already?!

So, I’m about half-way through this residency.  It’s reached the stage now where I oscillate between blase and alienated.  A bit like rowing across a huge lake – you get used to the strain and rhythm of rowing, but now and then you look up and realise how big the journey is.  And you run the risk of becoming overly conscious of the task at hand.  Because in my experience, poetry is shy – it comes most often when you’re not approaching it head-on but sideways.  I can’t help now but wonder how much more progress I’ll make.

Anyway, stocktaking is boring.  So, what’s been happening?  I spent a week out of Chennai at Mamallapuram and Pondicherry, both gorgeous, charismatic and laid-back towns in their own way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mamallapuram is about 2 hours south of Chennai, on the coast – a small little fishing village that is surrounded by 6th century temples carved out of solid rock and by 21st century tourists.  Which means almost everyone is a stone carver and will offer to sell you something.  It also means there are lots of Ayurvedic businesses.  I had a chat with a practitioner, who told me 99% of his work is with foreigners, and most just come for massage.  A few seek out the more intense and in-depth treatments, but even then he finds that health success varies greatly with “Europeans”.  Apparently, since they’re on holidays, they don’t want to give up things like drinking and smoking (which kind of goes against the whole point of panchakarma…).  He also read my pulse – a fascinating process which felt both highly ephemeral and a little mechanical.  For the record, I am currently predominantly “vata”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pondicherry, being a French territory until the 1950s, and currently a Union Territory, means it’s oddly un-Tamil Nadu in many ways.  Apart from the obvious French architectural flourishes, the infrastructure (roads, drains, etc) are a little less ramshackle.  The city itself is noticeably more diverse than Chennai, in terms of culture, religion and cultural background.

On a less picturesque note, I’ve just finished reading a fascinating book by Dilip Menon called “The Blindness of Insight”.  Basically, it’s a series of four essays about the central, though often ignored or elided, role of caste in Indian society and literature.

there appears to have been [in the 19th century] an intimate connection between the social criticism of subordinated groups and an anguished and persistent engagement with the emancipatory potential of religious conversion (eg Ambedkar).  Elite groups too turned to a refashioning of tradition (eg Vivekananda), but for them it was easier to find a habitation within the resources of Hinduism…

Menon, to me, reminds us that caste shapes not only social interactions, but is a crucial element in how people experience religion, family, social support structures and health.  There is no monolithic, static experience of these ideas and institutions.  He also implies that marginal people, when they manage to find the resources to seek change, look instinctively to revolution rather than to recuperation.  This has been an illuminating element in my slow, long education in the complexity of this place.

Next week, I hope to meet a doctor who works at a Medical Tourism Agency.  Should be fascinating.  But I’ll leave you with this thought…

the queue (if you could call it that)

Two weeks in, and I have yet to step foot inside a hospital.  Well, ok, I did walk into the Apollo, but more on that later.  For now, let’s just say the mood is ambivalent.  I’ve been writing poems, and I think some interesting things are coming out, but they’ve mainly been about the initial frisson of arrival, the spectacular differences and the struggle of bridging cultures.  Nothing yet about “medical tourism”.  All the contacts I have either don’t get back to me, or are in meetings, or want me to send them emails…  But, as India teaches you, you have to keep pushing – with a soft fluidity as well as a vigour.

University of Madras

 

 

 

 

The staff at the University of Madras have all been gracious and welcoming.  I have a room set aside for me on the rooftop of the main building, which overlooks Marina Beach and fills up with the sea breeze.  They’ve also continued to reassure me that the extent of my involvement at the University is up to me; that my poetry-writing is the priority.  We’ve organised a few things though, all at the University’s English Department –

  • Poetry Reading – Thursday 3rd November, 1pm
  • Creative Writing Workshop on Embodiment – Monday 5th December, 10am.
  • Lecture/discussion on Recent Australian Poetry – Tuesday 3rd January.

