Poetics of Empathy: Gesture-Sound-Word as Compositional Units of a Somatic Frame

Kristen Park

Introduction: A Poetics of Empathy

Mistah Kurtz[1] is dead; God is dead;[2] Author is dead;[3] songbird is dead.[4] What is left in the ruins? What trace remains and how is it held? In this charnel ground,[5] texts of survival emerge as cyborgs[6] adorned in the scar-rupture-punctum-reach, as transliterature in-for-of the liminal, as bodies of work that carry. The Poetics of Empathy recognizes the written word as an energetic architecture occupied by pre-language (sound-gesture) that holds the space for reader-writer to inhabit. A frame is constructed in response to the composition of these texts, which demonstrate the need for an experiential and conceptual dialogic to engage with the process of poetry. There is an energetic exchange in the empathetic encounter with a somatic text that does not currently have language in the field of literary criticism, and it is here that the Poetics of Empathy scaffolds.

A somatic frame to discuss sound-gesture-word as compositional units of empathy is symbiotically generated from the language of Laban Movement Analysis,[7] clinical phonetics, and energetic practices of eastern arts. Michael Leyton’s Symmetry, Causality, Mind and Anodea Judith’s Eastern Body Western Mind serve as the primary texts to support the investigation a Poetics of Empathy proposes. This frame is applied to the work of Edwin Torres because of his somatic writing practice and the openness of his text for gesture and sound study.

The contemporary canon of somatic writers composing blocks, ruptures, reaches, and trauma needs a dialogue to embody these concepts and create consciousness around the form-content they inspire and expire. Though the author is “dead,” the intention, the energetic impulse, is still present in the body of work—the word. When a reader engages with the text and inhabits the word, she finishes the composition in her body. This is a potential site for violence. Roland Barthes “disentangles” Author from Authority and disinters “scriptor” from author, remediating the way criticism approaches both the author-reader relationship and the text-reader experience (142–147).  Barthes warns against stopping here; the Author, the authority is gone, thus, the accountability is gone.  Not true.  Barthes claims “Readers’ Rights” do not start in the relinquishment of Author-God, but rather in the rejection of the myth: “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” (148).  The Poetics of Empathy is concerned with reader’s rights in the exhumation of text: writer not as Author but as scriptor—“shaman,” “mediator,” “relator” (142). Violence is calculated in criticism’s exacting this “cost.”

How can the reader-writer relationship develop safely in the site of ruins: mutual respect and responsibility for the creation-preservation-destruction of embodying art? A practice to cultivate kinesthetic empathy and, thus, promote a kinesthetic literacy is proposed to acknowledge the perpetuation of violence, disembodiment, and dissonance in writing community and study. This essay attempts to start that dialogue. To dehabituate the experience of the written word.

History: Phenomenology, Ecology, & Psychology—enter, the body

Ask the poem for its wrist. Extend two fingers. Take radial pulse. Listen to the space between beats; the space is the timing. Glide fingers over pulse. Trace pulse from node to node (fold to fold; hinge to hinge); pulse follows breath. The trace of breath is a constant arrival. The threshold of inspiration and expiration is mediated by impulse. Impulse is intention inhabiting pulse. A Poetics of Empathy explores this space—the cleft, the rift, the edge, the erogenous—the moment of. A Poetics of Empathy recognizes a body of work, and, thus, an insertion point for understanding (for discernment) begins in the investigation of the body. David Abram, in his text The Spell of the Sensuous, corroborates:

If this body is my very presence in the world, if it is the body that alone enables me to enter into relations with other presences, if without these eyes, this voice, or these hands I would be unable to see, to taste, and to touch things, or to be touched by them—if without this body, in other words, there would be no possibility of experience—then the body itself is the true subject of experience. (45)

Cells are the compositional units of the body: gestation is generative; differentiation is discerning; mutation is revision; apoptosis is editing. Cell to cell signaling is selective, dependent upon enzymes, proteins, gene expression, etc.: chemicals, electricity—particles, waves; threshold exists as mem[ory]branes. Articulation, thus, is relational. How is the syntax of cells a linguistic of the body? Inhabiting the body at this level of communication—breath, pulse, cell—relinquishes the suffocating “universal” and creates the space to explore composition with unity in an embodied experience. What conditions must be present in this experience to witness chemicals as electricity, particles as waves, form as content, emptiness as form? How close can two faces/interfaces[8] come? What is the experience of studying the seam?[9]

In Phenomenology of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty assesses: “I am trying to express in this way a certain manner of approaching the object, the gaze, in short, which is indubitable as my own though as directly known by me” to speak to the gap between edges (78). He also recognizes that “to look at an object is to inhabit it,” and then, “every object is the mirror of all others,” so that we can transgress the spaces between by building awareness of the gaze, which becomes a seam for the edges—a place where time can slide context—and presence emerges. Object is object in object of object is us, and, thus, we release the container our lens captures object in and “understand how vision can be brought into being from somewhere without being enclosed in its perspective” (Merleau-Ponty 78). How do we inhabit this place of clarity? “I regard my body, which is my point of view upon the world, as one of the objects of that world. My recent awareness of my gaze as a means of knowledge I now repress, and treat my eyes as bits of matter” (Merleau-Ponty 81). In dance/movement and prose/poetry, critics continue to hold the gaze responsible for othering. The Poetics of Empathy attempts to suspend gaze, to acknowledge it, while simultaneously fostering detachment by deconstructing the word/symbol to its pre-language: sound-gesture. Detachment is contingent on transparency (a contemplative poetics) and necessary for an embodied reading—a sharing of page by reader and writer: empathy.

Susan Leigh Foster, dancer-choreographer-scholar, traces in Choreographing Empathy the evolution of the term “empathy” and its compositional attributes. For Foster, “fellow-feeling” exists at the roots of pity, sympathy, and empathy—the exchange of emotion—to move and be moved. It is distance that defines the space and, thus, the inhabitability of experience. Pity carries a unidirectional expression of feeling: self, distancing from other at the movement of sorrow. Sympathy demonstrates the capacity of self to mirror other, thus, decreasing the distance between faces. Empathy demonstrates the capacity to inhabit the other and experience the space, place, shape, and effort of the experience. “The gestures and expressions of these other bodies, viewed from without, echo and resonate one’s own bodily movements and gestures, experienced from within. By an associative empathy the embodied subject comes to recognize these other bodies as other centers of experience, other subjects” (Abram 37). The gaze is suspended, but not unacknowledged; the other is inhabited, but not invaded; the deconstruction of the word creates fragments, and this decentering demonstrates not only the space for entry, but also the dissolution of the binary object/subject. “Eyes bits of matter”: the dialectic is realized when the gaze softens and the duality of two eyes re-centers in a field of vision. A Poetics of Empathy works simultaneously to give the writer space to inhabit the gesture-sound—the word—of the piece (breath, pulse, cell of the body of work) and create the process-time for the reader to recover and inhabit the work. The threshold of the page—the tissue for written word—becomes the empathetic experience of reader-writer/self-other: a dharmic art.[10]

Merleau-Ponty and Abram investigate the influence of gesture and sound on language. Gesture inhabiting sound and sound inhabiting gesture leaves trace in the form of word resonance. Thought rides the breath and emerges as voice—the carrier of vision—an echo of agency. This impulse to communicate moment in moment requires the suspension of ego. Ego is the gaze negotiating other, the voice voicing other, the “I” performing “I.”  Gesture is held in the word as a function of breath and pulse, thus: “In this limitless world our throat is like a swinging door. The air comes in and goes out like someone passing through a swinging door. If you think ‘I breathe’ the ‘I’ is extra—It just moves” (Suzuki 29). The Poetics of Empathy attempts to be not the “door” but the “swing”—a gesture of.

