Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Suspension Writing

Cave of the Hands, Argentina
In 2005 this technique was called the Human Hibernaculum. At a workshop in San Francisco that year, half the students were dancers. I like it when dancers join (Soma)tic workshops, giving all of us poets lessons in the true spirit of soma meets somatic. Initially, this ritual ingredient involved each person getting the opportunity to write inside a tight circular cave made of the other students. The writer's job was to write, nothing more. Everyone else was instructed to please place their dominant hand (the hand one writes with) on the head of the writer, stacked one on top of the other. I would then ask everyone to direct a loud hum down the tower of hands and into the head of the writer. It was very exciting in my experience, like being filled with a high electrical pulse, my pen flying across the paper, channeling the most extraordinary material. But for most people, it made them dizzy and sick, one of the dancers vomiting in the middle of the ritual. It was a disaster, and I knew there needed to be significant changes to this ritual ingredient.
           Over the years, the Human Hibernaculum transformed into Suspension Writing, which is far more enjoyable and generative in many ways; this is something I generally include at the end of the day. Please ask everyone to choose a line or phrase from their day's writing, something they can easily memorize and repeat. Then break the workshop into groups of five. A clock or watch is essential for the workshop instructor. Each group is to choose the first writer, and the writer's job is to write, and nothing more. The other four are asked to place their hands on the writer's back, and then the writer is asked to lean into their hands. When the writer is securely held, I ask them to bend their knees so that they need the others to be able to stand while they write. Then instruct the others to whisper their lines, please. After half a minute, ask them to please speak their lines. After half a minute, ask them to sing their lines, and time this for a full three minutes. Then ask them to speak their lines for half a minute, then whisper their lines for half a minute, then stop and switch. Each person gets to write while being held and washed in the sound. While this is generative writing, it is also exhausting. At the very end, I ask everyone to shake and wildly dance, howling, or screaming. Then we stand or sit to write for another ten minutes.
           With multiple groups of five, have the writers face the center of the room, so the whispering and singing travel between the groups, compounding the experience. If you have students who are sensitive to being held or touched, consider a different version where the workshop is divided into two groups. Group A will be in a circle writing, while Group B will be in a circle behind Group A, directed to whisper, speak, sing, etc. Then the two groups switch. The good thing about this version is that there is less exhaustion from holding someone's body up, and therefore you can do multiple rounds.