Apart from the Uni, all my contacts with people have been accidental.  I met a lovely guy from Hyderabad who was staying at my hotel, who shouted me lunch (“it’s our duty”) and asked me what I hate about India the most, and what I love.  For the record, I said its poverty and its strength.  Which made me wonder about the relationship between the two…  While I was at my room at the Uni, Syam Sudhakar waltzed in to meet me.  He was actually at the Queensland Poetry Festival in 2009 (I was there in 2008 and 2010!) – he’s a fine poet, too – while we were chatting, he got mail, a copy of a journal with two poems of his in it.  Oh, and I was also (gently) harrassed for money by a group of hijras, laughing as one of them took my hat and wore it…

Approaching the Apollo Hospital, Chennai

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, so, as I was saying, I did walk into the Apollo Hospital the other day.  I took a long, tiring walk to Thousand Lights (a few suburbs away from my hotel) to get a sense of what this renowned hospital is like – who goes there, what surrounds it, etc.  At a distance, I thought I saw it, but it was actually a luxury hotel – oops, Andy, don’t get carried away.  Apollo is of course a large medical complex, and it clearly has some money behind it, but it looks more like a standard country hospital.  The main difference being the huge crowds.  Hundreds of bikes and motorbikes are out the front.  Autorickshaws cruise the exit for customers.  Families wait in groups outside.  In the waiting room, it’s hard to move – dozens and dozens of people sit, stand, lie, pace, all without much apparent distress or frustration.  I can’t imagine everyone would be seen on the day they come.  But it seems accepted that this is just how it is.  In the corner is a sign that directs “international patients” to a separate cubicle.  Which reminds me of the time I went to a doctor in Kalimpong, West Bengal, three years ago – I was rushed to the front of the (albeit small) queue, and felt acutely relieved and ashamed.

The other thing I’ve noticed is the number of gyms here (which I didn’t notice in the north or centre of the country).  Wondering what that implies…

Oh, and where I’m staying – Sangeetha Residency in Mylapore – is pretty good.  It’s got all the basics you need and the buffet breakfast is part of the deal (mmm, idli…).  The choice you have to make is between a room with a window onto the inner car-park, which makes it feel like a cell, and a room that overlooks the road, which is almost always a cacophony of vehicles honking (and now that it’s Diwali, so many crackers and fireworks exploding through the night, which makes the air look like a thick fog and sounds like a small war!).  I prefer the latter.  You may prefer neither.

And below, some important places for Deepawali – temple, and a shop for fireworks…!

Marfan lives

There’s nothing like waiting for the results of a funding application.  I’m in the habit now of expecting nothing.  Which makes it all the more celebratory when the letter actually says “yes”.  Thanks to Arts Victoria, I’ve begun a poetry project very close to my heart, figuratively and literally.

“Marfan lives” (ambiguity accidental originally but deliberate now) is a series of poems based on the lives of people with Marfan Syndrome, both historical and contemporary, well-known and everyday.  I’m thinking of the allegedly Marfan-affected, like Abraham Lincoln, Akhenaten, Paganini and Osama bin Laden (?!), but also of people such as Edith Sitwell, John Tavener, Jonathan Larson, Vincent Schiavelli, Robert Johnson and Joey Ramone.

Antoine Marfan

But I’m also currently seeking to interview regular people, from all backgrounds and histories.  Because this project is about diversity and variety, how a genetic condition can shape people’s lives, sometimes dramatically, other times in a very subtle way – how it may make life hard for some, but how it may even give some people exceptional abilities.  It is a condition I inherited from my father.  He died when I was 2; my particular manifestation isn’t of the heart but the bones, particularly the spine.  So, it’s not just academic or aesthetic for me.

I’m interested in the stories of anyone with Marfan Syndrome, especially first-hand, but also from family members and friends.  If that includes you or someone you know, please contact me through this blog.  Thanks!

“medical tourism” from the inside…

In October this year, I’m travelling to India to find out what “medical tourism” is all about. You may now have visions of me in surgical robes, nervously waiting to be anaesthetised, but no, this isn’t a kind of “method acting” in poetry.

Asialink (along with the Australia Council for the Arts and the Australia-India Council) have been generous enough to grant me a 3-month literature residency, based at the University of Madras. This is an opportunity to draw together into poetry two themes that have long fascinated me – the human body and how we experience it, and India – the interplay of ancient tradition and globalised entrepreneurialism, as well as its vigorous energy and sheer complexity.

My plan is to write portrait poems of people who are in some way involved in what is commonly called “medical tourism” – the travel of patients outside their home country to access medical treatment. This treatment ranges from cardiac surgery to dental work, orthopedic surgery to reproductive technology, gender reassignment surgery. They travel for many reasons – personal, legal, technological and/or financial (to obtain treatment that is too expensive at home). There’s a huge and growing amount of literature on the broad social impact of this very complex phenomenon, but very little in terms of personal stories.