The simultaneity of breath, thought, and gesture translated to a page of writing, or the open air as speech, demonstrates poetry’s ability to inhabit the object. Just as the breath is a swinging door, the mind also hinges: “When we are angry, we ourselves are anger. When we are happy, we ourselves are happiness. When we have certain thoughts, we are those thoughts” (Thich Nhat Hanh 40). Gesture experiences breath in a similar way: “The gesture is spontaneous and immediate. It is not an arbitrary sign that we mentally attach to a particular emotion or feeling; rather, the gesture is the bodying forth of that emotion into the world—the bodily gesture speaks directly to our own body, and is thereby understood without any interior reflection” (Abram 74).

A Poetics of Empathy seeks to recover the gesture and the sound from the word, just as it traces the breath and the pulse through the cell. The relationship between kinesthesia and synaesthesia works to explore the seams, just as studying the two edges, faces, reveals the pleasure of the text. “For reading, as soon as we attend to its sensorial texture, discloses itself as a profoundly synaesthetic encounter. Our eyes converge upon a visible mark, or series of marks, yet what they find there is a sequence not of images but of sounds, something heard; the visible letters, as we have said, trade our eyes for our ears…at the surface of the text” (Abram 124). The senses cross—weave peak to peak, jump the gap, articulate the joint—movement defines the threshold: a carrying capacity and capacity to carry. Just as the syntax of the cells code signals and signs, the arrangement of the letters (black and white space on the page) create notation of the music—sound, breath, and stillness (breath and stillness being gesture). This embodied simulation “sponsors our capacity to share actions, intentions, feelings, and emotions with others…a resonance” (Foster 165).

Energetic Architecture: Recoverability of Memory; Inhabitability of Word

Recovering gesture and sound from the word (from the page), Michael Leyton, mathematician-engineer-musician-psychologist, and his text, Symmetry, Causality, Mind, are used to create the context for a frame to explore the relationship between shape, memory, trace, and energy in the Poetics of Empathy. It is through this frame that a process is created to address the problem introduced by Abram in the Spell of the Sensuous: written word alienates the reader from the gesture-sound, body-earth, and breath-pulse. Degradation of the environment, extinction of languages, and unsustainable relational practices contribute to the challenge of diversity, vitality, and virtuosity in exchanges of pre-language and the capacity to tune into these thresholds of transference. The Poetics of Empathy is a practice of deep listening. Gesture-sound is recovered from the page by dehabituating the way readers listen and respond to perceptual and artistic expressions of writing. In turn, the writer must acknowledge the capacity for intention to be held in the word as it was committed to the page. The reader-writer simultaneously meet at the edges—the text is the inbetween—both parties dehabituate, deconstruct, and decenter in written response. An ecosomaesthetic is cultivated in the Poetics of Empathy; composition embodies gesture-sound of body-earth (space-place) in shape-effort and is, thus, inhabitable by the reader.

Shape IS Time

Leyton intersects with the discussion of body and language, affirming that “perception concerns the recovery of time that is locked into the environment,” and explores the empathy of shape by claiming that “a sentence is an archaeological relic—one that is disinterred by the listener such that it reveals the past” (2). Process holds the concept of time just as space and place held the concept of habitat. To discuss shape, time is simultaneously explored as a basis for excavating experience from the page: “A shape is simply a single stat, a frozen moment, a step outside the flow of time; and yet we are able to use it as a window into the past” (Leyton 3). The gesture capacity of window—open, close, swing, slam, crack, frost, shake, settle—disrupts the eye/I and holds opportunity in the form of a point of entry.  Foster shifts the conversation from perception to interoception by asserting the importance of understanding shape bodily as a primary source of cultivating empathy:

Through an act of the imagination, but with the help of kinesthetic sensation, the observer was able to enter into and inhabit the other, and experience a consequent contraction, if the object was smaller, or expansion, if the object was larger, of the self. As a result, ‘the compressed or upward striving, the bent or broken impression of an object fills us with a corresponding mental feeling of oppression, depression, or aspiration, a submissive or shattered state of mind.’  By sensing the structure of the object, one would inevitably assume a mental state that was inspired by its composition. (128)

Crossing a threshold is a process; a process holds time; time is shape; shape is memory—words are the shapes that hold gesture-sound not in letters but in the shape-conduit of the throat-mouth—each consonant creates for the expression of the breath, the vowels. The eye becomes the ear becomes the gesture of mouth—the breath, the pulse—inhabiting the poem. What do the relational spaces between words reveal about the organization as a whole? Words articulate as vertebra, not in spiny process position but in the movement of spine, the walk of sentence. Lordotic. Kyphotic. The shape of the spine dictates range of motion, and yet accessing motion informs and renegotiates range; the composition shapes and is shaped by gesture-breath. Skeletal remains narrate not just in the arrangement of the bones, but rather in the torque of each bone and its proxy.

How is shape recovered from the shaping?  It isn’t.  Shape is recovered in its shaping. To experience the empathy composed in shape, Leyton’s theory of process-recovery is applied to the page:

The goal of the process-recovery problem is to recover events that are in the past and are therefore inaccessible. The inaccessibility forces one to possess some means, other than going into the past, of guaranteeing unique recoverability. Unique recoverability requires processes to be defined uni-directionally. (6)

Uni-directionality, distinguishability, trace, and energy, thus, become important in texts where rupture, reach, and trauma are embodied: “The recovery of process is possible only if it leaves a memory…scars on the surface of the moon, chips on vases, graffiti on subway trains” (Leyton 7).

Presence and absence, white space and black space, and open and closed text are ways of exploring memory (shapes) in the space they inhabit. What is talked about (and left out) and how it is talked about (or isn’t), the relationship of form and content, can be explored in Leyton’s principles of asymmetry and symmetry: ASYMMETRY IS THE MEMORY THAT PROCESSES LEAVES ON OBJECTS; SYMMETRY IS THE ABSENCE OF PROCESS-MEMORY. These principles help identify the process held in the words and between the words: composition as arrangement, action, and intention.

Distinguishability AND Dehabituation

The role of art, viewed through a Poetics of Empathy, is to shift perception through dehabituation. In the Poetics of Empathy, the focus has been on the ability to inhabit the text—the other—the self—to hold the space for contemplation, embodiment, and experience. What does it feel like to be dehabituated while inhabiting other? Foster quotes President Obama’s speech: “Empathy…calls us to task…we are all shaken out of our complacency” (126). Shaken, shape-shifted, criss-crossed—remembering one’s own wildness—an invitation to wake up. Writing as a spontaneous dharmic art, thus, cultivates awareness in not just the writer but also the reader. Foster provides an example: “Rapid reading, the playing of a musical composition, or the changing into a different language as one greets a different person—all constituted meaning-making even though they occurred without our conscious awareness” (111). Awareness in sensation (body) is processed through discernment in consciousness. By exploring the shape of time and memory in the text, asymmetry (open text) is recognized as possessing distinguishability and, thus, is capable of dehabituating experience.

