#ACES 16/17 – The Body has its Reasons: Knowing from Within #lettersfromladyn

We think by feeling. What is there to know? / I hear my being dance from ear to ear / I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.  from The Waking by Theodore Roethke

Through jewellery, choreography and mark making Sarah Warsop investigates the complexities and characteristics of human movement. In metal, on paper, in performance, on film, she arrests time to reveal the intricacies of the moving body. Read more about Sarah Warsop and her practice.

KTDACESREPORTmontageIn the sleepiest part of winter 2017, jeweller/choreographer/artist Sarah Warsop travelled from London to Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick to facilitate a ‘Knowing the Dance’ masterclass, which had it’s objective to demonstrate how she stretches time to give a create a middle place where physical presence through breath, felt experience, movement can emerge.

She had asked me to bring a couple of poems for working on. A more-or-less finished poem of my own with a small part that needed to be worked on and a favourite of mine. In keeping with the time of year, I brought ‘Fallow‘ (Abridged: Silence, pg 35, also Night Divers), and Eavan Boland’s ‘The Pomegranate’. Both sympathetic to our mid-January meeting. She also asked for charcoal and a plentiful supply of large sheets of paper suitable for drawing on. We were joined by dancer/researcher Paula Guzzanti, with whom I had begun work on what was to become the dance~poem sequece.

Fight, Flight, Freeze, Appease

‘You say this time of year is treacherous / our first shoots might be bewildered’ from Fallow

I chose ‘Fallow’ because, though well published, it has always had one stanza that I’ve never been entirely happy about. My belief has always been that it is not a technical problem, the underlying fault was in my own lack of clarity about what was happening at that point.

We began with my reading the poem and then we created ‘breath scores’ for that sticking-point, three-line piece – charting the movement in the breath (mostly up, hardly a dip) on paper and noticing words where the breath eddied, halted, or dropped.

Then we drew with charcoal, and many times, not visual representations of the verbal images, but the shapes, patterns and images that emerged from the breathwork, from the words that demanded attention. Going back again and again to it.

Following that we created movement sequences that were called forth from this exploration.

I’ve been trying to clearly document what went on here over the past year, because it was a very powerful experience for me. I’m not there yet.

‘Fallow’ was written at a time when I was in a state of distress to the point of numbness (‘freeze’ or otherwise described as the ‘numbies’ – a human protective response when not able to fight or flee) but it was many years ago. I do remember that feel of dissociation in the writing of what is quite a measured piece despite its worst-of-winter backdrop. That calm – that protective instinct to go with the flow – you get when you are in shock but you have to respond to what is going on.

As the three of us re-entered the piece but with full physical/emotional connection, I relived that time. This could, I suppose, have been a very painful triggering, but things happen at the right time, I believe.  What became very clear as we worked on was that there is nothing wrong at all with those three lines, they simply marked, in their uneveness, an uncomfortable preparation for those first shoots that signalled an end to that instinctive numbed state back to some kind of return to feeling.

I found this depth of connection with the work really powerful, and the physical presence aspect a more anchoring kind of knowing. Even if the breath score spoke clearly of deep panic, I was in control because I could step away from that breath pattern.

‘Beautiful Rifts in Time’

‘But what else / can a mother give a daughter but such / beautful rifts in time’ from ‘The Pomegranate’  by Eavan Boland

In the same poem, she says “..the best thing about the legend is / I can enter it anywhere..”. The funny thing about Fallow is that this is not the first time I have re-entered this particular territory. A few years on from Abridged publishing ‘Fallow’, I was invited to submit a piece tp them for an issue which of poems which revisited earlier pieces that they had published. Unwittingly, another january, I had written a piece called The Time Bug (aka Fallow II) which is a far less comforting piece. The storm was closer then and there was neither blanket nor spectral company. I am pretty sure there isn’t an in-breath to be found in the piece.

This most recent January, the re-entering was gentler. I’ve written a further piece ‘First Shoots’ which is more a meditation on two other artists, without any interest or knowledge of the background, entering the work and responding to it – and how strangely eloquently the work proclaimed its strictured emotional roots despite the poem not giving much away of the context.

Nothing has done real justice, however, to the full clarity that this masterclass gave me, not on the poem, but on my own life at the time – a time which has been at the heart of my writing over the last while.

In the week that followed raw material for the ‘Knowing the Dance’ poetry collection began to come through.

‘Knowing the Dance’ Open Workshop

With thanks to Down Arts Centre, Sarah returned to Down Arts Centre to facilitate a three-hour open workshop using similar techniques. Again, I was suprised at how close this connection to breath, the allowing of charcoal to wander where it would as the words moved through me, the creating of movement, drew me to the work. Here I looked at a piece to which I have, against all odds, a really strong emotional connection. It’s one or the pieces that I’ve written this year that I like best, but the subject matter  – water drumming: traditional with women of the Baka people – is something I don’t have any connection to at all.

My thanks to all who attended. This work, though seemingly gentle, is a powerful way to engage with a practice of poetry that counteracts the distancing of, not so much the mind, but explanation or description rather than sharing direct experience (telling about rather than knowing). This embodiment is, in every workshop you’ll ever attend – mine included – what makes poetry the living thing that it is. But sometimes, that safe distance from what our inner realm is communicating up from the depths (the voice beneath the voice) via the periscope that is poetry, is a length of road that needs to be travelled softly. I wonder whether in the future, if showcasing these techniques using a published piece – not written by anybody in the working group – might be a good introduction of this more physically direct experience of poetry.

The Body has its Reasons: Knowing from Within

“Movement – along the ground, in walking, in the air, in respiration – is not what a body does but what it is. That is why any attempt to describe human movement in terms of some notion of embodiment is bound to fail. For it makes it sounds as though the movement were wrapped up inside – that has been packaged, sedimented, stilled, rendered quiescent or tacit. And it is why theorists of embodiment feel compelled to invoke a notion of agency in order to set the self-digested body-package back in motion. Movement, for them, is an effect, agency they cause. To undo this causal logic – to exorcise the spectre of embodied agency – is to recognise that as a bundle of potentials in an ever-unfolding field of forces and energies, the body moves and is moved not because it is driven by some internal agency, wrapped up in the package, but because as fast as it is gathering or winding itself up, it is forever unravelling or unwinding – alternatively breathing in and out. But breathing out and breathing in are not the precise reverse of one another. The one is a movement of propulsion; it is haptic. The other is a movement of gathering; it is atmospheric.” – Tim Ingold ‘Knowing from Within’

A list of reading material that accompanied my exploration of the middle place, including The Body has its Reasons can be found HERE.

Final Words

I am still processing a lot of this particular exploration because it represents more than simply a change in how I approach composing and editing my work. Like myself, there is nothing surface-level about it and I am wondering if the work itself isn’t the way forward for processing. That said, even for myself, I do want to document this process.



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