I’m interested in talking with doctors, nurses, cleaners, and other ancillary staff, but also with patients and their families – both Indian and non-Indian. I’m also interested in talking with people who may have had experiences with the medical systems of other countries – Thailand, Malaysia, South Africa, for example.  How do two cultures interact around one human body? What are the emotions, contingencies, complications, victories, insights and relationships that are brought up?

If you or someone you know is planning to travel to India any time between October 2011 and January 2012, please contact me through this blog. Any comments on my project, suggestions for reading or other contacts are also very welcome.

poetry is an utterance of (the) body

Poetry is an utterance of the body.  Not the best utterance – which is pre-linguistic and made of salt water – but the best a body can do given it has language.  It is language in thrall to the corporeal, to the pump and procession of the blood, the briefly rising spirit of the lung, the nerves’ fretwork, strictures of the bone.  Poetry is matter that can string itself between the pulse of a life and the silence of its death…  Those who reject form in poetry, reject form in body.  What they do is alien to what’s human…  Take the iambic pentameter for an example.  Its regularity shadows the poem: something must shadow the poem, and that something must in some way make the sound of the body at rest, so that the body in thought, at play, when it is heard can be believed…  The arrogance of obscurity is medieval, is of the cloister.  Obscurity cannot be poetry because the body is not obscure.  It may be interesting, it may be exciting, but only until we need oxygen.

Glyn Maxwell, from “Strong Words” (ed. WN Herbert & Matthew Hollis)

When I read this, my own body made a little joyful shudder of recognition.  Yes, poetry is an utterance of the body, and that is how it travels from one person to another, across the gulf of difference and experience – through its biological affinity.  Then, one word stood out, awkward and almost arrogant – “the”.  Is there such a thing as “the” body?

Arguably, there is a human body.  But what of variation?  Male, female, intersex?  The disabled and the TABs (temporarily able-bodied)?  Does poetry travel seamlessly across all of these distances in the same way?  Or, to look at the question from another angle, are there as many poetics as there are bodies?  Is there such a thing as “women’s poetry”?  “crip poetry”?  And I don’t just mean in terms of content, subject-matter – I mean, in terms of rhythm, flow, metre, the way the words appear on the page and in the air.

Recently, as a result of Pi O urging me to check out the poetry of Larry Eigner (by the way, this video of Larry reading poetry is great), I came upon a fantastically provocative and sensitive essay by Michael Davidson – “Missing Larry: the Poetics of Disability in Larry Eigner”.  Davidson explores why it may be that Eigner’s cerebral palsy is so rarely mentioned in critical discussions of his work – why that “blind spot”.   But he also reminds us that this omission isn’t just a biographical issue, but a poetic issue.  Eigner’s use of space on the page, his compression and brevity, his use of indentation and double-columns, the meticulous intensity of his poems – this is the way he chose to write, but it is also inevitably influenced by his physical condition.  He only had effective control over his right index finger, his body leaning on the (manual) typewriter, eyes close to the page, each word painstakingly pushed onto the page, each tap of the space-bar an effort.

What we write is shaped by our embodiment.  Not determined, but certainly shaped.  And this isn’t just about those bodies that are more visibly and obviously “disabled”.  Think about this –

What would it mean to think of Charles Olson’s “breath” line as coming from someone with chronic emphysema exacerbated by heavy smoking? Robert Creeley’s lines in “The Immoral Proposition,” “to look at it is more / than it was,” mean something very particular when we know that their author has only one eye (125). To what extent are Elizabeth Bishop’s numerous references to suffocation and claustrophobia in her poems an outgrowth of a life with severe asthma? Was William Carlos Williams’s development of the triadic stepped foot in his later career a dimension of his prosody or a typographical response to speech disorders resulting from a series of strokes?

Michael Davidson

These are big questions.  I’m just starting to think them through…  You, in your body, may be way ahead of me…

literature’s deformities (part 2 of 3)

[Below is part 2 of an essay I wrote a while back, but revised recently.  I’m currently looking at the position and impact of the unusual body in contemporary poetry – this essay looks at the role of these bodies in fiction.]

Shakespeare was Freud before Freudianism, a psychologist of powerful poetic suggestion before it settled historically into a definitive diagnostic shape. In Richard III, Richard, jealous and ambitious, intensely sensitive to his deformity, plots through flattery and murder to take the throne of England.