Distinguishability = Asymmetry ; Indistinguishability = Symmetry

 Foster demonstrates the effect 19th-century dance notation imposed on movement: “Implementing these geometric laws of movement, the cultural specificities of particular dances were smoothed out or erased” (23). Symmetry as erasure and “routinizing inclinations” generates a traceless process, fixing the focus on the product (poem/art) and the universal (Foster 155). Art is then measurable and the audience serves to be measured by the art. This distance makes the art uninhabitable: an object that objectifies and is objectified. Not dharma art.

Leyton and Abram both discuss the “smoothing out” quality Plato and his Ideal Forms impose on the value of art in western culture: “For the letters of the alphabet, like the Platonic Ideas, do not exist in the world of ordinary vision,” and “Plato used the term good to designate symmetrical forms, but perhaps a positive evaluation of symmetry is not appropriate. […] That symmetry could be called ‘good’ reflects a preference for conformity and sameness; and a fear of dissimilarity and exception” (Abram 112; Leyton 35).

Violence is not the chip in the vase, but the erasure of chipping.

Memory = Distinguishability = Asymmetry ; Erasure = Indistinguishability = Symmetry

Asymmetry demonstrates the capacity for the recovery of memory (time) because it has distinguishable properties. Leyton investigates an embryo, tumor, and scar in his text to demonstrate the body’s relationship to asymmetry as trace, as memory, as a process to be aware of and within. In the next section, the principle of asymmetry is used to create a reading of Edwin Torres’ work Yes Thing, No Thing. The way Torres dehabituates the form of the poem, the form of the page, and the formation of word in mouth, through mouth, helps to recover the music—pulse/breath—that is the gesture of his poems. Poem as gesture. Gesture as intention. Intention as impulse. Impulse as pulse. Dharmic art.

IF Memory = Distinguishability = Asymmetry ; Erasure = Indistinguishability = Symmetry THEN Symmetrization = Homogenization

Art without moles, chips, scars, cracks, ruptures, punctums exists within the value system that conservationists and preservationists also exist within. The art of symmetry is product-based and, thus, distances self from Other, art from human, and viewer from viewed. The phenomenologists would warn against the danger of the gaze overcoming the experience of the art. The ultimate fear of successive symmetrization is homogenization, demonstrated by Foster: “What had been a region’s indigenous production was transformed into stylistic features of a single repertoire that set one dance apart from another. Cultural and historical specificities of particular dances were homogenized by a system that implemented absolute conceptions of space and time” (25).

Energy AND Shape

The principles that govern shape can, thus, be transferred to energy. Particles and waves; form and content; waves are the practice of water (Suzuki 23). Not only do the words hold their process, but they also hold the energy they were created in—the impulse. Foster describes the influence of quantum theory in choreographing empathy by recognizing, “art was now perceived as having intensity, momentum, pull, and energy and also a coherence based on the relative balance or equilibrium among these impulses” (154). Energy of shapes and in shapes is the stored capacity to move—the catalyst to start process—the substrate on membrane signaling cell to cell and word to word. The energy contains information about the effort-shape. Applying Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) and Leyton’s Process Recovery Theory to Torres’ “TH M ATTER” in the next section demonstrates how effort-shape measures weight, time, flow, and space as recoverable gestures and embodied quality.

Energy in the Poetics of Empathy comes from becoming the source sought.  Leyton’s Energy is Memory Principle resonates with this claim:  “The energy of a system can be regarded as the memory of the causal interactions that transferred the energy to the system” (76). What is left as trace when completing a text through reading or projecting a whole from fragment? What shards shatter—dehabituate? What is left behind in art? The torque of a piece, its wrench, its wring, the place the reader wakes up in: “The curve of a line in a painting, the thrust of a building, or the undulations of the sea—all invited the observer to enter their dynamic state and experience its uniqueness” (Foster 154). To inhabit the text, ride the wave of its breath.

 Frame: Cultivating an Empathetic Reading

The inquiries raised by Abram and Merleau-Ponty support the context of this investigation. Leyton’s theories on shape-energy-memory create the frame for exploring distinguishability, asymmetry, and dehabituation, which define a somaesthetic for dharmic art. The language of clinical phonetics and LMA are used to analyze the text for horizon line (pulse), center of gravity/levity (breath), synaesthesia-kinesthesia, and architectural energetic. The text to be discussed within this frame is Edwin Torres’ “TH M ATTER” published in Yes Thing No Thing.

[gview file=”http://www.somethingonpaper.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Torres-Poems.pdf”]

Frame Applied to Edwin Torres Poem, “TH M ATTER”

 Edwin Torres was born in the Bronx, New York, NY in 1965. He attended Pratt University and earned an Associate Degree in Communication and Advertising. In 1989, he transitioned from graphic design to performance art, music, and poetry in the Nuyorican Poets Café. In an interview with Kika Pena at Naropa University in Boulder, CO, Torres describes this influential shift:  “I was introduced to performance art…and then poetry, through the graphics of the Futurists and then the Dadaists. I saw there was another world outside the visual one” (BrainLingo). In the same interview, Torres lists Japanese Butoh, John Cage, Ernie Kovacs, The Wooster Group, and NYC as a whole among his influences as a creator/performer. In addition, as a writer/poet, he credits: “The Russian Futurists for play in language, Neruda and Paz for lyricism, Wallace Stevens the ‘everyman language artist,’ Gerard Manley Hopkins’ rhythm and organic language-constructs, and Paul Celan’s pointed focus on the human condition, [as well as] Creeley’s economics of language” (BrainLingo).

According to his website, BrainLingo, Torres created a movement called “Interactive Eclectrism” to describe the movement, audience participation, and music that could be expected as part of the experiment his performances became. “Poets Neurotica” is his most well-known performance piece, featuring dancers and musicians creating alongside two to four poets. In addition to collaborating with poets from the Nuyorican Poets Café, he was also a member of “Real Live Poetry” (1993–99), performing poetry and holding workshops. To demonstrate the interstices of graphic, sound, speech, and text, Torres has published in multiple mediums, including spoken word recordings, electronic journals, and print publications.

Edwin Torres’ performance and text reaches toward the same remediation of the written word to create a greater consciousness. Reading Torres’ work through an ecosomatic lens and analyzing it in the space created by a Poetics of Empathy demonstrates the resonance of content-form, reader-writer, text-intent, and breath-pulse investigated in this paper. In the interview with Kika Pena, Torres responds:

When you can perform your work truthfully and with enough sincerity so the audience can hear your many voices and be transported into a memory of theirs or get lost in your imagery or rhythm leaving them with a presence of stage of mind of language as they leave the theater… that’s when poetry’s impact is greatest. When the vowels resonate and the air is charged…from the quietest piece to the loudest shriek, a poem delivered from the heart will always register. (BrainLingo)

Torres’ aesthetic is somatic and his work creates the space for inhabitability—for empathy.

PULSE—A Poem’s Shape

 “By learning how to look, we begin to discover how to see; by learning how to listen, we learn how to hear; by learning how to feel, we learn how to experience” (Trungpa 158). Just as the tissue exists as a threshold for embodying empathy, the horizon line exists for the eyes, ears, and heartbeat of the poem: “The health of the eye demands a horizon” (Ralph Waldo Emerson qtd. in Levertov 12); “The drone in Indian music is known [to ear] as the horizon note” (Levertov 12); and “This sense of the beat or pulse underlying the whole, I think of as the horizon note of the poem” (Levertov 12). The resonance, the meditative quality of a poem is the horizon line that draws for us a baseline, a frequency, a threshold to tune into and let the sounds, images, and gestures that dehabituate the page show up as ripples in the pond-mirror we hold to our a). ego—perception of self and b). soma—phenomenon of body as experienced self.

