On Friday, Oct. 18, Metta-Sáma and the Center for Women Writers welcomed poets Cameron Awkward-Rich, Rosebud Ben-Oni and Brenda Iijima, as well as self-identified diarist and anti-poet Kenyatta JP García, to each present a talk on the topic of embodiment.
In her introduction of the writers, Metta-Sáma explained that the Embodiment Panel was the latest in a series on the environment, saying, “I like to think of the natural body as environment,” inviting the writers to consider the concept of the body in public and private space. However, she intentionally kept interpretation of the topic wide open, and the writers each presented their own take on the prompt.
Cameron Awkward-Rich read two poems, first providing background on each. The first poem, “Still Life to Lawrence Jackson, arrested in Chicago in 1881 for wearing a dress,” was inspired by widespread laws passed against gender-nonconforming individuals and others whose bodies were unwelcome in public space. People of color in particular suffered under these laws, since those of them who were gender-nonconforming were seen not only as deviants but also as criminals.
Awkward-Rich’s second poem, described as more personal, was called “Essay on the Awkward Black Object, after M. Awkward, my father,” and deals with the concept of the objectified Black body and a family story about the poet’s surname, said to come from a slave who bore the name “Awkward” due to his incompetent labor. Awkward-Rich also cited the tense relationship that Black and/or transgender individuals have with identification such as passports and driver’s licenses—in his case, he said, more for his unique name than his race or gender.
Awkward-Rich was followed by fellow poet Rosebud Ben-Oni, who read an essay and a poem. The essay, as yet unnamed, was on the subject of the autoimmune condition that affects her balance, laced through with the pain of her body and her fascination with quantum theory, particularly string theory.
Ben-Oni’s poem was titled “Poet Wrestling with the Possibility She’s Living in a Simulation,” inspired by a horse named Odin (meaning, among other things, “protector of poets”) that she “fell in love with” in Iceland. She said, “This is about love, I guess, and also the possibility that we’re living in a simulation.”
Kenyatta JP García described themself as “a diarist, not a poet. . . maybe an anti-poet.” They don’t write Dadaist anti-art, however, but added, “Though I am anti-art.” They read a piece of writing preceded by two epigraphs and followed with a selection from philosopher and critic Julia Kristva on Proust and a piece “going against DMX,” part of a project where they engage with music.
Poet Brenda Iijima concluded the talks with a single piece, offering a brief poem sequence in lieu of a title, and another poem sequence as an ending. She began by offering to the audience, “Feel free to groan or gesticulate during this talk,” noting that some may find the material “sensitive.”
Writing on intense and interconnected ecological themes, Iijima’s piece emphasized the connections and relationships between the human body and animals, plants, minerals, and other nonhuman elements in the world within environment and personhood. Iijima engaged most closely with Metta-Sáma’s idea of the body within a literal environment, weaving themes of science and nature with her treatment of embodiment.
The talks concluded with a question-and-answer session where audience members asked the writers about sex, gender, and negative space within the concept of embodiment.
The Center for Women Writers hosts multiple events like the Embodiment Panel each year, so keep an eye out for more opportunities to engage with creative writing at Salem!