Letting the body speak, with Yorkshire Dance and The Writing Squad by Jasmine Simms
I’ve never written directly to my body before. A couple of years ago, Hannah Hodgeson’s wonderful debut pamphlet, Dear Body, made me aware of this as a possibility, and I’ve been thinking about it on and off ever since. When I’m not being a poet, I work therapeutically with young people, so I’m often thinking about bodies and our relationship to them. Eating disorders have risen by 128% rise for young people over the past year. Trauma, too, is often embodied – something I’ve learned to appreciate more and more recently through my work, and after reading van der Kolk’s hugely influential (warning: upsetting to read!) book The Body Keeps The Score.
When I saw the opportunity to take part in a collaborative project with Yorkshire Dance and The Writing Squad, I saw it as a possible way into exploring these topics in writing. But I entered the collaboration expecting nothing except to make something. This is how I try to approach every interdisciplinary project, though it isn’t always easy – sometimes, especially when the subject we might be exploring is already decided, I find it impossible not to come in with an idea, or with a poem already writing itself in my head. On this occasion it was easy, because truthfully I had no idea what I was going into. I wasn’t even sure whether I would be moving as well as writing, or whether our roles as movement artists or dancers would be strictly defined, and I was privately hoping it was the former. I also came into this project with a lot of trust. The Writing Squad has been nurturing me as a writer since I was 16 – over a third of my lifetime. Working with the squad is like working with family, it feels safe, so I generally expect to take my biggest and best creative risks on squad projects.
The exercises we did, led by Kayo and Ella, were magical and worked surprisingly well over zoom. We all did movement, which didn’t feel much like ‘dancing’ because we turned our cameras off for this. I enjoyed being in my body. They had paired us already, and it was obvious this had been done with extreme care. Izzy and I seemed, to me, an excellent match – both of us seemingly having the same creative process of ‘make first; think later’, and a natural responsiveness to each other’s ideas and styles. Izzy is a writer as well as a dancer. The Time My Body Saved Me came out of two different exercises, setting a poem I wrote to a video Izzy recorded, and we performed it at the end of the second workshop.
I think I came into this project hoping to find a way to speak to my body, but instead my body spoke to me. Perhaps the collaborative process was what was needed to make this possible; only by working with another person could this mind/body duality have emerged, with Izzy in the video seemingly taking on the role of the body speaking. Izzy and I will continue working together, and I am excited for what else might be possible.
Jasmine Simms is a poet, graduate and board member of The Writing Squad, co-director of the Dead [Women] Poets Society.