The Body Issue: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

… Literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear, and, save for one or two passions such as desire and greed, is null, and negligible and non-existent. On the contrary, the very opposite is true. All day, all night the body intervenes; …
(from “On being ill” by Virginia Woolf)

Charlotte Graham-McLay in the chair starts off The Body Issue with this most apt of quotes.

8 speakers play their part – Annaleese JochemsTayi TibbleKirsten McDougallSonya Renee TaylorJuno Dawson, Helen Heath, Ray Shipley, and Daisy Speaks. The Body Issue was one of the biggest panel of WORD Christchurch Festival 2018.

The panel at The Body Issue: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018
WORD Christchurch Festival 2018. Saturday 1 September August 2018. File reference: 2018-09-01-IMG_0268

Each panellist did a reading or poem:

Sonya Renee Taylor opened up the particular body struggles of black women, and said:

I have a PhD in whiteness.

In her every WORD appearance, Sonya has been a revelation. She was here too, asking so many deep questions:

What does body positivity mean if black bodies are indiscriminately killed?

She explained the immense frustration of people telling you are not experiencing what you are experiencing. Sonya paraphrased WORD author Rajorsh Chakraborti’s view of privilege:

The function of privilege exists in not having to look at anything other than your own existence.

Annaleese Jochems read from her novel Baby with touching of armpits, and bodies that are disasters. The book is all about neediness, she said.

Helen Heath read poems from her brilliant collection Are Friends electric?:  Anatomical Venus, Illuminated, and My Body as a leaky vessel, and Spilling out all over:

I ask if you would like a body.
You say, ‘No I’m beyond bodies now,
I’m ready to be fluid, spilling out all over.

Helen noted that AI is now moving towards intelligences with bodies, not brains in jars.

Tayi Tibble read Vampires versus Werewolves from Poūkahangatus, a Twilight (and FKA Twigs) referencing journey into high school bodies:

Because we crave otherness, and hate otherness.

Tayi talked about how post-colonialism plays out in interpersonal relationships, and the sense as a Māori wahine of “colonial entitlement to your body”. Charlotte asked if young women talk to her about this stuff? “Hard out!” said Tayi:

Lots of wahine tell me that it matters.

Ray Shipley read a series of poems about X and their gender issues. Filling out forms, toilets with Ladies and Gents indicated by a Handbag and a Pipe and X had neither … and a kid that asks “Are you a boy or a girl?”. Coming to the answer “Yes”.  A journey.

Kirsten McDougall read an excerpt from her novel Tess. One of those encounters a woman has with men on the streets, who just want to say Hello …

What was ok? Not raped, not dead, the bar was pretty low.

Juno Dawson read from Gender Games, telling about an encounter at The Attitude Awards. The phenomenal scrutiny of transwomen’s bodies. Why don’t cisgender people have to talk on breakfast tv about their bodies? Identity has nothing to do with genitals. Juno’s birth certificate said boy, but is also said weight 6 pounds. Things change.

Women are objectified all the time … transwomen are no different. For all women, objectification is deadly.

Daisy Speaks

Daisy is a local poet and performed her rugby league poem “Body Gospel”:

Your “fat girls” do not define us

and one on her traditional Malu tattoo piece “Laei”. She was astonishing, and held us in the palm of her hand, as she slapped her thighs, joyfully reclaiming her body as she was tattooed:

The woman that I do, the woman that i is!

Daisy Speaks at The Body Issue: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018
WORD Christchurch Festival 2018. Saturday 1 September August 2018. File reference: 2018-09-01-IMG_0296

Other topics covered included safety in public, ‘ethical periods’, eating disorders, and the poem Notes for Critics by Tusiata Avia was name checked. The talk turned to the importance of compassion and kindness, learning emotional literacy and intelligence, and finding support in groups, collectives and networks.

Ray noted that people are finding their networks of love and support, but that can come at the expense of being heard. We need to listen to each other.

The Body Issue is a big one, and this was a diverse and fascinating walk in and around it:

Most of our answers are actually in our questions. (Sonya Renee Taylor)

See the speakers at other WORD sessions:

Chaired by Charlotte Graham-McLay

Find books in our collection by:

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Follow our coverage of WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

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