Clinical phonetics defines resonance as “the frequency-selective reinforcement of sound energy…A basic principal of resonance is that a body oscillates (vibrates) with greater amplitude for greater frequencies that are near its own natural frequency” (Kent and Shriberg 8). When listening for the soundscape of a poem what baseline/horizon note emerges and how does this sound-shape carry the landscape of the page? How do we hear the markings and what remains when meaning-making is suspended? Leyton’s principle of trace as energy and energy as memory provides the space to investigate sound in symmetric and asymmetric patterns. Symmetric sounds—tuning forks struck at set frequencies—generate what clinical audiologists define as “trace [taking] the form of the trigonometric sine function, and that is why the pure tone is called a sinusoid” (Kent and Shriberg 308). A pure tone, a pure sinusoid (the sound of Plato’s spheres) creates a symmetric shape (equal amplitude/displacement on Leyton’s graph of trace-energy) and, thus, erases memory. Nothing stands out. A baseline for the ear can be achieved in this space. The sound of a poem’s pulse is symmetric; however, this symmetry provides the referent for experiencing “the intensity of one sound expressed relative to the intensity of a standard or reference sound,” ultimately, the asymmetries of sound/frequency are heard disrupting the predictability of the text (Kent and Shriberg 306).

The relationship between sound and ego is explored in the yogic practice of vowel seeds (sounds). Each energy meridian (chakra) in the body maintains a specific frequency—like the tuning fork. Manipura—solar plexus, the 3rd chakra, carries the frequency of the ego in the syllable seed sound “Ah.”  In practice, the resonance of “Ah” will be disrupted if a block or excess of energy exists in the ego. Awareness of the baseline/frequency prompts discernment of the asymmetries caused at the site. In clinical phonetics, the “Ah” sound is associated with /a/ (occurring as a lax and unrounded vowel in the low/back space of the mouth) (Kent and Schriberg 33). Just as the biju sounds can scale the energetic health of the body, scanning a text for symmetry and asymmetry in sound can enhance deep listening and, thus, the experience of the piece. What trace is left of the tongue?

LMA defines shape as how a body forms itself in space. The shape of a poem as gesture is how it forms itself in space. Gesture, thus, draws a plumb line (via Laird Hunt) in the body of the poem inhabitable by the reader: walk this line; synch this beat; take note. Once the plumb line is assumed, the intertextual investigation of gestures within the poem can be experienced: not just shape, but shaping. The reader’s body finishes a poem only by embodying the text.

The plumb line/pulse of a poem as gesture begins with the investigation of “growing and shrinking” (Dell 45). Vasodilation (growing) and vasoconstriction (shrinking) are functions of the pulse in the human body: vessels enlarge as the heartbeat slows and constrict as the heartbeat quickens. Pressure, energy, directionality is, thus, traceable when this awareness is cultivated. How does the poem innervate? What does it feel like to inhabit this body?

In addition to growing and shrinking (proximal gestures), the body and, thus, body of work can be examined for patterns of “folding/closing or unfolding/opening” (distal-proximal articulatory gestures) (Dell 46). Not just asking, does the poem grow or shrink but where and how does this occur? The heartbeat has two distinctive sounds, lub-dub, also known as the systolic and diastolic measures of the pressure of blood pumping through the body. Where does the text gesture open; gesture closed? What does it feel like to synch one’s own cardiac cycle to a poem’s?

“Reach space” defines the kinesphere of a gesture: it is the contemplative space held in order to listen for the horizon line/note (Dell 47). The reach of a poem is, thus, the conversion of memory to energy and energy to memory that Leyton defines in the Energy-is-Memory Principle. Within reach space, shaping can be investigated. Foster reports that empathetic compositions allow the reader to enter and inhabit the shape, and emphasizes the dynamic and three-dimensional quality of this assumption. Shaping in LMA transitions the body from awareness of the shape—the baseline—the pulse of the piece—to retrieval of the contours, trace, and arrhythmias that dehabituate the experience of the piece. Shaping is discernment: “gathering/scattering, rising/sinking, spreading/enclosing, advancing/retreating” (Dell 57). In Leyton’s Energy-Asymmetry Principle, “Asymmetry is taken to be memory of the energy transferred to an object in a causal interaction” (78). Experiencing shape as memory, and then shaping as asymmetry, the energy of the poem is both able to be experienced and retrieved from the body of work.

Pulse of “TH M ATTER”

In “TH M ATTER,” Torres uses absence and presence (negative and positive space) to create the shape of the piece. He applies this to both the word and the line as compositional units, demonstrating a multifocal awareness of shape and discernment of shaping. On the word level, the absence of certain vowels and the presence of clustered consonants slows down the pulse of the poem as the reader must enter the negative space—become the absence—to experience the presence: “Of            /So littl t kno/               /              /So lit tl      /T be           /Man n          /Mou t          /               /               /Nt ig          /T speak        /” (106). The white space of the page, negative space, is defined by the presence of text, the positive space, which functions to create the container, the vessels of the piece where the blood, energy, ether of the white space can find charge and movement.

The second line, “So littl t kno” sets the parameters of the space—the density of the page—with 11 letters in the space of 15 characters and five syllables in the space of four silences. Although the second line’s density sets the container of the space, it is the arrangement of the rest of the lines that describe the baseline of the piece: “++———–/++-+++++-+-+++/ —————/—————/++-+++-++—–/+-++———–/+++-+———-/+++-+———-/ —————/—————/++-++———-/+-+++++——–/” (106). Absence (white space) is the predominant presence in the first part of the piece, shaping the space for the resounding content: “Yu/     /Ere read ig/Too fas t” (110). In the sustained silence, the gesture of the poem is growing, particularly, spreading horizontally.

In the eleventh line of the piece, Torres introduces the sustainment of sound into the shape of the page to test the container of the shape: how much resistance exists in the throat, in the word, in the air, in each other? “Exit—————/stnce          ///Pre—snt—————/Op——n—————///Man—————/stnce          /” (106). The poem’s growth is now shaped by the sustainment of positive space as a gathering and advancing gesture. The moments of retreat and scatter after the spreading sound create the distinguishabilities Leyton reports are necessary to extract memory from the shape.

Both the sound and gesture of the poem support a slow, sustained pulse—vasodilation of the body of work. The negative, white space of the page as a score for spreading and silence is alternated with the positive, text space of the page as a score for advancing/gathering and sustained sound. Symmetry at the baseline exists in this balance. The ear then tunes in for the moments when this pulse is disrupted, shifted, changed, ruptured—attention in dehabituation.

