BODY AS WORK,

BODY AS WORDS

A ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION

WITH HEMATOPOIESIS PRESS

with Brighde Moffat,

Rachel Economy, & Jennifer Patterson

What follows is a roundtable conversation between the editors of Hematopoiesis Press: Brighde Moffat, Rachel Economy, and Jennifer Patterson. Their first issue, “Bone Remodeling,” and their second issue, “Infection,” are both available in full at hematopoiesispress.com.

 

One of the questions you pose as a publication reads, “How do we claim bodies through language, in a world that diminishes and erases so many bodies?” Why focus on the body and (dis)embodiment?

 

Jennifer Patterson: Hematopoiesis Press is focused on the politics & poetics of language, visual & performance art—how this can be explored through the body(ies); language, visual and performance art as bodies, pushing the limits of what a "body" is and can hold.  In what are increasingly difficult and violent times, I feel like tending to our bodies, in all of the fracture and freeze and grief, feels so necessary to me. By tending to our bodies I mean translating what our bodies are holding/ can’t hold/ rightfully refuse to hold, etc. I think for me, it also feels important to push back on the narrative that we need to work towards being in our bodies (as if we ever weren’t), or that being in our bodies in the “right” way  is where the wisdom is. Instead, I think those times we feel disembodied, or disassociated or disconnected are actually altered states which have another kind of wisdom to offer. Also, many of us have really smart reasons for trying to push out of our bodies (though we never actually can). So it’s trying to depathologize an experience in our bodies that many of us experience. There are different ways to be in our bodies, most especially for people who have experienced moments of violence or ongoing violence and for those who hold the history of ancestral trauma in their bodies.

 

Rachel Economy: Right, exactly. Here, instead of being told how to be (in) a body, contributors are doing the telling about/from/to the body in their own words and images, whatever that means to them. Voices appear here engaging with diverse orientations towards and from “body,” especially including the ones that don’t look like the idea of a separate, isolated, controlled, boundaried container for carrying the supposedly almighty individual brain around in (also, the brain is definitely made of body so that’s a fun false dichotomy to dance around in). If you think about how much the narratives about body we receive give shape to our experiences, and how narrow and singular and often suffocating those narratives are (especially, as Jennifer notes, many narratives about “healing” that require embodiment in a “better” or “correct” way), then giving language to body in our own voices becomes an act not only of radical reclaiming, but also of representing a diversity of stories for each other, so that we might recognize ourselves, might find ourselves less narrowed, less alone.

Brighde Moffat: “Body” is the intersection of all lived experience. Our bodies are constantly interpreting stimuli and attempting to pull together information into a coherent narrative. Sometimes coherence is not possible, and we have to dwell in the in-between of things. Not quite this, not quite that. Like Rachel touched on, the dualism of mind and body is one that relegates and imprisons consciousness and knowing to the mind. The human body has been defined in opposition to the mind, viewed as other, and subjected to reduction. This leads to many iterations of disconnection, and has ultimate manifestations of violence. Cartesian duality, among other binary systems, is a tool used to perpetuate and validate institutionalized violence against particular groups of bodies. Focusing on embodiment lends to the dissolution of dualism and forges pathways into pluralism. By deviating from the limiting scripts given/forced onto us about our bodies, we are creating room for new and remembered poetic movements.

"... [IT'S] IMPORTANT TO PUSH BACK ON THE NARRATIVE THAT WE NEED TO WORK TOWARDS BEING IN OUR BODIES (AS IF WE EVER WEREN’T), OR THAT BEING IN OUR BODIES IN THE 'RIGHT' WAY  IS WHERE THE WISDOM IS."

-JENNIFER PATTERSON

RE: Yes. “Sometimes coherence is not possible.” Love that. I think creative language and images hold immense space for contradiction, for unknowing, in a way that often feels gratingly unavailable in daily life and in some everyday language.

 

Also, for me, as someone who sees matter as the thing constantly interconnecting us with us—constantly differentiating itself from itself and then trying to merge back together through things like eating and respiration and the carbon cycle—there are also scales of body, and blurry boundaries between. My body is a body in a bigger body, with lots of other bodies, in molecular exchange and conversation with them. That’s what’s happening at a material level. I like to think language is what matter came up with so it could witness itself going through all that. Language plays/works as the intermediary between inside and outside; it traverses, it witnesses. But it also shapes the embodied world. Our stories don’t just describe what’s already happening. They also give rise to it. This is a huge part of why representation of many voices matters—it re-stories the reader too. World shapes story, story shapes world.

BM: I agree. So much of this project attends to the ways language travels through and operates in the body (however we experience and define that word) and how this, in turn, affects how and what we create. Hematopoiesis is the process of making blood, drawing from poiesis, which means ‘making,’ which is also the root for the word ‘poetry.’ Another of our guiding questions asks, “How, like the continuous process of making new blood, do we create meaning in a world of loss & violence?”

