Poet Kimberly Campanello is ‘Guest Blogger’ for the month of August as she finishes up on her PhD in Creative Writing at Middlesex University. She will also be co-teaching a ground-breaking new course here at the Centre in September: Writing Desire – Flesh Made Word with novelist & short story writer Sean O’Reilly. Her chapbook Spinning Cities was published by Wurm Press in (2011), she was selected to read in the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2011 and was featured poet in the Summer 2010 issue of The Stinging Fly. Her poems have been published in the UK, Ireland, and the US. In 2009, she was a resident at the Fundación Valparaíso in Mojácar, Spain. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama and an MA in Gender Studies from the University of Cincinnati and has taught literature and Creative Writing at the University of Alabama, Florida Gulf Coast University, the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, among others.
by Kimberbly Campanello:
The whole of (social) space proceeds from the body, even though it so metamorphoses the body that it may forget it altogether—even though it may separate itself so radically from the body as to kill it –Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space
I’m writing this post from Singapore, a country I am visiting for the first time. I came here to visit friends rather than take a vacation or sightsee, but inevitably, I made numerous forays into Singapore’s various areas: the ubiquitous hyper-modern shopping malls and swanky hotel bars that dominate the landscape, and on the periphery, Little India, China Town, and Arab Street. Historically, Singapore is an island city-state and a vital centre for sea trade, and its varying and vibrant cultural textures have captured my attention. Amidst all of this I’ve been scribbling about a seemingly basic notion that fascinates me as a poet and a reader of poetry: the body as space, the body moving through space and the fractal relationships and states triggered by all of this—relationships and states that include our very sociality with people and institutions, as well as our modes of consciousness.
The body moving through space: a small group of us moving through Little India’s shophouse stalls, Singapore’s bizzarely and dangerously uneven sidewalks all around us. Our friend falls to the ground, her toe caught on the jutting lip of a curb. I note that in Singapore, sometimes even in the ultra-modern parts of the city, the braille-like foot strips for the blind that are supposed to warn of the conclusion of the sidewalk and the beginning of the road tend not to cover the whole corner. The blind person somehow has to know where each and every strip is in relation to the each and every sidewalk. I have not yet seen a blind person or a person in a wheelchair on the streets of Singapore. Our very sociality: the body as space, moving through space.
In the little snippet above, philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre says that social relations are ‘proceeding’ from the body—your body, my body, all of our bodies. The body is the starting point for social relations (which includes economic and political relations) rather than simply the place upon which they are inscribed. For some reason this basic idea is very difficult to recognise in day-to-day life—this is the point at which Lefebvre suggests that social space forgets or even kills the body despite the body being its origin. This is why we feel so alienated from our bodies. This is why our food produced under increasingly fraught social relations (which are economic relations) kills us. This is why Singapore’s sidewalk strips for the blind are inadequate.
Walt Whitman understood the high stakes and ethical implications of the body in space in Leaves of Grass: ‘I merely stir, press, feel with my fingers, and am happy/To touch my person to some one else’s is about as much as I can stand.’
And Lorca knew that the arrival of duende depends upon the universal fact of the mortal body: ‘The duende, by contrast, won’t appear if he can’t see the possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house, if he’s not certain to shake those branches we all carry, that do not bring, can never bring, consolation.’
These poets and many others instantiate this body consciousness in their work, making it possible for us to access it. Through the sensuality of language, poets remind us of the body though it is forgotten. Poets resurrect the body though it has been killed. I consider this to be one of poetry’s most important tasks. This feels particularly true as I walk Orchard Road—Singapore’s main shopping district that includes over 20 gigantic high-end supermalls.
Indeed, such glitzy hyperconsumerism is the image Singapore projects of itself. There are no human bodies in this vision, only buildings and products. In fact, I am still searching for postcards depicting the humanity of Little India where I will return again today in order to have my body jostled and pressed. It’s Sunday, the only day of the week the migrant workers have off from building this city.