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On Writing Your Body, Outside In

What a strange thing it is to inhabit this gummy, flexible, porous, resilient, terrifying, exhilarating vessel from which we have no escape. Take a deep breath. Four seconds in (count them), and four seconds out (count them).

What a different thing it is to purposefully concentrate on the one act we’ve done continuously since birth, and hopefully won’t stop doing for a good while yet.

The course I’m delighted to be teaching online at The Poetry School next term, Stanza Body Studio: Pleasures, Pains, and Sensory Poetics, is about getting to know our intimidating and overwhelming embodiedness, to begin to write everything that happens as we take our innumerable breaths. We will write live from the vantage point of self, so we can ultimately feel both our distinct uniqueness and, hopefully, far less alone in this wonderful entrapment we call a human body. So we can write what is inside outward, and take what the body experiences to gain further inward insight.

I have written ill and in pain in bed for months at a time, have attempted to write while terrifically depressed, and to assuage panic attacks – perhaps you have as well. I have tried to write while euphoric, and found it just as difficult to translate as when in emotional discomfort. It can be consistently difficult to write how our body feels – something that will come to no surprise to you fellow body-dwellers – as we know that exact translation is impossible. However, what if we shifted our thinking about what our goals are in writing the body, and how we went about doing so? What if we radically accepted that as translation of anything will always be asymptotal, and a different sensation for the reader or listener than how we experience ourselves when writing it, and what if we began by interrogating these sensations first, really meeting the body on its level, really listening and watching to see what it is trying to tell us, and how?

For the past six years, I’ve been an arts and accessibility thinker and writer in addition to being an independent artist, and have come to understand access and inclusion as matters of translation between different bodyminds of infinite variety, whether one identifies as disabled (which I do) or not. Throughout collaborations and discussions with fellow writers, artists, and academics who may be autistic, live with Down’s syndrome, live with anxiety, be amputees, be wheelchair users, or live with any other kind of rich bodily diversity our species has, I’ve in fact come to see any artwork as a form of translation between different bodyminds.

In order to begin to understand our ‘source material’ then, I’m looking forward to teaching a class where we can, in the safety of our own homes or offices or wherever you may take this class, to approach our body from the breath up. Step by step. Listening, watching, and/or simply feeling what it’s trying to say, and then zooming out our perspectives to go into what our bodily sensations may mean to the outside world, and thus what translation of the body means for being part of an ailing society hopefully trying to heal. This is the class I’ve been waiting to teach for years, and I’m so excited to explore with all of you in it the relationship between bodymind and self, and bodymind and others’. Along the way, we will enlist the help of expert bodily interrogators and masters at bodily translations, be they artists such as Frida Kahlo, profoundly important critical theorists such as the late José Esteban Muñoz, Mel Y. Chen, and Sara Ahmed, memoirists and essayists such as Porochista Khakpour and Johanna Hedva, and poets such as Claudia Rankine and those in the anthology Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back.

Through writing exercises entwined with simple bodymind exercises (the gentlest, simplest possible, I promise, and dialogue will always be open about them), we’ll question how our bodyminds present themselves to us, how we relate to them and translate them into stories we tell about ourselves, and how what we feel translates into a world with gender, racial, body/mind, and dis/ablement binaries that are socially-constructed. By the course’s end, we’ll all have ammunition for further enquiry into poetic embodiment, and a stack of written poems I hope you will visit and revisit as your relationship to your bodymind and to poetry writing evolves. Looking forward to journeying with you.


Translate the felt world into poetry and write work of the body on Khairani Barokka’s new online course, Stanza Body Studio: Pleasures, Pains, and Sensory Poetics. Book online or call us on 0207 582 1679.

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