How do your own identities and experiences of embodiment inform this work?

 

RE:  Lately, I have often had the thought, anything I can write (through), I can survive. While this doesn’t make much sense from a food-water-shelter rationality, nonetheless, it feels deeply true in my body. When I was 15, I started writing poetry to survive, without really understanding that that’s what I was doing,. It wasn’t until last year, when someone asked me what my relationship was to writing, that the immediate knowledge gripped my gut: writing has saved my life, probably many times over. Sometimes I write to keep myself company. Sometimes I write to keep myself breathing. Writing allows me to stay here, allows my body to stay here on earth, or to leave or expand wildly; it allows me to stay with that high intensity sensation or emotion in a way it can come back from. It allows me to stay with, to find magic in. I crave engaging with writers and artists whose work dives into the kind of sensory and embodied intensity that I have been told to keep a lid on all my life, and just opens it right up and splays it out on the page. Connecting through that in this drawing together of many artists in the press, nourishes and (hopefully) renders some kind of community where we can make that kind of noise together.

 

Creative writing lets me say the unsayable and unresolvable things hidden in pockets of skin and muscle. But, before these things are a finished story to be told, before they exist enough to be “written about,” creative writing also lets me move in and with them as they are happening, My sensory experience of the world often involves simultaneously feeling like the world is coming in through my skin and like I am going to explode so far out of my skin that there won’t be anything left. I negotiate and make space for that sensory sensitivity (and related mental and physical health experiences)—that permeable edge between self and world—as a place of power and motion and creation/destruction and play when I write, rather than one of shame or silence. The same goes for writing into other edge identities and embodied experiences that function in me more as negotiation or dance or wrestling match than as fixed, static identifiers: queerness and bisexuality, intermittent illness and chronic pain, my identity as an artist, death and body-stored griefs and pleasures. I look up to, and lean heavily on/learn heavily from, writers who write fearlessly and often playfully or unexpectedly into the nuances of their own identities and bodies and experiences. I aspire to that level of courage. Jennifer and Brighde, I see that courage and craft in both of y’all’s work so much and it just constantly calls me back in.

 

JP: Oh, I love thinking about these edges you’re talking about, Rachel. I began writing young and have gone in and out of a regular practice since. I’m a survivor of multiple forms of violence and navigate complex PTSD on the daily. For me, accessing my body—or feeling enough safety to move into what my body is trying to communicate—is often a challenge. But I realized quite young that writing and also having artistic practices are ways to facilitate this process of connecting to my internal, bodily experiences. And even though I know that’s what works for me and I know however I write is valid, I’ve also experienced a lot of resistance from other writers about how it shows up on the page. For example, I sometimes write in sentence fragments and it has for sure sometimes frustrated writing teachers I have had in the past. And I write in a repetitive and circular way which really mirrors my experience with memory and PTSD. “[T]he bliss of a disorienting text…” (Kazim Ali). These ways of writing feel right to me, they sound right when I read them back to myself. Fractures, spinning, stops and starts. Like speaking, like thinking, like lines of a poem collapsed into themselves or strung out and played over and over. A kind of moving in and out of many different states and writing from inside them. I’ve also had a writing teacher tell me that I sometimes write in a passive voice ( I mean, I probably am right now!), and told me this in a way that made me feel like I was doing something really bad and wrong. This way of writing feels connected to the violence I’ve experienced and how my memory and sense of tense and personhood get a little jumbled up. I also love these shifts in style because I think sometimes what people might be getting at with their feedback is that things feel confusing or maybe I’m even an unreliable narrator! (Goddess forbid.) And actually, as someone who writes a lot about trauma, that kind of expectation makes me feel like I’m standing trial in a courtroom—like I better get it right if I want the privilege of being believed or valued. But I actually appreciate and honor those ways I write as totally valid and very much rooted in what my body knows about the shapes language can make.

BM: As a survivor of child abuse, much of my relationship to my body and with the bodies of others was formed in the context of violence. It is only within the last few years that I have begun working towards having a non-violent relationship with my body, and much of that work has been made possible by the suppleness of language. Default settings are harmful, and my hope is that Hema will be a refuge for messy and disruptive stories.


 

Hema’s first issue is on Bone Remodeling, a physiological process by which the body breaks down old or damaged bone in order to repair and create new bone. Can you talk a bit about this?