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,

Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;

I, that am rudely stamped, and want love’s majesty

To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;

I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,

Cheated of feature by dissembling Nature;

Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time

Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,

And that so lamely and unfashionable

That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;

Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,

Have no delight to pass away the time,

Unless to spy my shadow in the sun

And descant on my own deformity:

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,

To entertain these fair well-spoken days,

I am determined to prove a villain

And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

The snowball-like trajectory of tragedy ensures we cannot (like Richard himself) see any other possibility. The exact fuel for Richard’s machinations is left unclear. The ugliness of his body could be a catalyst for his political and moral degeneracy, or a convenient excuse for it. At the very least, the play portrays physical deformity as psychological intensification. Richard is shut out from what he sees as his entitlement, grows increasingly resentful and determines to assert himself, to challenge the place assigned to him by nature.

Regardless of the measure of propaganda that influenced the transition of the historical story to the theatrical script, there is a familiar association hunching over Shakespeare’s version of Richard – the shadow of gendered power. Julio C Avalos Jr reminds us that the common conception of women at the time was that they were half-made men. Richard sees himself not just as unattractive in appearance, but as insufficiently male.  Violence and usurpation present themselves to him as the sufficient proof of manhood. Tragic indeed.

 

literature’s deformities (part 1 of 3)

[Below is an essay I wrote a while back, but revised recently.  I’m currently looking at the position and impact of the unusual body in contemporary poetry – this essay looks at the role of these bodies in fiction.]

It is almost a truism to say that each body is unique – medically, biologically, psychologically. Not only that, but each body is unique in each moment, continually in a state of flux and vulnerable to threat – healthy one moment, deformed or worse in the next. And yet, for almost all characters in literature, the particularities of their bodies are insignificant. Their embodiment is either unmentioned, or most often secondary to the narrative, or subsumed within the common human body, a device for identification.

Deformity, on the other hand, always seems symbolic in some way. If the body of a character is unusual, it determines that character’s entire identity, trajectory and destiny. It is as if, for the author and the reader, deformity is a provocation towards fate. I am interested in how these portraits of extraordinary bodies shape (or, it could be said, mis-shape) how we see other people, even how we see ourselves. This essay hopes to direct an unflinching gaze upon that looking.


Did Victor Hugo fully know what his vision would contain? Hugo would say yes, but what would Quasimodo have said? He could, of course, only speak Hugo’s words, could only make the movements prescribed for him. And Hugo’s Quasimodo isn’t exactly articulate. He is brutish, a lump of flesh, as if an excess of physicality must inevitably swamp the intellect.

If the epic story The Hunchback of Notre Dame could be reduced to a few sentences, it would be because of its melodrama. Quasimodo, born severely deformed, is abandoned at the steps of Notre Dame and taken in by the archdeacon Frollo, who is infatuated with the beautiful young gypsy woman Esmerelda and has her beau Phoebus stabbed. Esmerelda is charged with attempted murder. Quasimodo abducts her and takes her back to the cathedral, which is then assailed by the mob. Esmerelda dies in the commotion. Quasimodo realises Frollo, his proto-adopted-father, was behind the whole scenario, and kills him. In deep grief, he then entombs himself with the body of Esmerelda – a tragic resolution, certainly, but also oddly fitting for a central character who, essentially, is imprisoned in his embodiment, whose body offers only questions, especially to those who cannot identify with him.

Consider Hugo’s sketch, and the struggle to explain Quasimodo.

His whole person was a grimace. His large head, bristling with red hair – between his shoulders an enormous hump, to which he had a corresponding projection in front – a framework of thighs and legs, so strangely gone astray that they touched only at the knees, and when viewed in front, looked like two sickles joined together by the handles – sprawling feet – monstrous hands – and yet, with all that deformity, a certain awe-inspiring vigour, agility and courage – strange exception to the everlasting rule which prescribes that strength, like beauty, shall result from harmony… One would have said a giant had been broken and awkwardly mended.

The portrait, in its avalanche of hyperbole and its convoluted grammar, is as deformed as the character. Hugo’s Quasimodo literally embodies a mistake, and the tragedy that results. He is an engine room for the building up of archetypal associations. He is immensely strong and correspondingly simple in his intellect. He is unpredictable, a reflection of the capricious nature which created him. The crowd certainly don’t understand him. He is deaf; the world does not quite reach him. What moves him is the female of the story; yet she is unattainable. Esmerelda continually struggles to see the human in him, trying to imagine how this giant’s puzzle pieces could be more humanly rearranged, while knowing they never will be. He is intensely alone. In his gentle monstrousness, he is able to be manipulated; his surrogate father Frollo leads him astray. He is not the mob, nor is he the reader. He approaches but never quite reaches the full status of a subject.

