Bodies of Poetry (an introduction)

Poetry is an artform of language, with its roots firmly within the body – in its fascination with embodied experience and in its incorporation of bodily rhythms.  But whose body are we talking about?  Apart from the question of male and female bodies, how are bodies that are deformed or unusual treated?  Does poetry reinforce a clear line between “human” and “abject”?  Or can it complicate our perception of normality?

This was to be the starting-point for my Masters thesis this year.  As it turns out, I was accepted into the program but missed out on a scholarship.  Since I don’t have a year’s income saved up, I’ve decided I’ll pursue this topic of mine outside of the University.  Masters without a Masters.  Who knows how long it will take, or if I’ll drop it half-way.  But the reading and thinking will be worth it.

My interest in poetry and physical difference is intrinsically linked with my personal experience. I was born with Marfan Syndrome, which has resulted in severe spinal curvature, yet without any significant physical impairment. My own poetry seeks to express the subjective experience of being visibly different, and is in some way an attempt to reverse the usual dynamic of naming and identification.

And, since I don’t want to be doing this “non-Masters” alone, I’ve decided to post short mini-essays on this blog, in a series entitled “Bodies of Poetry”.  I’m interested in how non-standard bodies find expression in poetry.  Poetic licence of the body.  I’d love your feedback, ideas, suggestions, personal stories, rants, whatever you feel fits into the topic, from whatever angle.

My partner and I just recently found a great little shop, upstairs at 381 Sydney Road – Mr Kitly – which has some great books on design, art, architecture, and some gorgeous tea cups and crockery.  Yes, very “new Brunswick”.  Anyway, we found this book – “Difference on Display: Diversity in Art, Science and Society”.

"Difference on Display: diversity in art, science and society"

It’s a mix of artists, film-makers, performers, theorists and activists – Donna Harraway, Tom Shakespeare, Bruce Nauman, William Kentridge, Patricia Piccinini, Louise Bourgeois, Critical Art Ensemble, and a lot more – and it approaches diversity and normality from a huge range of angles.  I’m sure it will find it’s way into my thoughts as they emerge here…

Again, yes, any suggestions and thoughts are very welcome, particularly on poets I should read…


  1. Your piece is really interesting and so often the case that there is no scholarship for this kind of work. I have no doubt you will do a great job on it.

    You might be interested in my essay: The Aerial Lesbian Body: The politics of physical expression. Published in Trivia in 2007.

    1. amongtheregulars says:

      Thanks, Susan, that looks like it will be very interesting! I’ve always felt embodiment has political dimensions. Just not all of us are aware of them…

  2. nice one, andy. always thought this was a cool lil poem about ‘different bodies’…

    Country Fair

    for Hayden Carruth

    If you didn’t see the six-legged dog,
    It doesn’t matter.
    We did, and he mostly lay in the corner.
    As for the extra legs,

    One got used to them quickly
    And thought of other things.
    Like, what a cold, dark night
    To be out at the fair.

    Then the keeper threw a stick
    And the dog went after it
    On four legs, the other two flapping behind,
    Which made one girl shriek with laughter.

    She was drunk and so was the man
    Who kept kissing her neck.
    The dog got the stick and looked back at us.
    And that was the whole show.

    Charles Simic

    1. amongtheregulars says:

      Great poem. I must read more Simic.

  3. Alana Kelsall says:

    Great project Andy. All the best with it. This poem by Jo Shapcott might have something. Just published about her recovery from cancer.
    Can the bald lie? The nature of the skin says not:
    it’s newborn-pale, erection-tender stuff,
    every thought visible – pure knowledge,
    mind in action – shining through the skull.
    I saw a woman, hairless absolute, cleaning.
    She mopped the green floor, dusted bookshelves,
    all cloth and concentration, Queen of the moon.
    You can tell, with the bald, that the air
    speaks to them differently, touches their heads
    with exquisite expression. As she danced
    her laundry dance with motes, everything
    she ever knew skittered under her scalp.
    It was clear just from the texture of her head,
    she was about to raise her arms to the sky;
    I covered my ears as she prepared to sing, to roar.

    1. amongtheregulars says:

      Thanks Alana, it certainly does – seems to me that it’s the exceptional body or the exceptional experience that is revelatory…

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