I read a book, a whole book. For some this may not seem like such an accomplishment, especially for those in the disability studies community, but for me it is. My own dyslexia leaves so many words unread, so many doors left locked tight from my own perceptions and inabilities to understand what I have read and express it back, at the tip of my tongue hidden away in my unconscious of what I think. After I agreed to write this review, the anxiety I felt every day to read Somatic Engagement was almost paralyzing. Then to think I had to write something noteworthy about what I had read … would I understand it? Would I get it? Could I show that I was some deep thinker, a scholar? This all made my heart pound, my body heavy, but I was excited to have been noticed, to have been asked.

I read the first sentence, and I looked at how I was sitting, how I was holding the book and read on. I came to find in myself that this was my own somatic engagement. I could only bring to this review myself, my own reflection of the work, and that alone would make it good. With this in mind I started to write.

As you read this review, I ask that you think about your own somatic engagement: where are you sitting, why are you reading this, what you were doing before? Take a deep breath and breathe out. This is also how Petra Kuppers introduces us to the book: "Somatics: adjust how you sit. How do you hold this book? Where are you located in relation to what you are reading, which illuminations travel neuronally and which words fire you?" (9) Somatic Engagement asks that you, the reader, or viewer, be aware of your own self, aware of how you experience each piece, what you choose to reflect, and how you reflect. This is a self-awareness that most writing does not request of its readers.

Kuppers describes somatic engagement as "a pathway to take responsibility for one's self, in the absence of hard truths, in experimentation and playful process" (9). Narratives, Kuppers argues, are examples of the practice of somatic thought. She goes on to express this by recounting her own experience with Arnieville, "an activist camp and tent village erected by a coalition of disabled, poor and homeless people" (15). Kuppers emphasizes the engagement with Arnieville that arose both from observation, and also from her own needs, such as the need to go home and charge her power wheelchair. This type of inward and outward expression repeats through all the essays in the collection: each is an embodied reflection of who the writers are and how that affects the reader's perception of the information. Thus, the writer/artists not only demonstrate each author's engagement with a particular piece, but also invite the reader to have a somatic engagement in tandem with the book.

I went on a journey through the desert with Amy Sara Carroll in her essay CODESWITCH: The Transborder Immigrant Tool. In this piece, Carroll explores the somatic realities of crossing the border between Mexico and the United States, a mortal journey resulting in horrifying images such as dozens of bodies in mass graves and a refrigerated trailer truck dispatched to pick up the victims of "narco-violence" (21). Carroll asks: "Who and what constitutes the disposable?" (22). Using her poetry as a somatic, a form of "engaged poetics" (23), Carroll writes poems which might serve as tools to survive the desert in crossing. Poetry takes on a life-sustaining form, and in turn, Carroll and her colleagues receive death threats. When poetry takes on the somatic reality of life and death, apparently a reader can be threatened by a poem.

Carroll, a poet and humanitarian, expresses how poetry can save lives, how the survival of the body should not be disregarded even when that body is breaking the law. In connecting the body to poetry, Devora Neumark's piece "The Sensuous is Political: Live Art Performance and the Palestinian Resistance Movement," pulls words into a reflection of the actual body experience. In response to the 2006 invasion of Lebanon and events surrounding that invasion, Neumark and Tali Goodfriend "marked our protest by bathing each others' hands repeatedly with Lebanese olive oil in a three hour silent durational performance called And How Shall Our Hands Meet?" (81) This piece is a cascade of art in the face of violence, color images, evoked poetry in motion; in between the poems and the description of "Hatoum's Crawl" and "diaspora," the body of writing jars one out of a sense of belonging. The structures of the poems within the essay provide a sense of disconnection, a person living in diaspora. It becomes a reading experience that cannot be verbalized.

This paradox—art expressed in words which simultaneously demonstrates the inadequacy of words—occurs also in Amber DiPietra and Denis Leto's piece "Waveform." Breaking up the traditional body of writing into fractured lines, spaces, homonyms, this piece disconnects the reader with the fluidity of the writing, just as the writers experience their own disconnection with the fluidity of their bodies. They are expressing the experience of dystonia: "When I say body I mean that one over there, a mathematical equation to measure the micro-distance, that one body of which this writing-body is a set of a set. Set. As in what breaks and stays that way" (109). The essay smears those emotions across the page like thick paste, still not dry. Yet another similar experience, beyond the words, is also found in "Bodywork and Myth" by Eleni Stecopoulos. This text is not linear, but a swirl, which spirals the reader into the same frustration that the writer experiences. Inward and outward motion of the body is a continuous cycle of in and out, setting the stage for a dance of the psychoneuroimmunologist. Stecopoulos speaks of the embodiment of thought, thinking her way out of embodiment and out-thinking her nerve endings as she lives her life with chronic pain. Here she explains her somatic/aesthetic engagement: "I was a poet and I would use any and all available means, including myth, to effect my cure" (65).

Stecopoulos is the body of this piece, and her inward and outward poetics circle through choice and non-choice, how "to let the medicines work even when I did not understand how or why they would" (67). For her to let go of her own embodiment, of the pain, and to let something she could not wrap her mind around do its work, was almost that of a foreign somatic. I do not leave this essay resolved, but spinning in my own body, just as hers will forever spin in and out.

As Katherine Sherwood stares directly at her own mind in the piece "Golgi's Door," a direct line between in and out is drawn. This series of mixed-media visual compositions, represented in Somatic Engagement by lush color plates, these works represent a manifestation from the inside view created by the outside body. Georgina Kleege's following piece, "Brain Work: A Meditation on the Painting of Katherine Sherwood," uses words to describe the texture that readers cannot see or feel in the flat color plates. Kleege goes on to give us more about Sherwood, her disability and how she, "uses angiograms of her own brain and etchings of brains and other parts of the nervous system" (50) for her reference material. But this is no essay just placed here to unravel Sherwood's paintings, but to bring Kleege's own somatic into the conversation, expressing her own reality of visual impairment. Bringing up the reality of subjectivity, with her own lack of vision, gives her a unique view as to what she is seeing. An art critic, generally, does not express their own somatic. Kleege's somatic is highly invested in what she is expressing and cannot truly be subjective. She states: "In her studio, Katherine Sherwood invites me to touch her paintings. The surfaces are so thickly painted that they are almost sculptural, almost bas reliefs … They invite the touch but it feels a bit transgressive" (54).

Somatic engagement is brought to a new level in Christan Nagler's piece, "The Obedient Sea: Interludes," which leaves behind the corporeal and mental world to embrace magic realism. In this novel excerpt, Nagler introduces himself as an outsider in the community he writes about, El Salvador. Yet to read the disembodied text from his novel, it is apparent that Nagler has become—and not become—the people and geography of the land. He writes: "Like any good imperial subject, I struggle most with my lack of visibility, the way I oscillate in and out of singularity, how I melt into the surrounding infrastructure and only occasionally emerge" (90). As I read, I felt embodied like a bird, perched, peering down at his subject. I experienced feelings, not information, a journey.

The success of this collection comes from its diversity in subject, content, approach, and all the different somatic engagements which are woven through the pages. With this perception in mind, this book will allow readers to change their perception of understanding. It will be useful to teachers at any level, but I would not leave this book only to the educational field. It could be of interest to poets, artists, humanitarians, or to people who wish to change their view, or perceptions of life's traditional thinking. Even with my dyslexic somatic, I found it accessible.

Do you realize you're having a somatic engagement with this review? What will you make from it?

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Copyright (c) 2013 Mallory Nelson



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