The following is a workshop that I conducted at the "Movement, Somatics, and Writing" symposium at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, which took place February 17th-19th, 2011. Participants in the conference included principal organizer, Petra Kuppers, and co-organizers Bhanu Kapil, Eleni Stecopoulos, Amy Sara Carroll, Kate Elswit, Jina Kim, Clare Croft, and myself. The fellows for the symposium, who were selected by the symposium organizers, included Melissa Buzzeo, Rob Halpern, Brenda Iijima, Robert Kocik, Jill Magi, EJ McAdams, Brian Whitener, Neil Marcus, Chia-Yi Seetoo, Megan V. Nicely, Carol Abizaid, and Margit Galanter.

During the last session of the symposium, conference participants broke into “incubator” groups. The basic idea of the incubation was to present materials in process in hopes of receiving criticism and feedback. For my session—held with Rob Halpern, Bhanu Kapil, Petra Kuppers, and Megan Nicely—I chose to hold a workshop based on a (Soma)tic Poetry Exercise I had developed with CA Conrad in the winter of 2008, and which we had recently published a short booklet about only weeks before the symposium via a small press in Bflo, Scary Topiary (edited and designed by Robert Dewhurst). I was thinking about the incubation as a way to try out a few experiments after the (Soma)tic Poetry Exercise I had done with Conrad, but also after a solicitation I had received from Tan Lin and Tim Peterson for “peripheral writing,” writing which I took to be ‘written’ in modes of distraction, or peripheral to an apparent or official site of aesthetic production. (See Lin’s prompt at Peterson’s weblog, Mappemunde.)

What I wanted to do through the workshop were two things: prompt writing through a series of exercises which could enable participants to write through their distraction—distracted modes of perception, of focus, but also things one does involuntarily, when the body is indisposed with a specific set of tasks. This kind of task-based writing seems in keeping with Conrad’s exercises, but also with a tradition of procedural writing and movement work, not least of which I consider the work around Judson Memorial Church, an important starting-point for task-based/procedural dance.

Other inspirations for the workshop included the work of Jalal Toufic, who in his writings and videos imagines distracted states of embodiment as a way of accessing what he calls ‘the undead’—those undergoing Bardo states substantiated by their social milieus. Similarly, I imagined the workshop after the work of the hypno-therapist Milton Erickson, whose therapeutic practice derives from various language uses, but particularly the use of pun to induce auto-suggestion. Albeit in a Buddhist vein, something related seems to be going on in Arthur Russell’s album World of Echo, where the production values of the album, which draw heavily on ghostly over-dubbings and healthy doses of reverb, contribute to an atmosphere of what psychoanalyst-poet Nick Piombino refers to as “evenly hovering attention,” a place where attention may become at one point completely focused, at others receptive and dispersed. Few albums to me seem so simultaneously shocking and meditative, focused and distracted. As I mention in a little introduction I wrote to the booklet with Conrad, I wonder if listening to the album continuously for a week did not help to heal a knee injury that Conrad sustained sometime in 2008? In distracted states of mind, the body seems to do a work of healing on 'its own'. And so perhaps this may be one use of distraction; to find out what the involuntary or ‘unconscious’ body can do, unabetted by the authority of therapist or official medical intervention.

To begin the workshop, I turned off the lights in a TV studio the symposium participants had been using for meetings throughout the gathering. Sound technicians helped me to cue track 5 of World of Echo, “Being It,” the longest playing track on the album. When “Being It” was over, the lights came up. For the rest of the workshop, World of Echo played on low volume, giving the incubator group participants a chance to talk and write together. I then proceeded to read the introductions written by Conrad and myself that were included at the beginning of our chapbook. After this I gave some context for distracted writing, discussing Lin’s “peripheral writing” prompt and the previously mentioned source texts for my workshop. At this point, I asked the incubator participants to listen to a series of prompts I had written the previous night explaining that they could use any of these prompts during the workshop. I also gave the participants the option of writing their own exercises, which everyone did. The workshop prompts I read aloud and those that participants wrote during the workshop are as follows:


1. Write a sentence in which you begin an argument or narrative. Write another sentence in which you begin a different argument or narrative. Continue to write your narratives and arguments in tandem without looking back at what you have previously written.

