Poetic Introduction – What is A Poem, But a Body?
If poetry is yet another body, then we are blessed. What else gets to create, envision, become, and shed more than one body? A cat may have 9 lives, but we have as many lives as we have pens to paper; as we have scattered fleeting thoughts; as we have silence. What a true blessing it is playing, holding a moment still and alchemizing it into whatever we like: truth, lies, darkness, light, expression, secrets, life, death, everything and nothing. - Sadie Jay
A poem comes from emotion. Emotions are felt in the body. The body is the starting place of the poem, whether you write about the body or not. A poem is a container, just like the body. Because the black body is so highly politicized, Black poetry is highly politicized. What a poem presents is one thing and when you look more closely it shows itself in another light. Poetry is reflection; a way to understand yourself. - Dannie Ruth (excerpt from a cento with lines from Omotara James)
How We Found Poetry
Growing up, I was fascinated with sound, letters, and making words. I loved learning new words and their meanings and the many ways they could be used, reshaped, and used again.
In the fourth grade, I began studying Latin and continued for many years. Although Latin is a ‘dead’ language, it has given itself to so many other languages. Ninety percent of English words are derived from Latin, while French, Portuguese, and Spanish are direct offspring.
Ancestors are like Latin; dead bodies in this realm, yet they keep giving to the living.
As a child, I learned to grieve and often found comfort in writing poetry and journaling. I’ve kept most of my composition notebooks and journals from then until now—pages and pages of me at different life stages.
At a certain point, writing poetry became a hobby, something I would do when I was bored in class. Sometimes just coming up with lines. Noting words or phrases that were spoken that day. Depending on the class, I would manage to pay attention and play with words and worlds on my page. Writing allowed me to be somewhere else.– Dannie Ruth
My relationship to poetry sparked in elementary school with my observation that the “trees danced in the wind.”
My fourth-grade teacher seemed so genuinely pleased by my answer that I kept a relatively positive association to poetry, even through the “write a sonnet in iambic pentameter” days of high school.
Poetry became a more focused interest during the quarantine. I started connecting to my body more through movement and dance. I looked to other black women and their life experiences.
From there, I realized people who had an intimate connection to their bodies could access their truth and express it in ways that felt inaccessible to me. Poetry has given me ease in expression.– Sadie Jay
Try out this writing prompt!
Choose a photo, image, or piece of art. Write a description without naming any objects in the photo.
Ekphrasis & The Body Cave Canem Fall Workshop
I found Cave Canem during my time in The New School’s Creative Writing MFA Program. Their mission is to cultivate African American poets’ artistic and professional growth by offering fellowships, workshops, prizes, and host readings.
Finding them was a relief because it became challenging being one of the few Black poets in my program. Cave Canem is pouring into Black poets who elevate the canon.– Dannie Ruth
I came across Cave Canem while searching for online poetry workshops. Although I consider myself still very much a novice in writing poetry, I felt a strong desire to explore.
Among the many transitions that happened last year, I abruptly moved from Brooklyn back to my small beach town in Florida. I had come to my first writer’s block.
Every week I was encouraged to write and connect. This consistency was calming as my world was in flux.– Sadie Jay
We had the opportunity to attend a ten-week workshop, facilitated by Omotara James, titled Ekphrasis & The Body. Ekphrasis is a response to a piece of art, and the art does not have to be visual. We make ekphrastic responses daily (memes, comments, shade!). When a piece of art moves us, we usually experience it viscerally before we process it intellectually. In other words, we experience art in the body. The body not only houses these experiences but contains every memory that has shaped us: individually and collectively.
We completed the workshop and are now left to consider: (1) the way poetry can enact itself, (2) our duty as poets to research, explore and respond to the artwork and our respective worlds, and (3) how to cultivate a deeper understanding of our own bodies and the poems that come from us.
We must take time to unpack poetry as it relates to the body fully. Write and connect with us as we engage in this process. Whether you consider yourself a novice or experienced poet, check out the Spring Workshops offer by Cave Canem. A lottery now chooses community workshops, and participants receive a stipend of $250 upon completion. Submitting can’t hurt.