Lesson No. 3: New Approaches: Poetry as Dance & Shape with Sarah Herrington

We are exploring the language of sensuality and sexuality through a variety of poetic excerpts urging you to explore how to tell the story of the body (as a sexual creature, as a thing of desire, as artwork, as a loving creature). While the Body houses many stories (pain, sickness, humiliation), I want to focus on the body a temple complete with both the sweet and the sour of what the body has to offer,  a place where love and desire and pleasure and pain are created and given. If you’re not comfortable exploring explicit sexuality in your work, you are welcome to explore the aesthetics of the body: its shape, its beauty, its secrets. 

The objective in this course is to explore the body and to create your own unique poems that evoke the body (in shape, structure or in content) in risky, innovative ways, sans cliché.

While we will mainly focus on poetry, there will be some prose selections as well. 

Study the language of the excerpts. What do you like? What stands out to you? What makes you feel uncomfortable? Resist the judgmental stance of disliking and dismissing a work. Use the liking and disliking as a form of exploration and how you will further define your own poetic voice based on narrative and content, form and execution (or lack thereof). Keep an open-mind so that you might push the boundaries of your own current aesthetic


Reading Assignment

I encourage reading some of these extra poems as part of the (more literal) Body ouvre. However, for the next few days I’d like you to focus on really tightening your poetry and letting new prompts and ideas swim through you. I want you to write. (See writing assignment below).

Extra Reads
“I’ve Grown Very Hairy” by Yehuda Amichai
“Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou
Poem to my Uterus” by Lucille Clifton
Poem in Praise of Menstruation” by Lucille Clifton
Homage to my Hips” by Lucille Clifton
“Hair” by Gregory Corso
“Atlantis” by Mark Doty
“After Reading Mickey In The Night Kitchen For The Third Time Before Bed” by Rita Dove
“Cancer Winter” by Marilyn Hacker
“A Story About the Body” by Robert Hass
“A Hand” by Jane Hirshfield
“Anodyne” by Yusef Komunyakaa
“My Mammogram” by J. D. McClatchy
“Small Hands, Relinquish All” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
“My Mother’s Body” by Marge Piercy
“The Applicant” by Sylvia Plath
“Face Lift” by Sylvia Plath
“Heavy Women” by Sylvia Plath
“The Surgeon at 2 a.m.” by Sylvia Plath
“Epidermal Macabre” by Theodore Roethke
“Old Man Leaves Party” by Mark Strand
“Sketch for a Landscape” by May Swenson
Question” by May Swenson
Dance Russe” by William Carlos Williams 


Required Reading

Pedagogy of the Poetic Body 
This is a look at Jaques Lecoq, a dance instructor, who employed a “via negativa” technique when teaching his dance students. This approach was essentially rooted in the idea that a student is not to do something “correctly” but that they must keep moving toward new ways of creating.

While he teaches dance, he firmly believes that body is a poetic medium (which you will read here) and that the laws of movement, dynamic rhythm, relationship with the space, emptiness and fullness, variation, scale and équilibre are key. 

As poets, I believe the same ideas can apply to our work. We can make a poem dance. There is no “right” but there are infinite modes of expression. I believe that balancing a poem on a page (with space, emptiness, fullness, variation, scale and équilibre) can make it spectacular. Of course this does not always equate, but thinking about writing poem AS A DANCE is a method of beginning to understand how to shape it. In this piece you’ll see that that he thinks of the body as it relates to natural things (fire and the sea, for example). I want you to think of your poems in these ways. What landscape are you creating? And how does movement (of the body, of nature) inform it? (See writing assignment below).


Writing Assignment

I want you to focus on writing three more poems, in addition to the ones you’ve written. 

1. After reading about Jacques Lecoq, I want you to feel your body move through a landscape (the sea? a fire? on a boat? sick, laying on the earth) and write a poem that utilizes exactly how your body would feel in this place. Use space, rhythem, language and movement (both musically and spatially) to tell this story. Inhabit yourself. When I say music, I do not mean rhyming.  There is a forum for this in Week 3.

2. Write a poem that translates a poem (choose a poem from ones we’ve read). The poem is in English, so you are not translating its language but its essence, tone, mood and feeling into your essence, tone, mood and feeling. Much like a body. A child is born but it is not a clone. It is similar, but it is not the same. You may experiment with the line breaks and stanzas (just as parts of a body differ among siblings) but these should be familiar to the original. Include this poem and your own. There is a forum for this in Week 3.

3. Write a prose (block shaped) poem that uses little to no grammar (you may experiment with white space). You may set margins if you’d like. This is supposed to feel rigid. Perhaps your language will mimic this. Perhaps it will not. There is a forum for this in Week 3.


Lesson Contributors

lisa.marie.basileLisa Marie Basile is an editor, writer and poet. She is the author of APOCRYPHAL and a few chapbooks, war/lock (Hyacinth Girl Press) and Andalucia (The Poetry Society of New York). Lisa Marie is the editor-in-chief of Luna Luna Magazine, and she keeps a lifestyle diary at Ingenue X. Her poetry and other work can or will be seen in PANK, the Tin House blog, Coldfront, The Nervous Breakdown, The Huffington Post, Best American Poetry, Thrush, PEN American Center and the Ampersand Review, The Atlas Review and others. Her writing and work as an editor has been profiled in BuzzFeed, Ravishly, The New York Daily News, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, VIDA, Poets & Artists Magazine, Relapse Magazine and other publications. She was a visiting poet at Westfield High School, New York University and speaker at Emerson College. Her work was selected by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Robert Olen Butler for inclusion in the Best Small Fiction 2015 anthology in addition to the Best Emerging Poets Anthology, published by Stay Thirsty Media. Her work can also be seen in the CREDO Anthology, soon to be released by Cambridge Writers’ Workshop. She was nominated for inclusion in the Best American Experimental Writing 2015 anthology.

Sarah Herrington, FacultySarah Herrington’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Writer’s Digest and she was named a Poet to Watch by Oprah Magazine. She is the author of a collection of poetry, Always Moving (Bowery Books, 2011) and several nonfiction books, including Om Schooled (Addriya Press, 2012), and Essential Yoga (Fair Winds Press, 2013). In addition to writing, she is an advocate for mindfulness and creativity and is the founder and lead facilitator of OM Schooled Teacher Trainings. Sarah is a graduate of New York University’s English and Creative Writing programs and holds an MFA in Creative Writing through Lesley University.  She is a grateful member of the Bowery Poetry Club community and has worked for Gotham Writers’ Workshop and Girls Write Now. She divides her time between New York and California.


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