2. Write a line of poetry/prose poetry. Do not continue writing until you have been able to forget that line.

3. Write a line of poetry/prose poetry. When you are finished with this task, write down the next thing you overhear or observe in your immediate environment. Continue with a new line in reference to this new information. Continue this process.

4. Write a text in which, periodically, you use 'found' text to disrupt the texture of what you are composing. Sample selectively or admit strictly what you encounter at random.

5. Write a line of poetry/prose poetry. Write a new line different than the first. Now write a loop based on the first and second lines. Now write a line based on all three lines. Continue until the poem stagnates then repeat this process.

6. Record as immediately as possible the immediate data of 'consciousness'.

7. Record as immediately as possible the immediate data of 'embodiment'.

8. Record the immediate data of 'the body' as it is reflected in your 'consciousness'.

9. Record the immediate data of 'the body' in the form of song or tonal words (nonsensical or proto-semantic language).

10. Cultivate a series of simple gestures. Practice these gestures until they are more or less automatic. When they become automatic perform these gestures in sequence. At the end of the sequence write a word or phrase. Proceed in this manner until you have composed a poem or feel too tired to go on.

11. Attend two sounds while writing. Attend two images while writing. Attend a sound and an image simultaneously while writing. Alternate attending combinations of sound and image.

12. Compose a poem only using puns.

13. Pedestrian poem: Walk for a half-hour and then write a poem/paragraph. Run for a half-hour then write a poem/paragraph. Sprint until you are too tired to continue. Write a poem/paragraph in this exhausted state.

14. Tennis poem: with or without partners, compose a poem to the rhythms of tennis. Playing with a partner, compose a line each time the ball goes out of play, or in between points. Playing by one’s self against a backboard or wall, compose a line each time the ball goes out of play.

15. de Kooning poem: Write as a means of forgetting/erasing from your memory a poem you have memorized.


Bhanu Kapil

S: Seaweed

A trans-national gelatin. Or humectant. I do not know the word for wetness and darkness, combined. A sea vegetable. Get it from a market. Dried sheet. Or fresh. And put it in a blender with a tablespoon of almond oil and five drops of [_______].

Apply paste to naked body. Or have someone apply it standing up. Then wrap in a COLD wet (not dripping) sheet. A bed sheet. Then wrap in outer blanket. Best to have someone else wrap you.

Lie down, 20 minutes. Have partner bring you water to sip through a straw.

Until you lightly throb. Until the cold, wet sheet CONVERTS to universe heat. This will happen. This is hydrotherapy.

It is the change in temperature that your nervous system can’t process by typical regulatory means. This is gate theory. The golgi zendon bodies; the gates of the nerves; switch off or swing open.

This is the parasympathetic mode.

This is the time that comes after the time of the body.

To forget then remember what the body is for.

To give up.

To de-create.

To memorize a new pathway.

To heal.

Petra Kuppers

enunciate a line, any line through a mouth filled with marbles
record this line
sample sound file of these marble mumblings to create a chorus
listen to the chorus of lines and chart the melodic development: listen closely
write a new line to fit this melodic development
sing this song backwards
replace the lyric with names
pay attention to the vowel quality
pay attention to the consonant quality
stay in the company of ghosts
stay in the company

Rob Halpern

Imagine an architectural structure: any building or designed social space will do. Within that imagined space as it appears in yr sensorium, imagine an organ from within yr own body. Imagine placing that organ at the center of the architectural space as you imagine it. Align the position of yr organ so that a north/south axis runs through it, and so that the magnetic field oriented around northerly and southerly exposures within yr architectural space is slightly disturbed by the presence of yr organ. This slight disturbance in the electromagnetic field is important, so do not proceed until you are able, by virtue of yr chosen organ, to perceive this minimal rift, ripple, or fold in the imagined architectural surround. Allow yr organ to conduct sensory impressions. Note how the architecture stabilizes or destabilizes the stream of information. Note how yr organ is conducting, and whether the impressions are registering on the surface or the in the depth of yr organ. Now imagine a limb from the body of a contemporary war zone casualty suddenly situated in the same space as yr organ. Record, with copious detail, the distractions this limb creates in yr imagined space.

Originally Published: April 27th, 2011

Thom Donovan lives in New York City where he edits Wild Horses of Fire weblog ( and coedits ON Contemporary Practice with Michael Cross and Kyle Schlesinger. He is a participant in the Nonsite Collective and a curator for the SEGUE reading series (NYC). He holds a Ph.D. in English...