 

BM: Prior to the inception of this project, I was told that without dental braces my bottom teeth would eventually tear a hole into the roof of my mouth. So pretty early on, one of our questions for this issue was on the connection between bones and language. Personally, I envisioned this theme as a model for change. Whether you are someone who is trying to free yourself from toxic whiteness or harmful eating patterns, processes of behavioral change are not linear. The metaphor of bone remodeling is active, it adds layers of dimensionality to healing narratives. It says, “Hey, this is never going to end. It is not unusual or out of the ordinary to be in a constant state of disrepair and repair.” As someone with complex PTSD, I commit a tremendous amount of effort towards base functionality. I have spent my life trying to be okay in the aftermath, and the extraordinary thing is I am only slightly aware of how true this is. My very bones are continuously knitting and reknitting in order to hold me together. This reframing of health and healing takes the pressure off the individual to ever be completely “done,” while simultaneously raising the level of accountability we hold to one another. We are not static, and it is imperative that we remodel our own consciousness and communities in order to protect those who are most vulnerable.

RE: Brighde, I love what you’re saying about the vital combination of not needing to (or being able to) ever be done, and simultaneous accountability, that’s so powerful. This idea is both radically forgiving and a call into the deep work at the same time.


What strikes me about this core concept of bone remodeling is that the seeds and the process to literally re-grow the living structure of the body are inside it already. To capacity take what is broken or old, structurally, and to break it down to either repair it or turn it into something new is built into the innermost part of our physical bodies. That is amazing. It is also what we need to do, urgently, over and over, on a community and cultural and world-body level. To me, it’s an explicitly political project in this way. Bone remodeling gives us a map or a metaphor for how we might re-frame—literally remake the frame, the skeleton—towards justice.

" IT IS ONLY WITHIN THE LAST FEW YEARS THAT I HAVE BEGUN WORKING TOWARDS HAVING A NON-VIOLENT RELATIONSHIP WITH MY BODY, AND MUCH OF THAT WORK HAS BEEN MADE POSSIBLE BY THE SUPPLENESS OF LANGUAGE."

—BRIGHDE MOFFAT

JP: Yes, I love the idea of remaking the frame. Like, the old frame that is still hanging around on that dingy wall is not at all big and expansive enough to hold the whole picture of brilliance out in the world. The old frame has sharp edges (though I do love a sharp edge) and borders and confines. I guess when I think about remaking the frame I imagine one where there are no boundaries or borders. It can all be both inside and outside the frame all at once. The work can spill off the page and onto the wall. Or, if we think of the frame as just a suggestion, it can turn into whatever shape or container people desire and need. But I think what you’re naming, Rachel, is so necessary. It’s not just about remaking the frame, but also having  this frame-space hold the work that has been and is still being done just outside the borders of that old frame.

RE: Right, oh I love that, inside and outside all at once. And this concept of bone remodeling even helps that frame shift in my vision from external border, bounding, to internal framework, skeleton, that can continue to grow and remodel itself, be built wild and wider into those new desired shapes and containers you’re talking about; skin expanding and shifting. And so many activists and artists and leaders—especially people of color, poor and working class people, queer and trans people, indigenous people, disabled people—have been working hard to do  this remodeling for centuries. Work that humbles me and incites me. To look at some of the old stories—the dominant/dominator stories, the old bones that our worlds hang their muscle on—and say this is not working the way we want, this is killing us, this isn’t strong enough to support the body of the earth and its people anymore (if it ever was). Killing certain bodies, scripting other bodies as more valuable, more worthy of protection, and enacting those stories, those old bones, in our schools, in our policing, in our prisons, in our rivers, in our healthcare. The deep racism in the bones of dominant U.S. culture, the simultaneous and related exploitation of the land; these are stories written into the bones of society, directly affecting bodies of people and land. These bone-stories need to break down, to repair in some places and to remodel entirely in many. The time has come to re-vision and re-write and re-body those stories. To re-make the bones of our world. To be able to do so again, as needed. The idea that such a capacity is built into the processes of our very bodies, our bones, and the bones of our communities, gives me a raw kind of hope.

 

What was some of the work in this issue that really spoke to you?

 

RE: Oh wow, this is hard because the answer is kind of “all of it.” The piece I can’t stop reading right now is Keiko Lane’s “Music is a Scar in the Silence.” The way that the scenes are set, the way the characters move through them, and the story itself, has a raw, urgent fluidity that I find viscerally and emotionally so compelling. I feel it in my body, a pulling towards the story.

"THE DEEP RACISM OF THE BONES OF DOMINANT U.S. CULTURE, THE SIMULTANEOUS AND RELATED EXPLOITATION OF THE LAND; THESE ARE STORIES WRITTEN INTO THE BONES OF SOCIETY, DIRECTLY AFFECTING BODIES OF PEOPLE AND LAND."

-RACHEL ECONOMY 

Rhonda Eikamp’s piece “Were My Bones All Fluid” took me to places I didn’t know I needed to go around mental health and family relationships. The angular, stark, yet richly unexpected imagery keeps me in it when I want to turn away, and that allows me as the reader to go places I didn’t think I could go.

