The Pain Body

In Kim Addonizio‘s Ordinary Genius, she writes about the “pain body,” a concept borrowed from a book called The Power of Now, which I’ve never read. But the exercises discussed in this chapter (18, pp.148-155) look interesting enough to give it a go. And here is where I record that experiment. I invite you to follow along and conduct your own…

I’m going to do this live, so check back on the post and I will be sure to note when it’s ended.

Part I – Drawing the Pain Body

Pain Body, First Drawing

Now, this is interesting…

The nondescript man engulfed in fire. (yes, I know my art ability sucks) I think what it’s about is the anxiety of inadequacy. Which of course, everybody has to a greater or lesser extent. Addonizio suggests a short meditation, “only a few minutes, enough time for you to slow down and visualize,” during which you try to “imagine your pain-body has a form” (150). She then suggests that you try to draw or sketch that form, place it in the real world. She also writes that this form is going to reflect the moment you find yourself in. Once it’s physically represented, “the next step is to write to it,” or “as it” (151).

What I find interesting as of this point is the form I found for my pain body. Is it even a man? Alien? Something from outside? The fear of being unseen? Unnoticed? The fire of failure? Or toil? Or the Hell of childhood? Why arms and not legs? Why empty hands? I’m sure a psychologist could have a field day with this… but that’s not the point. The point is to acknowledge the existence of pain. And this is the particular form mine is taking in this moment.

Part II – Writing the Pain Body

Addonizio recommends writing to or as the pain body. This is, necessarily, a rough draft; honestly, I don’t think anything is actually supposed to come of it, as far as a poem goes. This whole exercise seems like it is supposed to engender awareness and addressibility. So, without further ado, here is my pain-body poem:

Ah, there you are, you pain. How ordinary.
Fire swallows you. Your smooth grey face
would scream, if your mouth were big enough,
if you had lips and tongue to make words
aloud and allow them exit from your mind.

Does fire hurt or does it warm your cold skin?
Your voice is so quiet. Say your piece or
leave. Backstroke feels good. Peaceful.

With your coal eyes surfaced, your line-mouth
parted as far as it will, I tell you, scream!

While your twiggy arms grope about,
while your empty hands look for purchase,
when the fire feels like it’s sucking you down,
scream and let the world know. Now! Now!

Take flight of fear. Take hold of voice.
Use it, use it, use it. Why do I find you here?
What makes your alien face my mascot,
right now its mouth line wants to open,
but can’t be heard.

So that’s what that ended up. This is unedited first draft stuff… I wasn’t paying attention to much except trying to keep a regular rhythm and line length. I’m not sure I even accomplished that, since I haven’t really looked too closely at it. But the tone is a little challenging of the pain-body. Again, I’m not too sure what that’s about, but I will definitely be doing more reflection on this whole thing once I finish the exercise series.

The next step is to revise the above, specifically using the pantoum form, which might take some time.

Part III – Pain Pantoum

And this is where I’ll post that when it’s done.

14 May 2012 – Here is the Pantoum revision of the above:

Ah, there you are, you pain. How ordinary.
If you had lips and tongue to make words
you would scream. I tell you, scream!
Your voice is so quiet. Say your piece.

If you had a mouth to make words
aloud and allow them exit from your mind,
but your voice is so quiet. Say your piece
or leave with the fire swallowing you.

A loud you allowed exit from your mouth,
your mind shrinks from the fire,
leaves you gulping air as fast you can,
yet the blisters don’t rise on alien skin.

Your mind shrinks from the fire.
I wish my voice out to save you,
but fear rises at your alien eyes.
I’ve given you the form I desire.

I stretch out my arm to save you,
but your twiggy arms just wave about,
matching the form I gave you,
your hands empty, and still empty.

Your twiggy arms wave about,
and there you are, so ordinary,
matching the form I gave you,
Your voice so quiet, say your piece.

Obviously, I did not stay strictly to the conventions of the Pantoum form. Instead, I felt the need to adapt the poem to recognize a shifting attitude toward the pain-body. Although I have not spent all day on this version of the poem, I see what Addonizio means by allowing the pain-body to assume physical representation. Not only that, the process of revision has allowed for a confrontation [for the lack of a better word] of the pain-body and what it represents. There’s a recognition and growing process inherent in addressing such personal material in this sort of public space.

Have you been following along? Addressing your own pain-body? Let me know, and I’ll include a link to your own exercises and thoughts.

3 Replies to “The Pain Body”

    1. How’s it going so far? I thought this was an interesting exercise, both in terms of knowing oneself and for poetry. It paid off for me in more than one way.

      1. Ah! It was another blogger’s post you were commenting on . .. my reply to their post . . . this is the wonderful things about blogging and the internet, though, discovering the writing by the power of comments!

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