagery into her writings despite an indifference to the hobby. To her surprise, several weeks later, she learned it was her body's way of announcing her pregnancy.
The body has its own poetic language, its way of combining sounds, rhythms, images, sensation, and voice to create meaning. Our role as writers is to show up at the page, to open ourselves to expression, and let it flow, to receive, and witness. When we tune into our breath, our flesh, bones, and blood, the fullness of our being comes alive and taps into a fertile source of power and inspiration. Writing with the body gets the writing going and keeps it going. It leads us to the seed and bloom of creativity and to the insight and healing of our being. What better way to dwell within the home of oneself?
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About the Author
Cheryl Pallant is the author of eight poetry books, most recently, Continental Drifts, a nonfiction book on dance, and recently completed a memoir on living in S. Korea. She taught writing and dance at University of Tulsa and University of Richmond and leads workshops at hospitals, art centers, and businesses in the U.S. and abroad. A writing coach, she works closely with new and experienced writers and those who use writing to heal. She lives in Richmond VA.
For more information visit cherylpallant.com.