Figure 1 Sample Pulse from TH M ATTER

BREATH—A Poem’s Flow

 Pulse and breath rate share a directly proportionate relationship in the human body (as heartbeat increases, breath rate increases and vice versa): “The most basic model for shape flow, when it is seen as growing and shrinking, is the inflation and deflation of the trunk during breathing” (Dell 45). Leyton’s energy-memory-symmetry principle equally applies to breath. Just as “reach” defined the kinesphere to contemplate shape, “effort” provides the frame to investigate flow. Effort is symmetrical, balanced (just as pulse resonating with the horizon line) when “a breathing pattern which is full and continuous, without holding, promotes the flow of shape changes in the body” (Dell 45). Defining pulse as the horizon line of a piece, breath is subsequently evaluated on a vertical plane as the path between Center of Gravity (COG) and Center of Levity (COL). Shape as memory is revisited through Foster: “When I observe a stationary object, I can without difficulty place myself within its inner structure, at its centre of gravity. I can think my way into it, mediate its size with my own, stretch and expand, bend and confine myself to it” (127). Shaping as the act of retrieving energetic memory is experienced by Foster: “Rather than evaluating the circumstances and consequences predicament of the other, the observer expanded into the other, taking on its structure, rhythm, and momentum” (154). Tracing effort in gesture and prosody in sound, this section explores how COG and COL facilitate the recovery of breath scores in text and, thus, increase the space for inhabiting the poem.

“Prosody gives shape to speech” (Kent and Shriberg 99). Shape is memory. Prosodic information can be recorded as asymmetry in sound-flow expectation. The reader can embody prosodic cues and internalize the breath score of the piece. “A speaker conveys prosodic information by controlling three general aspects of the acoustic signal of speech. These are: vocal fundamental frequency (perceived as vocal pitch), vocal intensity (perceived primarily as loudness) and duration (perceived primarily as length)” (Kent and Shriberg 99). Tracking the nodes on Leyton’s sinusoidal graph of energy-memory transfer reveals the baseline/pulse of the poem. The path between nodes, highest amplitude to lowest amplitude, demonstrates the COL and COG of a piece. Where does the piece ground the reader; where does it lift the reader; how does the reader inhabit the space between these two sensations: riding the breath?

Vocal fundamental frequency expands on the ideas presented around resonance and introduces the asymmetries of stress/effort. Rhythm, Pitch Declination, New vs. Given Information, Contrastive stress, Lexical stress, and Tone are all functions of vocal pitch. To investigate COG and COL in the context of vocal frequency, rhythm is used as an example. “Rhythm is the distribution of various levels of stress across a syllable chain. Stress is the degree of prominence associated with a particular syllable” (Kent and Schriberg 100). In the English language, rhythm is often associated with an alternating pattern of strong and weak syllables (100). The accent on strong syllables provides a COG within the word; whereas, the measure of weak syllables provides a COL within the word. As the words accumulate into sentences and the sentences to paragraphs (or lines/stanzas) we listen for the breaks, ruptures, and reaches. When is the alternating pattern broken and why? Is it on a vowel sound or a consonant? Monosyllabic strings or polysyllabic line breaks? “If the rhythmic pattern of speech is largely predictable, then the listener in a sense knows ‘when’ to listen for essential acoustic information” (Kent and Shriberg 100). To remediate the written word, the writer must be aware of the compositional unit used and the pattern of expectation it creates as the reader finishes the text. To experience empathetically the text, the reader must listen to the places of break and for the places of reach: the grounding/grinding and the lifting/surrendering. The stresses can be traced using Leyton’s Energy-Asymmetry Principle. The demarcations of break, reach, and rupture override the narrative and present the opportunity to be dehabitualized and, thus, engaged within the text.

The syntactical structure of the piece functions as the codification of the sound score and, thus, breath score. Commas, semi-colons, colons, ellipses, parentheses, line breaks, sentence length variation, etc. contribute to how the compositional units will not only be read and understood, but also experienced in the body. These devices serve as notation for the shape and shaping of the body-breath-word. In studying prosody from a clinical phonetics perspective, “Tempo includes pause, lengthening, and speaking rate” (Kent and Shriberg 102). Whereas vocal pitch/rhythm indicates the space between COG and COL (wavelength), tempo indicates the time between these stresses (period). The height of inhale (the hold) is the COL. The height of exhale (the hold) is the COG. The structure of the compositional units provides cues for when the reader has the space and time to breathe. The link between breath and pulse is the overlap in assuming horizon line and COG/COL: the wavelength; the period.

The third unit of prosody is loudness, which is the perceived magnitude or strength of the sound (Kent and Shriberg 102). Just as COG/COL existed on a continuum for pitch (space) and tempo (time), loudness exists on the same continuum as a measure of weight. Wavelength, period, and force are the acoustic signals, the synesthesia of ear, eye, and breath, in the sounding of a poem.

Recovering gesture from the poem through the exploration of breath in the context of LMA requires analyzing the effort-shape of the movement continuum from COG to COL. In LMA, COG is defined as the “the center of weight refer[ing] to the part of the body most involved in initiating shifts of weight and generally activating and supporting the body weight”; whereas, “Center of Levity is a term sometimes used to refer to the upper trunk and more specifically to the sternum provides optimum conditions for producing lightness” (Dell 22). LMA defines effort in a three-part system comparable to prosody. Space (direct/indirect), time (quick/ sustained), and weight (heavy/light) are the three measures of effort in movement.


Figure 2- Relationship between LMA and COG COL

Effort/exertion is directly proportional to both the physiologic and acoustic response of breath in the body. Tracing the energy of this exertion/effort on the page, the body can inhabit the experience of the gesture the poem presents. In movement, the gesture is defined not by where it is going but where it is not/no longer. The gesture overrides a narrative, just as the sound-image overrides a narrative. The future of the piece is finished in the body of the reader—each reader—and, thus, must be written as an open score if art as dehabituation is the intention of the piece. Breathing is effort just as shaping is discernment.

Vocal pitch in prosody (space) relates to spatial attention in LMA. The space factor is measured on a continuum of direct (COG) and indirect (COL). Attention is either single-focused or scanning the horizon line. Tempo in prosody (time) relates to changes in the quality of time in LMA. The time factor is measured on a continuum of quick (COG) to sustained (COL). Loudness (weight) in prosody is comparable to changes in weight in LMA. The weight factor is measured on a continuum of heavy/forceful (COG) to light (COL). The poem holds these gestures in the relationship of the compositional units to one another and to the page.
Figure 3 Relationship between LMA and Clinical Phonetics

These three efforts simultaneously exist in different combinations to capture the quality and energy of a gesture. Thus, the ability to break them into their compositional units is the deductive reasoning inherent in Leyton’s Energy-Memory Conversion Principle. While gestures that are quick, heavy, direct, and bound tell us about COG, those that are sustained, light, indirect, and free will provide information about COL. The combinations that exist between these two amplitudes demonstrate the distinguishability and, thus, recoverability of their memory as held in the word on the page. When we inhabit these words, we archive the breath-score and the gestural sequencing of the text. We experience the physiology of the poem—kinesthetic empathy is achieved.


To find the flow of breath in “TH M ATTER,” breath groups shaped by syntax, vowel-consonant relationships, and stress-timed rhythm are investigated through the lens of phonetic prosody and LMA’s effort-shape. COG and COL define the extrema on the breath-energy continuum traced through this process.