Quasimodo is both practically celibate and literally promiscuous – the voice of Hugo reverberates through many bodies, gives birth to many children. Visualise the many assistants to mad scientists – hunched over, shuffling obediently to their masters’ next tasks, muttering a vague sense of resentment, yet perennially faithful. Think even of the titular anti-heroes of low culture teen flick Revenge of the Nerds – genetically made other, socially disadvantaged (in a reversal of Quasimodo’s physical/mental imbalance); the clumsy, inarticulate virgins who the audience secretly place in sexual positions, wondering how those bodies would “do it”.

But the strongest family resemblance to Hugo’s child can be seen in the freak show, that institution that Rosemary Garland Thomson called “the apotheosis of museums” that arose in the mid nineteenth century and continued well into the twentieth (and arguably survives in other forms now). “Siamese” twins, little people, giants, tattooed people, half men-half women, sword swallowers, those with extra or no limbs, fat people, African “primitives”, and many others selected according to the anxieties and fascinations of the era performed theatrically, thereby providing both immense entertainment and reassurance of the security of the audience’s physical, racial, sexual and cultural status. The stage is the boundary. The audience become the norm(al) purely and simply by being outside of the spotlight.

Quasimodo defines both the isolated deformed body and the form of the mob.

[part 2 & 3 will appear in later posts…]

Am I my own other?

Should I have been surprised that a meeting about marketing poetry would lead to sobbing in a toilet and pondering phenomenology?

One of my “day jobs” is at Australian Poetry, and of late I’ve been organising the 2011 itinerary for our mobile poetry library, the “Omnibus”.  Basically, we take poetry books around to regional towns, run workshops, put on readings, give people the chance to browse, read, talk about, and buy books they may not normally get a chance to.  I had organised to meet with Marcus Powe, RMIT’s “Entrepeneur-in-Residence”, to chat about how to position and promote the Omnibus, but also how to think about it.  And, no Marcus didn’t make me cry.  The meeting wasn’t the problem – it just put me in a certain place.

I’d arrived earlier than I expected, so I sat on the lawn outside the State Library of Victoria, one of the few green areas in the CBD of Melbourne.  On fine days, it’s bathed in sun and swarming with students and workers of all shapes and colours.  Pigeons and seagulls jostle for crumbs.  The atmosphere is casual; friends meet and greet, some kind of communal recognition just below the surface, we’re all here to rest and take in the sky while the trams rattle past.

One guy, in his mid-thirties, baseball cap and 3/4 length pants, slows down as he passes me, looking back at me with bemusement.  He turns around, walks up to me, directly.  “What’s that?”.  He touches my back, then lifts my shirt, looking and poking.  I can’t remember exactly what I say, but it’s something like, “It’s me.  Do you mind?!…”.  And, as he’s walking away, “maybe you should ask before you touch someone…”.  To that, he says, “don’t fuckin’ talk to me like that”.

Let’s get two things out of the way first.  He wasn’t insane in any way.  He was just your run-of-the-mill working-class tough guy.  And me, I have a genetic condition called Marfan Syndrome – it’s reasonably rare, and within that rarity, my particular manifestation is visually obvious spinal curvature.

I spend a quick half-minute in the bathroom, try to push out some of the excess emotional energy, before the meeting.  You could call it sobbing.  I am sick of being people’s object, people’s Other.

This encounter, both mundane and extraordinary, raises some critical questions.  What does it mean to have a body?  What is normal?  Why is it that now and then something happens to rupture our habitual ignorance of embodiment?  And, do I, as an apparently different-looking person, have a different sense of self?

From my meagre understanding of him, French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty says that we engage with the world not as subject examining objects at a distance, but synesthetically and implicitly.  Our body opens onto the rest of the world, is the very condition of our experience.  Our senses resonate with a unity of perceptions.  In a way, the world is made for us, through the medium of our bodies, bodies that are situated and inescapably relational.  Experience is a continual, complex flow, where meaning and relationship is ongoing and always incomplete.

So, in that vast rushing flow of experience, as a universe of different bodies surround and pass us – the gaggle of school-girls, a ragged man rifling through bins, a meticulously groomed business-woman, towering Somalian boys, waddling overweight children, people of all shapes and colours and ways of moving – some kind of sense of “normality” emerges.  Edmund Husserl believed that our bodies seek always to normalise, to assimilate, to incorporate abnormality within the realm of the expected, through understanding or empathy.  Oh, that person is blind, this man is drunk, that woman must be lost.  We build our understanding on familiarity, push experience into categories, to ensure that we can move on, ready for our next encounter.  And, yes, sometimes that process of normalisation stalls; the person appears so other to us, we stare, in confusion, discomfort, anger.