 

Jojo Donovan’s “A Spell for Turning off the Light” is so tender and powerful and speaks to something deeply human in the wild dark of late night spinning. “If it can’t be possible, make it magic instead.”  Whew.

 

BM: Rachel is right, it is difficult to pull out specific pieces from the issue, especially when it feels as though they are in conversation with one another. To name a few, Keiko Lane’s “Music is a Scar in the Silence,” Cosi Nayovitz’s “Cuada Equina,” Sophia Terazawa’s poem “In Forgetting,” and Reina Gossett and Grace Dunham’s talk “Touch One Another,” all offer insight into the tensions of memory.

JP: Oh, well I love everything, truly! It was also exciting to work with a few writers for a second time as both Keiko Lane & Reina Gossett were a part of an anthology I edited called Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement. But what was really incredible to see was the weaving towards—and away, too—that happened between all of the pieces. Having four editors, it was tricky to get a full picture of what the first issue was going to look and sound like and when the issue went live, I just remember feeling so thankful to everyone who trusted us in this first issue because the issue is this incredible fractured bone of a quilt-type thing.

Can you talk briefly about your most recent issue, Infection?

 

BM: Drafting the call was deeply collaborative, and reminded us of how essential dialogue is to our identity as a publication. It was contributed to by, and put together for, those of us most impacted by the intersection of so many ongoing crises. With this issue, I was particularly interested in looking at the ways language infects, how the creative process serves as a response, and to what extent catharsis is possible. The conflict of inheritance, social and familial, was especially palpable in pieces like “Crip Fairy Godmother,”  “Invisible Inheritance: The Blood of Spirits,” and “A Body Erased, A Body Becoming.

JP: Infection feels very as above/so below, to me; as in, with the contributors stunning work, we put together something that speaks to the infections within our bodies and the larger cultural, social and political incarnations of infection. How things move between bodies—bodies being individual and the individual being just a piece of the larger whole. Trauma underpins the publication and so in a lot of ways, Infection just feels like the right next step as far as a theme. So many of us who have trauma histories know infection or “conditions” or illness on an incredibly consuming and personal level—they are so tied up with each other. I also just feel excited about how the writing and visual and performance art all stitch together into this really complex and multi-layered conversation, a conversation that speaks to the fever pitch that many of us are at, both personally and politically.

RE: One of the most striking things to me about the theme of Infection, and the powerful assemblage of pieces that came together around it in Hema’s second issue, is the myriad ways that interrelationship—family, community, history—emerges in the contributors’ verbal and visual language. This issue makes me think and feel deeply about the ways that vectors of change and impact—medical or societal or both/and/plus—are not isolated; how they move across time and space and boundaries, between or against or with people. So much of what I hear from dominant narratives around pain, illness, and epidemics (and I think the contributors articulate this richly and powerfully through the issue) is that these are individual experiences, isolated infections, exceptions to the baseline that we as individual people are expected to overcome alone. The powerful pieces in this issue pose a diverse and emphatic resistance, refusal, reimagining, or rebuild to that single narrative, drawing me as a reader down pathways of loneliness sometimes, yes, and also of deep love and care, fierce community resistance, systemic and interconnected webs of impact and co-creation and raw interconnected pain and pleasure. My hope is that Infection serves to offer critical commentary on narratives of illness and healing, augmentation and space for voices often silenced or un(der)represented or misrepresented in these conversations, and a sense of deep interconnection, witness, or resonance to those reading who might feel isolated or alone in this very moment. So much of this issue not only illuminates, but actually enacts, the ways people have been and are fiercely caring for and creating with one another.





 

Hema is now reading for their third issue on the theme of “Scarification.” Submissions close December 15, 2017.

Jennifer Patterson is a grief worker who uses plants, breath, words, and threads to explore queer survivorhood, body(ies), and healing. She is the editor of Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti- Violence Movement (2016) and has had writing published in places like OCHO: A Journal of Queer Arts, The Establishment, HandJob, and The Feminist Wire. She is also the creative nonfiction editor of Hematopoiesis Press. A queer- and trans-affirming, trauma-informed herbalist, and Breathwork facilitator, Jennifer offers sliding scale care as a practitioner with The Breathe Network as well as through her own practice, Corpus Ritual. You can find more at ofthebody.net

Brighde Moffat lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. She is an MA candidate at Goddard College, where she studies embodied language. Brighde acts as editor-in-chief & poetry editor at Hematopoiesis Press. 

Rachel Economy is a poet, facilitator, artist, and permaculture practitioner and designer living in Berkeley, California. Rachel holds a master’s degree in Social Innovation and Sustainability from Goddard College, where she studied the place of story and imagination in resilient systems design. Rachel serves as fiction editor at Hematopoiesis Press, and teaches creative writing and permaculture gardening to all ages. Rachel’s poems and other writing can be found at various publications as well as online at www.racheleconomy.com

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