Monday, October 02, 2006

Notes towards an egoless poetry 2: Practical matters

A kinesthetic, somatic, visual, sensual process for writing poetry:

Start with your senses. (Leave your mind at the door. This is not about thinking about what to do, but about letting words arise directly from perception and experience.) Start with what you see, hear, smell, taste, touch. The only thing you choose is the moment to right about. The universe is full of splendor and inspiration, and we mostly miss it because we're moving too fast, thinking too hard, worrying too much. The mind, as wonderful as it is, can get in the way. Every moment is a segment of the continuous creation.

Step outside, no matter what time of day it is, no matter what the weather is, no matter where you are. Look for something to look at. Don't think about it. Close your eyes, turn sideways, open your eyes again, and see what's really there in front of you.

Maybe you'll see a part of the entranceway of your house you've walked by a million times but never really looked at. Perhaps there's a spider weaving a desultory web (yes, adjectives are fine, even if they're describing the emotions you're projecting outwards onto the scene) in between the panels of the siding on your house; you notice a crack in the tiles you've never seen before. Look how moss is greening the end of your tin rainspout. Notice the details, and write them down. List them. Don't organize them yet. Just record impressions. Take your notepad and pencil out there with you, sit on your front stoop, and write down everything you see, without editing it or organizing it. You can always do that later.

The purpose is to stop and look and listen. Empty the mind of normal everyday thoughts and cares and just look.

One of the best writing exercises I ever learned was taught to me by my 11th grade English teacher: take a walk, and carry a small notebook and pencil with you. Write down everything you see as you walk. (Yes, you can stop in the middle of the sidewalk to write. Yes, you have permission to look silly and strange to other people while you do this. Yes, you must write it down immediately, not "save it for later.") This is practice in direct translation from experience to word, without the mediation of thinking about it or editing it first. The purpose of this exercise is to get your brain out of the way and go directly from eye to hand. You are not allowed to edit what you see, you must write it all down, even the tiny details that you would normally discard. You have to slow down and see to do this.

Next, do the same thing, but write down everything you hear. For example: Sitting hear/here writing this, I can hear the traffic on the freeway a mile or so away, the birds in the trees outside, the cicadas beginning to thrum as the day warms, the nearer sounds of large trucks going over the bridge at the end of this block; I can hear my own breathing, and the ticking of the keys on my computer; I can hear the various tickings and creakings of this house as it heats up during the day.

No sensation is too small to write down. No sensation is too small to ignore.

Next, set your dinner table with a variety of foods. Nothing special, just do this with your regular meal. Slow down. Smell each item before you touch it. Pick it up with your fingers, even if you usually use a fork. What does cooked rice feel like, smell like? Only then are you allowed to taste things. And go slow. Taste a single strand of pasta, a single shoot of freshly grilled asparagus. What is the texture of cold apple cider on your tongue? What does sunlight on your tongue feel and taste like?

Sentence fragments are allowed. If you spend the time to put your experience into rhyming & metered verse, you should realize that your mind is too engaged, and it's probably getting in the way between your senses and your writing. Single word sentences are allowed. Lists are allowed. Verbless free verse is allowed. Write down whatever words arise in you, even if you'd normally be ashamed to share them with anyone else. Presentation comes later. If you edit yourself, you are censoring your life. Stop that! Stop it! You don't have to share anything you ever write while doing this exercise with anyone. You can burn your notes later—but only if you also watch and smell and listen to the process of burning. If you throw your notes on a fire and immediately walk away, you fail.

Every moment of every day can be a version of this exercise. This goal is to Pay Attention, Pay Attention, Pay Attention.

Slow down. Open your senses. Write down whatever flows into you.

That is your poem.



NOTE: This is nothing like stream of consciousness writing, which is all about the mind's internal monologue presented to itself on the stage of its own (self-conscious) awareness. SOC is entirely psychological, and primarily internal, and doesn't have to have anything to do with outside stimuli.

This exercise actually short-circuits that completely, by going around it. This is somatic, rather than psychological. This is about being in your body, and your body being in the world, and engaging with what they have to say to you. The idea is to take yourself right out of your mind, and into your body, and into the world.

This is listening to the world around you, and letting it pass through you into words. If you practice it often enough, and Pay Attention to the process, you will notice that it actually bypasses the thought-whirl almost completely, or at most just touches on it tangentially.

Some will find that very difficult to do, and actively resist it, or be unable to do it—and that too is a valuable lesson in self-discovery as a writer. You might discover, in the process, where you have invested your personal self-worth as a poet.

Try writing a sensual, somatic, body-based passage, from a perspective other than these constant "I"s. Not all poems need to be in first person, after all, or have a persona, even if it's a character's persona and not the poet's. Or even, if it's still a personal set of experiences of images, following the exercise, just drop the pronouns. Nothing keeps us in the head, and out of the body, more than these persistent "I"s. Again, it's not about stream of consciousness. It's not about you, it's about what you see.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sense a clear dichotomy of the body from the mind and the extra effort one must make to unite the two. It is much simpler on paper and rather complex i would say in real life. The subdued senses need awakening from the Whole Self than just the world and what we see. We must Insist on Seeing Inside.

4:32 AM  
Anonymous neha arora said...

Hi, it's me again..I must introduce this new line of thought to your blog entry. But, before that, I would say there is a jarring sense of proportion i felt in your words, the way scales are finely balanced, the way a hair stylist works on those ends, very neat work.

I write myself and I am most happy to see this entry of yours!

Keep it up..

Good Wishes,
neha

4:37 AM  

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