A rhythm punctuated with consonants by the absence of vowels emerges in line 31: “To sp ak/Of larg/Of lit tl/Of nth————ig” (107). On a line level the rhythm reads: Hard/soft/hard/soft-holding or [stress, un, stress, un-sustain].  This oscillating back and forth like a typewriter in the first three lines is juxtaposed by the sustaining breath of the last line, “Of nth————ig.”  On the word level, the pattern of endings—k,g,tl,th-g—creates this sensation. Each line contains two beats and the two beats hold three syllables: stress, un, stress—one and two. This breaks our association of the second word as a whole by letting the first half merge with the first word. As the words dissociate, their vowels are removed. Torres provides an open text, a place for the reader to enter, to engage with what is not there as much as with what is—to collaborate. Because the consonants shape the container the vowel breath will travel through, the insertion by the reader of vowel, of breath, is what resuscitates the poem. The page is alive in the body of the reader. “Of nth————ig” is what leaves the trace of energy—the slow down—the poem’s pulse set.

Analyzing the poem for effort requires an understanding of the relationships among gesture, time, space, weight, and flow. Time: Q&Q/Q&Q/Q&Q/SS; [Quick/Slow]. Quick time is a function of COG and dominates the pattern. The slow, sustained ending (COL) is what lifts the poem and dehabituates the pattern. Space: DDD/DII/DDD/DII; [direct/indirect]. Direct space is punctuated in this pattern, letting the moments of indirect (the ending in particular) give the piece focus and unfocus—squinting and opening; recalibration. Weight: LLL/SSS/SLL/SLS; [light/strong]. Weight is relatively balanced in this pattern with only a slight emphasis in the light demonstrating COL in breath score. Flow: BBB/UUU/UBB/UUU; [Bound/Unbound]. The flow of the piece leans toward free because of the space left for vowel expansion. This section demonstrates a balance of COG (quick and direct) and COL (free and light). This symmetry reinforces the rhythmic meter and breath grouping of the line breaks in this stanza. In the first three lines, the breath races against the pulse of the baseline (asymmetry—distinguishability), and in the last line it restores the pulse yet breaks the previous breath pattern. The blood, energy, MATTER, is pumped through our empathetic bodies as we listen to answer Torres’ question: “How s/ Th breath ng/ Differn t/ Rilly so lit/ tl/ Right thr” (110).

Figure 4 LMA Applied to Breath Gesture in TH M ATTER


 “Speech is produced by the carefully controlled action of over 100 muscles in the chest, abdomen, neck, and head…the three major functional systems include respiratory, laryngeal, and supralaryngeal (pharyngeal-oral-nasal)” (Kent and Shriberg 15). Sound production requires the articulation of 100 moving muscles; 100 opportunities for the reader to enter the cycle of sound and chain of movement, and, thus, inhabit the breath, pulse, shape, space, force of the piece. The effort-shape sustains within the written word. Incidentally, the effort of shaping has been investigated for hundreds of years:

The innovation which gave rise to the alphabet was itself developed by Semitic scribes around 1500 B.C.E. It consisted in recognizing that almost every syllable of their language was composed of one or more silent consonantal elements plus an element of sounded breath—that which we would today call a vowel. The silent consonants provided, as it were, the bodily framework or shape through which the sounded breath must flow…The vowels, the sounded breath that must be added to the written consonants in order to make them come alive and to speak, had to be chosen by the reader, who would vary the sounded breath according to the written context. (Abram 99–100)

The exertion/effort/energy required by these muscles to place tongue, teeth, throat, jaw, and body in the ideal shape for invoking the “sounded breath” is stored in the written word waiting for the inspiration of the other; the expiration of the reader. Empathy is contingent on the capacity to inhabit the score, deconstruct the symbol, and revitalize the text with breath. How does the reader enter written text in a way that embodies both gesture and sound?

According to clinical phonetics, “All sounds in the English language normally are egressive, meaning that they are produced with the flow of air that moves outward from the lungs” (Kent and Shriberg 15). The writer prepares a breathscore for the reader, but it is in the reader experiencing the text that the soundscore is developed. It is the invocation of mantra/poetry/text that the “sounded breath” or vowel sounds are experienced ricocheting through muscular channels and articulatory shapes. Likewise, “Speech that is continued for more than a few seconds necessarily takes on the rhythm of respiration—cycles of inspiration and expiration. This pattern gives rise to a unit called the breath group, which is simply the sequence of words or syllables produced on a single expiration…Normally, we interrupt for inspiration at syntactically appropriate places, such as phrase or clause boundaries. Therefore, breath groups often coincide with syntactic units” (Kent and Shriberg 16). The arrangement of the composition is performed within the body of the work and the body of the reader—to be moved, moving, in motion, e-motion.

The shape of the body as breath travels through is the gesture. The way a word is experienced through the articulation of the 100 aforementioned muscles can be described through Laban’s Eight Basic Effort Actions. These effort actions address the combinations of time, space, weight, and flow previously discussed in regard to the COG/COL of a text and the prosody of the arrangement. Additionally, the effort actions reintroduce shaping and horizon line (pulse) with the opportunity to present distinguishabilities that counteract dissonance. Word-gestures: float (indirect, light, sustained), wring (indirect, strong, sustained), press (direct, strong, sustained), glide (direct, light, sustained), dab (direct, light, quick), flick (indirect, light, quick), slash (indirect, strong, quick), and punch (direct, strong, quick) (Dell 37). The way consonant development interacts with word-gestures further demonstrates the synchronicity of sound and gesture occurring simultaneously not just in speech, but also within the written word and the empathetic recoverability of the experience of the written word.

Figure 5

Investigating sound-gesture-word from an ecosomaesthetic encourages connections between the phonetic action and expression of sound, its linguistic roots in clinical and applied fields, and the embodied experience of the gesture vis-à-vis internal and external environments. However, forging these links and qualifying and quantifying the dab-slide-glide of tongue in mouth for all vowel and consonant sounds exceed the reach of this analysis. It is at this juncture that an invitation opens for further inquiry, i.e. what is the relationship between: “Basic acoustic properties of consonants: (1) the source of energy (voicing, frication noise, burst noise); (2) the manner or degree of vocal tract constriction (for example, complete closure for stops and affricates, narrow constriction for fricatives, nasal radiation for nasal consonants, or vowel-like oral radiation for liquids and glides); and (3) the place of vocal tract constriction” and the eight basic efforts of LMA? (Kent and Shriberg 314).


Effort-shape analysis examines gestural observation and deduces sensation from this relationship. It is at this level of engagement with the body of work that exertion/energy to maintain the pulse/breath/symmetry (keeping the reader comfortable) and disrupt this same cycle/asymmetry (dehabituating the space—creating art) is revealed. Because change and cycles define gesture-sound within word, the shift from consonant to consonant (shaping) and gesture to gesture (effort) assumes the focus of this section.

