Jill Khoury, poet and editor of Rogue Agent, shares poems from her Oulipian chapbook Chance Operations (Paper Nautilus, 2016), as well as an exercise and two writing prompts that Khoury created for her Poetry Barn class “Writing Poems from the Body.”
Regarding the chapbook, Khoury tells us: “The project of Chance Operations is twofold: to offer a personal response to the power imbalance and dehumanization created by the medical-industrial complex, and to explore a new language with which to talk about my particular relationship with pain and illness. Those who have chronic illness often feel “written over” or reduced to numbers and case files by doctors and other workers in the medical industry...Throughout the book, the speaker struggles for agency, over her body and over the care that is given it.“
Expanded and additional work from Khoury appears in the forthcoming initial print volume of In Corpore Sano.
Pre-Writing Exercise: Centering the Body
Take a few minutes and sit quietly. You can close your eyes or leave them halfway open and gaze somewhere into the lower-middle distance. Sit comfortably, but in a posture that will keep you alert. If you are able, place one hand over your heart and one hand on your belly. Take slow deep breaths from the diaphragm. Imagine you are filling your lungs from the bottom all the way to the top. You might feel your belly push out a little as you inhale and relax again as you exhale. Take five deep breaths, and then return to your natural way of breathing. Now, look inward. Perceive your body. Start with your perception focused on your toes, and let it travel, as slowly as possible, up through your legs, hips, torso, arms, neck, all the way to the crown of your head. If you notice yourself being judgmental or harsh in your perception, make a mental note of that judgment and try to let it fall away for now. There is no time limit to the exercise; nor is the goal to “clear your mind.” Rather, I want you to notice your mind and the way it’s connecting to your body in this moment — to deeply and compassionately listen to your body. You may even want to address your body as its own entity by internally asking What do you have to say to me? or What story do you want to tell today? Like I said, there is no time limit. When you feel centered and connected with your body, open your eyes and write.
Prompt: Mining Memory
I want you to be able to ease into the process of writing about the body if easing-in is a strategy you enjoy. Adapted from Joe Brainard’s simple-yet-generative writing exercise, this prompt simply asks you, from a body-centered place, to write a list poem focusing on memory. Each new memory should start with the phrase I remember. At least for the first draft, write the words I remember every time. Repeating the phrase can coax new memories to the surface. Write a poem that has at least 20 lines. Focus on communicating concrete details (“the sun on my face” “the sting of a papercut”) more so than abstract concepts (“happiness,” “loneliness,” “success,” etc.). You may choose to keep your list poem with the repeating phrase I remember, or you may revise it out.
Prompt: Elements of Power
Consider sources of energy, whether they are found in nature or human-made. Examples could be the sun, a cyclone, a volcano, electricity, wildfire, waterfall, and so forth. Make a list of them. See how many you can think of! Once you have a list, start mentally applying the phrase I am to each of the power sources. (I am wildfire, I am electricity, etc.) Now pick one power source that resonates with you and use it as the first line of your poem. After you have completed the first draft, you may choose to keep that first line or get rid of it.
Jill Khoury is interested in the intersection of poetry, visual art, gender, and disability. She holds an MFA from Ohio State University and edits Rogue Agent, a journal of embodied poetry and art. She has written two chapbooks — Borrowed Bodies (Pudding House, 2009) and Chance Operations (Paper Nautilus, 2016). Her debut full-length collection, Suites for the Modern Dancer, was released in 2016 from Sundress Publications. Find her at jillkhoury.com.
IN CORPORE SANO: Creative Practice and the Challenged* Body, is a transdisciplinary collection and conversation by, on, and for bodies-against-within-despite, in the form of an ongoing web series and a forthcoming print:document series (preorder a copy here!). If you’d like to be a part of ICS, rolling submissions for the project are once again open.
With thanks to managing editor and lead facilitator Elæ [Lynne DeSilva-Johnson].