For the past four years, the most fruitful of my life as poet, I have lived with acute chronic pain. While I initially tried to keep my condition apart from my work, attempting to free my verse of the so-called “downer vibe,” it was always distinguishable in anything I wrote. In the subtext, the particular word choice, the meter, or the spacing, my identity crept. The context came from my pencil because I wrote and write with an aching body, a queer body, a Latina body. My body brings both suffering and joy as the source of ache and orgasm. Rather than ignore the hand that writes my verse, I now explore the possibilities of embodied poetics.
Working within the Kyoto School, the creation of poetry can be a collaborative, pure experience. The “expert” poet becomes a mere vessel for the collective creation. Helene Cixous speaks to a similar idea of the collective consciousness of the poet in her “Laugh of the Medusa”:
… writing is precisely working (in) the in-between[…] dynamized by an incessant process of exchange from one subject to another. A process of different subjects knowing one another and beginning one another anew […]
a multiple and inexhaustible course with millions of encounters and transformations of the same into the other and into the in-between, from which woman takes her forms (10).
Of particularly importance in this concept of breaking down distinction between self and other through the creation of artistic works, is the matter of expressing the supposedly ineffable and/or unknowable in words. In her book of poems written during and about her battle with breast cancer entitled One-Breasted Woman, Susan Deborah King utilizes the method of poetry to give expression to experiences of (physical) suffering. One poem that particularly works to address her pain is “Twinges”: “Once you’ve had cancer, even after/every odd sensation is worms/beginning to nibble you” (64). Yet, while there are few people who can approach pain from an outside, unknowing perspective, chronic pain remains a relatively unknown experience (Scarry). Elaine Scarry prefaces her seminal work on physical pain and philosophy, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, with a disclaimer addressing “the difficulty of expressing physical pain” (3). Even acclaimed neuroscientist and pain theorist Patrick Wall had to reexamine his life’s work after becoming a chronic pain sufferer himself (vii-viii), paying particular attention to the language used to describe pain (28) and how difficult it is to navigate the terrain between “Pain” as theory and “my pain.” In this manner, the autoethnographic pain theorist must work to view pain as existing in both the “outer space” and “inner space” considered by Donna Haraway.
I query the ways in which experiences of the body are inextricably linked to the actions of the mind. When my pain worsens, my poetry becomes despondent. I remember a beloved who has passed from my life, and write of her. The sorrow of a body marred is reconsidered through the lens of a ruined skirt.
My body and poetry are not separate entities. With modern technology allowing the poet to string letters together at 85 words per minute, the fingers are so easily forgotten in the creation of the poem, even as they compose its form. As I write, I try to remain aware of the now, the sound of my pencil scribbling on the page, the feel of the paper beneath my hand, the way the words appear before me, in short, the process of creation as linked to the poet’s fluctuating embodied identity.