In poetry class a few years ago, during a hot summer in August, I learned about somatic poetry. I was sweating on a leather couch, across from a dozen other writers, wondering if I could ever publish a book. You know, the daily dosage of imposter syndrome. Regardless, I was intrigued by the discussion; I scribbled down the definition in my notebook: a technique of freewriting that integrates one’s conscious form of Self.
I later learned somatic is derived from Greek and means “the body.” People that practice somatic poetry specifically write based on the physical things happening to their body in order to understand the space between body and spirit. Deep, huh? I know. A lot of writers that practice somatic poetry will do something physical and instantly write something emotional based off of that experience. In my poetry class that summer, we read about a writer that sucked on a penny and wrote about it. He tried a somatic exercise every day and wrote about each experience honestly in his book. He drew pictures. He wrote poetry. During one circumstance, he rubbed dirt from near Emily Dickinson’s grave all over his body (I well understand this is NUTS) and wrote about that, too.
However, the writing was vivid and real and rough. I’d never seen anything like it before. The writing was powerful. Our assignment for the next week was to try something somatic and write about the experience. I remember not doing the assignment. Perhaps I was scared of trying something new, or sharing a personal experience. Perhaps I was lazy. Now, looking back, I wish I’d at least tried.
While I have a hard time visualizing the extremes of somatic poetry (i.e. giving myself the safe space to do weird things), I also see the pure beauty inside the practice. How can we best use the physical world around us to connect our inner soul parts? How can we really take a physical experience and write a real and honest account of what happened to our hearts? Somatic poetry allows us to be exquisitely creative, all while being very close to what’s most valuable: ourselves.
Which (finally) brings me to my point. To be truly creative we should practice being somatic, but if we’re not entirely comfortable practicing in full, how can we be somatic in reverse? Instead, how can we use our past experiences to be inspired? Sound deep enough for your weekday? I know! My rising moon is Cancer, so I’m here for the deep sh*t.
A few summers ago, I was so inspired by a physical experience that related to my childhood and soul, that a big idea for my book popped into my head. For months, I was dying to become inspired with a new reason to write. I felt as if I was constantly searching for a revelation, but I kept turning up with nothing. That’s why I took the poetry class. I spent a long and delightful summer reading tarot cards, writing about them, learning about braided essays, and falling in love with Jess Zimmerman and Jo Ann Beard. Of the many things the poetry class gave me, it got me outside. My teacher encouraged me to take a walk and write something down each block. Then I got a bike for my birthday and started taking the wheels on breezes down the Mississippi River Trail. I started actively exploring. I brought a notebook to write things down. I felt like a little kid.
I spent 90% of my childhood in the woods. Across the street from my home, a patch of woods lived proudly for my friends and I to explore before dinner. We would catch minnows, make up imaginary creatures, run quickly through the brush and gulp big, deep breaths of air all day long. When I started taking my bike down the river trail twenty years later, I was overwhelmed with feelings. Being amongst the trees again launched me right back into my childhood so breathlessly, I couldn’t ignore its bigness.
I kept trying to access my childhood by exploring the outdoors. I touched the trees, soaked within the quiet, and listened. The practice gave me something excruciatingly somatic. And it brought me back home to my childhood.
So, I kept trying to access my childhood by exploring the outdoors. I touched the trees, soaked within the quiet, and listened. The practice gave me something excruciatingly somatic. And it brought me back home to my childhood. Exploring the trees and secluded paths was my form of fusing my body and soul. I started writing actively. I found myself getting out of the shower to write things down. I had voice memos and a plump Word document of essay ideas. Little did I know, I had craved that access to my childhood for a long time. I wanted to explore what time and memory and change meant to me. Bubbling curiosity and the willingness to explore gave me my latest book.
I’ve listed some “childhood” somatic practices below to help get started.
*Note, some of these exercises are much more natural if you already have children. This is speaking from experience because I do not have children and adults may think you’re psycho if you’re doing these things without them. BUT, WHATEVER! GET OUT THERE AND BE WEIRD!
Tell us about your experiences if you try these! Becoming inspired by the world around us and our past is one of the most powerful emotional adventures we can venture. Stay wild out there.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her baby brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagram, read more about her latest book, Borderline, and (most importantly) go hug your mother.
BY Brittany Chaffee - June 18, 2019
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.