In a section of “TH M ATTER” with no vowels, Torres uses repetition and disruption of consonant ordering and reordering: “Wht wll mv/Th wht/Wll mv/Th wll//Mv th mout” (108). Breaking down the words into phonemes produces: [w], [h], [t], [l], [Ø], [m], [v]. The arrangement and rearrangement of these phonemes serves to create a sound-gesture experience that dehabituates the expectation of the reader and, thus, demands presence—embodiment—empathy. Consonant production is a function of “voicing, place of articulation, and manner of articulation” (Shriberg and Kent 82). If we compare the effort of producing sound to the effort of producing gesture, then voicing and place speak to flow, whereas manner relates to space, weight, and time. This effort, in combination with the shape of the gesture-sound, creates effort-shape. Voicing is described as voiced or voiceless, place as bilabial/labiodental/interdental/alveolar/ palatal/palatal-velar/glottal, and manner as stop/nasal/fricative/affricate/liquid (lateral or rhotic)/glide (Kent & Shriberg 63). The phoneme bank created in this section of text ([w], [h], [t], [l], [Ø], [m], [v]) is transcribed as: [w] = voiced labial and velar glide; [h] = voiceless glottal fricative; [t] = voiceless lingua-alveolar (apical) stop; [l] = lingua-alveolar lateral; [Ø] = voiceless lingua-dental fricative; [m] = bilabial nasal; [v] = voiced labiodental fricative. The phoneme bank is translated for a) place: [w] = both lips, tongue dorsum and velum; [h] = vocal folds; [t] = tongue tip and ridge behind teeth; [l] = tongue tip and ridge behind teeth; [Ø] = tongue tip and teeth; [m] = both lips; [v] = lips and teeth; and b) manner: [w] glide; [h] = fricative; [t] = stop; [l] = lateral; [Ø] = fricative; [m] = nasal; [v] = fricative. To deconstruct “manner” into elements of effort—how it is produced—(in the language of LMA), the bank expands to include:  [w] glide = sustained (time), light (weight), direct (space) = GLIDING (effort); [h, Ø, v] = fricative = sustained (time), light (weight), indirect (space) = FLOATING (effort); [t] = stop = quick (time), strong (weight), direct (space) = THRUSTING (effort); [l] = lateral liquid = quick (time), light (weight), indirect (space) = FLICKING (effort); [m] = nasal = sustained (time), strong (weight), direct (space) =  PRESSING (effort).

The site of gesture becomes: lips-tongue-folds-tip    lips-tongue-teeth-ridge   lips-lips-teeth    /tongue-tip-teeth     lips-tongue-tip-teeth…. The direction of the piece is forward focused. The gesture sequence (effort-shape) becomes: Glide-Float-Thrust   Glide-Flick-Flick    Press-Float    /Float    Glide-Float-Thrust    /Glide-Flick-Flick   Press-Float   /Float   Glide-Flick Flick   //Glide-Float   Float   Float-Breath-Thrust. The pulse becomes a float for breath to fill, to sustain, to levitate. The moments where Flick and Thrust disrupt the pulse/breath change the physiology of the body of work and, thus, the physiology of the reader—the gesture change is what moves the piece; moves the reader.

The effort-shape graph in LMA is accompanied by a sensation of movement correlate. Sensation in the body produces and is produced by pulse, breath, and effort (the shift of exertion), thus, inhabiting the gestures with feeling-states. A float aligns with the sensation of suspension; glide with elation; press with sinking; flick with excitement; and thrust with dropping. The sensation of the movement translates to: elate-suspend-drop elate-excite-excite   sink-suspend/  suspend    elate-suspend-drop/   elate-excite-excite/   sink-suspend/  suspend   elate-excite-excite//elate-suspend   suspend   suspend-Breath-drop. “Wht wll mv/Th wht/Wll mv/Th wll//Mv th mout.” The simultaneous production of sound and gesture is held within these words—these lines—this text. The reader inhabits the consonants and experiences the exertion of the breath score, the rhythm of the text. The question of what moves what—what acts and acts upon—with will-intention-effort, or not, becomes the experience of the “mout,” the mouth.

Eastern Body; Western Mind

Leyton’s theory that shape is memory, an engagement within time that makes the recoverability of history an act of presence, in the present, is physically manifested in the study of chakras. These energy centers, nodes—nadis—in the body, follow the plumb line previously described in the analysis of pulse/horizon line of a piece. Anodea Judith in her text Eastern Body Western Mind negotiates the threshold between the western psychology from which Leyton writes and the eastern yogic tradition of energy/shape embodiment. Leyton’s principles of symmetry/asymmetry resonate with Judith’s analysis of the excess/deficiencies at each chakra in the body. Leyton and Judith share sinusoids; share graphical representations; share an investigation of balance/imbalance and the trace left behind. The fifth chakra, the site of creativity, sound, and voice at the throat, “vissudha, means ‘purification’…the vibrational refinement that takes place as we rid the body of toxins, speak truthfully and authentically, and as we work through the issues of the lower chakras” (Judith 296). Remediation of the written word on the page shares the same vision, to discontinue practices of “disembodied communication,” through the cultivation of a Poetics of Empathy (Judith 290).

“Our modern world bombards us with dissonance—vibrations that we tune out of our conscious mind while our body and nervous system continue to endure” (Judith 288). Chakras embody both breath and pulse as waves; just as quantum physics recognizes the particle-wave continuum, so the continuum of energy-effort-shape exists within the body. Experiencing the body, deeply listening, inhabiting the structure bring attention to these underlying vibrations and the sites of trauma: the blocks/ruptures, embodied, held, and asymmetries, the memory as shape. Sound, voice, language, and gesture are the manifestations of these embodied memories that through the written word become a symbol. The symbol as structure—as inhabitable space. The architecture of energy: “Symbols can be seen as the vibrational essence of what they represent. They are the building blocks of communication and consciousness…when a symbol really speaks to us then we are said to resonate with it” (Judith 292). In the Poetics of Empathy, sound, gesture, and word are compositional units of this architecture and exist as a dialectic, as a three, as an asymmetry where all parts are recoverable with equal value.

Chakras function as physical embodiments of asymmetries/symmetries. Judith agrees with Leyton: “Resonance is a state of synchronization among vibrational patterns” and “resonant frequencies tend to bond together…rhythm entrainment or sympathetic vibration” (292, 294). The nodes, the coordinates along the horizon line that are neutral, are comparable to the nadis, the wheels along the body’s plumb (prana) line that are neutral. There are seven chakras, each with its own environmental, psycho-social, spiritual, and energetic representations. There is a horizon line, a balance that exists within each wheel and simultaneously within the whole of the system. Deficiency/excess energy can be experienced at each level. This imbalance correlates to Leyton’s asymmetry principle. “If we do not express the vibration, the impact is stored in the body as stress. The natural flow of vibration through the body is interrupted and energy comes in but does not go back out” (Judith 305). The Poetics of Empathy holds the space for this block to be recognized (awareness) and inhabited (discernment). Bringing consciousness to the manifestation of the languaged block liberates. “A resonant field makes coherent connections with the outside world…the greater our internal resonance, the more deeply we can resonate with those around us” (Judith 295). The 3rd mind—the space between reader/writer, text/intent—can be appreciated; the page can be inhabited.

The egressive nature of the English language, the emphasis of the breath leaving the body, lends itself to the intoning practice of the chakra vowel sounds as a means to listen to the energy of the body and the body of work. “Vowel production is a matter of shaping the vocal tract so that its resonance frequencies reinforce selected harmonic components of the laryngeal tone. The human vocal tract has several effective resonance frequencies, and their combined effect on the laryngeal tone yields a vowel sound. As the vocal tract is changed in shape and length, its resonance frequencies change and the vowel quality therefore changes” (Kent and Shriberg 309). Each chakra holds a different frequency (evidenced in aural color and sound seed) and can be scanned along the body’s pranic plumb line (the spine): Ohh, Oooo, Ahh, Ayy, Eeee, Mmm, Nngg (Kent and Shriberg 328). Listening with both the ear (sound) and body (gesture), the energy speaks: where is there resonance, dissonance, emptiness? Just as the body can be scanned for vowel seed resonance, a poem can be intoned. Intoning the poem at the vowel level prompts the body to engage the breath score present. The embodiment of the breath score reveals the rhythm, and de facto the pulse of the piece. The poem becomes “‘movement making sound’ and  [looking] for a place where the movement and sounds are a coordinated vibration that runs through your whole being” (Judith 324). The word is not a symbol of word, it is a shape, an architecture of energy: sound/gesture, pulse/breath, particle/wave—nondualities—dialectic representations. “Although sound may be the primordial ingredient of existence, it is consciousness—created from its vibrational impact that creates and maintains the very web of life” (Judith 336). In a Poetics of Empathy, deeply listening to the text is an ecosomatic experience contingent upon consciousness as the recognition of the text completed by the reading in the reader.

