Writing the Body

Post-Cartesian Crises and Aesthetic Drag

Kids in TriageIn a matter of days I’ll be publishing my first book—a poetry collection called Kids in Triage. That this first book turned out to be poetry and not prose is a surprise to me. That this first book takes the body as its subject; that this encounter with the body manifests in emergency, rupture, domestic disturbance—interrogations of consciousness—does not. It’s been a creative flashpoint for me for as long as I can remember, and the centre of many Life Questions (often stemming from experiences with depression and other forms of mind-body insurgency). Writing Questions, it turns out, are just Life Questions in aesthetic drag.The body, as theme, is also so capital C Classical that it makes my eye teeth ache. Yet here we are. Because I inhabit one and so do you and it’s the palace and/or prison within which our respective consciousnesses mark out their mortality. If I could write about anything else I would. I just haven’t found anything else. Every story, poem, or grocery list’s detailing of daybreak, computer code, or canned coffee will always be underpinned by the body. Or more specifically, the mind-body bond, that fraught relationship between cogito ergo and actual sum.

I’ve never been someone who identified seamlessly with her own body but I’ve always been someone whose experience of the world has been strongly mediated by the physical. An academic-seeming passage of philosophy can send me on a crying jag. The arc of a boxing workout can work through me—structurally, rhythmically, viscerally—like a good short story. And while I probably couldn’t describe the detailed physical appearance of a character in any piece of fiction I’ve written, I could certainly tell you what it feels like to be in their body, how things register from behind their eyes.

An obsession with embodied consciousness is not a unique thing among writers. So many tangled wires run outward from that hub, conducting stories into the world. Having arrived with the baggage of skin and bones, via biologies and geographies and economies pre-marked by history’s passes, our physical selves are the intersection of countless forms privilege, power and subjection. How we speak, how we move, how we dress, what we ingest … all betray us in our connections to a larger social and historical world. In curating a month-long series on writing the body for the Town Crier, I wanted to pick up this conversation with others for whom the mind/body thread of inquiry also runs deep.

What do writers talk about when they talk about the body? You’re going to to find out. Look forward to essays, interviews, and conversations from: Sonnet L’Abbé, andrea bennett, Roxanna Bennett, Kris Bertin, Lisa Bird-Wilson, Eric Foley, Susanna Fournier, Kim Fu, Mike Hoolboom, Canisia Lubrin, Susan Perly, Naben Ruthnum, and Vivek Shraya. And keep an eye open for brand-new spring books across genres from Kris (Bad Things Happen), Lisa (The Red Files), Kim (How Festive the Ambulance), Mike (You Only Live Twice, with Chase Joynt), Susan (Death Valley), and Vivek (even this page is white), as well.

To May’s contributors—dynamic writers and artists from across the country who made space for these discussions and meditations in their often-hectic schedules—I extend my most sincere thanks. Your perspectives, articulacy, and humour have wowed me. It’s been the best kind of welcome into the world of writing books.

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