When I mentioned my experience outside the library to people, the overwhelming response seemed to be “how rude!” or “what’s wrong with him?!”.  Fair enough.  What I want to know is this – what does what he did reveal about abnormality in our culture?  What sort of experiences help us to recognise self-hood in others?  How is it we can fail to recognise self-hood in others, or disregard their bodily integrity?  And what does poetry encourage?

Alexander Kozin, in his article “The Uncanny Body: from medical to aesthetic abnormality” (Janus Head, vol.9, iss.2, 2007), says that the experience of some bodies are purely unassimiliable.  He seems to have his epiphany at the Kunsthalle in Dusseldorf, Germany.

“It is there that I saw a person whose appearance broke any and every anticipation of an embodied human being…    She was a collage made of odd objects; her arm stub and her twisted legs looked as if they came off from a non-human creature…  Her body, small and fragile, half a body, appeared to be torn apart by some mechanical mangler of flesh.  This strange assimilation of incompatible parts made her movements as bizarre and as majestic as if she was a royalty raised from some underground dream-world, invading one’s peace and usurping it, leaving us with nothing but emptiness in the wake of explosive astonishment and awe…”

I’m tempted to say, Alex, calm down.  This woman, whose mother took the drug Thalidomid during pregnancy, can hardly be said to have “half a body” – from her perspective, her body is entire.  And I doubt she came from an “underground dream-world” – more likely, her home in a typical German suburb.  But what he is says is revealing, on many levels.

Earlier in his essay, Kozin asks “How can abnormality of the body be available to us most generally?”.  Whether he realises it or not, just who is implied within this “us” is absolutely critical – and it is this that is potentially the most “explosive” element of his encounter with abnormality.  Think about it.  Does he mean “those of us who have normal bodies”?  It seems to me that the person he calls “the Contergan woman” is not included within the “us”.  By definition, she can’t be.

Based on what I know from my own experience of having an unusual body (though certainly not as unusual as hers), I expect that, to her, abnormality is normality.

I also know that the normality of an abnormal embodiment doesn’t cancel out it’s abnormality.  For some, of course, certain tasks, movements, journeys are immensely difficult or impossible, due to their bodily situation.  But even for those of us who are not “disabled”, we get our sense of self through our interactions with others and the world.  If I am continually reminded of my otherness, then I am other.  Self and other simultaneously.

I see people with unusual bodies and, yes, they are other to me.  Yet very often, something in me also feels a tone of recognition, affinity.  Self and other.

Kozin also unwittingly tells us something about poetry, too.  Whenever he discusses the appearance of “the Contergan woman”, he shifts from academic philosophical language into a heightened, almost ecstatic tone.  He crams his sentences with metaphor, analogy, hyperbole, disjunctions.  His experience of her body can’t be assimilated, doesn’t make sense – instinctively or deliberately, he drops the authority and detachment of rationality, dives into a disorienting, passionate poetry.  Then, as an academic should, he composes himself and returns to discourse.

What exactly is otherness?  What make us look at other people as Others?  Is that “making other” inevitable, primal, tribal?  Is it fuelled by an inability to empathise, a simple lack of familiarity, or a kind of shock at seeing repressed aspects of ourselves in other people?  And is poetry the natural home for that space between self and other?

By myself, I have no answers.  But then, I’m not by myself, am I?

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…

2010 in review

It’s a new year and it’s about time I updated my “About” tab – times change and so do we.  Check out the About tab at the top left of the page (right next to Home).

And now a word from WordPress on this blog, probably of special interest to the statisticians and trivialists out there (yeah, I know, as if I’m not one of them…!).

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,300 times in 2010. That’s about 8 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 5 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 30 posts. There were 11 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 2mb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was June 9th with 42 views. The most popular post that day was yes, I am a tourist.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, queenslandpoetryfestival.info, middleeuropeanmelancholy.wordpress.com, slamup.blogspot.com, and vic.ipaa.org.au.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for puri beach, slogans on tourism in india, andy jackson poet, red light area in hyderabad, and not gay.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

yes, I am a tourist February 2009

2

new india tourism slogans February 2009
3 comments

3

a city is not a city February 2009
4 comments

4

Sikkim/Imsikk February 2009

5

About November 2008
11 comments