Texts with parataxis—open scores—invite the reader into the energetic architecture. An architecture is not a building until it is defined by what space it holds; a shape is not a memory until it is recovered; a chakra is not visible or recognizable except by what dissonance/resonance it manifests in body-mind; a gesture is not articulated without the effort change; a sound is not articulated without the shape of breath; a text is not dharmic art without the space to recover shape to resound energy to articulate experience to inhabit the page.

Figure 6


Edwin Torres emphasizes practice, process, and experiment in the generation, re-visioning, and performance/publication of his art. He is the experiment that lives his text. He hosts a contemplative space where his intention, the “prana,” conception, energy that existed in his body-mind when composing from pre-language (sound-gesture) the words, AND the parataxis, openness of the text for the reader to enter, can both be held: nondual, dialectic, dialogic—space for empathy. The energetic architectures represented by the chakras (wheels of energy in the body) intersect with the prana—conception of sound-gesture—and its manifestation—the word. The 3rd mind (word) can be processed in the body—re-enactment of the text. As previously stated, the frequency of each chakra is relative to the Sushumna, (pulse-base-horizon line/note) and varies at the six embodied sites and the seventh transcendental space. Just as the body of work was scanned for pulse, breath, and effort, it can also be scanned for energy. Using the vowel seed sounds correlative of each energetic site, a scan of Torres’ “TH M ATTER” can reveal enviro-pyscho-social states held as blocks—traumas, ruptures, scars—recoverable by the reader of the text. Inhabiting the sites of debris, waste, pain, and violence in the form of excess and deficient energy is an invitation to occupy the resonance and dissonance in one’s own body, as well as the collective body of the text. It is a site for survival, remediation, and healing. A Poetics of Empathy asks for dharmic art and gives the space for healing: the space for inhabiting the other without judgment, violence, or pretense-pretext.

Torres removes vowels at certain places in the text. Vowels are the breath—the prana—of the piece. He invites the reader to resuscitate the space. In this open text, the reader and writer resonate the essence of the Gayatri Mantra: all things arise from an ever renewable source, once we realize that we are not separate, but a part of that source, we become the peace we seek. We become the piece we read.

In “TH M ATTER,” the vowels sustained, removed, and focused upon are the ah sound of the ego—3rd chakra—Manipura; the ee sound of the throat—fifth chakra—Vissudha; and the nng/silence sound/unsound of the consciousness—seventh chakra—Sahasrara. These sounds emanate from the text, and when they are internalized by the body of the reader (or by hearing Edwin perform the piece), then amplification or deconstruction, resonance or dissonance, can reveal the blocks/ruptures in the work as well as if the natural frequency of the reader is in synch or out of synch with this experience. Texts can repulse, seduce, enthrall, elate, excite, nauseate, deter, disturb, depress, rejoice, alienate, crush, enclose, love…the reader: this should not be taken lightly. A Poetics of Empathy respects the sensitivity of the reader’s natural frequency and acknowledges both the violence and healing that can occur from inhabiting the words. Torres creates tension between these three sites: the ego that asks who will move the mouth and why; the throat that spreads and struggles to express, communicate, manifest visions and experiences through voice; and the consciousness that must be present for the balance of listening-speaking, expressing-receiving, offering-taking to dynamically occur. His content and form merge and unmerge, intersect and dissect and bisect and inspect AND. He leaves echoes, traces, ghosts for the reader to follow. Ego thrusts and retreats from the solar plexus: “Lv mi a/ [ah]————lone” and “Exit/ stnce” echoed in the rephrasing of existence as “Man/ stnce.”  This intersects with the 3rd chakra manifesting through the throat by the alternating stress and absence of ee:  “——i mean/ —–i mean/Look—-i mean…im heer” with “ reducd to bone/ bod/ squar/ pag” asking the space what will move the “world” forward and subsequently the “word” and “not word.”  The skills to create or express are only as valuable as those to listen and receive. Gertrude Stein defines genius as the capacity to “listen and speak at the same time.” Edwin Torres in this piece, in this text, in this life, does both. The stress on the absent ngg sound and the silence that slows the pulse of the piece works energetically to create the space to cultivate consciousness—to tap into not just the piece, but the process behind the piece and the intent that environment produced. “Of nth———–ig” and “I ws kiss——–ig” and “How s/ Th breath ng/ Differn t” reinforces the concept and experience of slowing down, becoming a part of the text, and remaining present to deeply listen and respond to the moments of dehabituation-asymmetry-distinguishability, the recoverability of the intent—the empathetic occupation of the poem.

Occupy Word: a call to action OR Inhabiting the Text: from construct to construction OR Poetics of Empathy: a call for resuscitation and remediation of the written word

Leyton’s investigation of the psychology of art in Symmetry, Causality, Mind, utilizes western proofs (mathematics and the accompanying logic) to dismantle the western concept of “beauty” and “perfection” [symmetry] and embrace the “trace” and “process” in art [asymmetry]. His theory functions as a text of resistance. The problem with texts of resistance, using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house,[11] is that they flip the binary but maintain the unremediated, often violent language that created the situation to begin with. Leyton’s text opens the space for discussing the inhabitability/recoverability of gesture-sound in words to western critiques, yet it is in the application of eastern energetic practices that the experience of the ecosomatic frame and the Poetics of Empathy can be processed bodily. Valuing experiential processing and conceptual processing allows the ecosomatic frame to function not as another text of resistance, but rather a text of survival—a cyborg—a place for transliterature. This is not a hybrid frame of existing literary criticisms/theories—vertically reproducible—but rather, a fusion, a symbiosis—horizontal engulfment—of the contemporary canon of somatic writers. Into this space, Anodea Judith’s Eastern Body Western Mind is provided as a companion text to the conceptualization present in Leyton’s work. In the Poetics of Empathy, these texts collaborate, corroborate, and negotiate the threshold of mind-body, listening-speaking, reading-writing, and eastern-western.

A Poetics of Empathy investigates “embryo, tumor, and scar” in the body, reach, punctum, and rupture in the text, and sinusoids, asymmetries, and algorithms in art, and provides an entry point into the cycle of creation-preservation-destruction. While this essay addresses the practice of inhabiting the word, and, thus, the energetic intention of the text, it does not define parameters for maintaining a safe space for this occupancy to occur. In order to process poetry experientially and conceptually in a nonviolent environment it would be beneficial to present further practices and methodologies in maintaining the integrity of the space and the relationship between the reader-writer-text. In this continued discussion, the Poetics of Empathy would hold the space for practicing poetry as a way to cultivate kinesthetic empathy and poetry as a practice of teaching kinesthetic literacy.

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