or carelessly misplaced Wood
made slate Walls made mouths
Danika Myers, poet and recent speaker at the BMA’s Big Table Connections
As a poet, I often find that writing in response to other art helps me to both sort through my thoughts about the work I’m interacting with and takes me writing in new directions. A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to work with Pam Stiles from The Loading Dock and several members of the community to consider and respond to Gedi Sibony’s sculpture All Her Teeth are Made of Slate. The writing exercise we incorporated into the event is a variation on one I often use to begin to respond to something in the world that compels me. If you have a chance to spend some time with Sibony’s sculpture, perhaps this exercise will help you find words to sort through your own responses to the evocative piece.
- Spend at least five minutes looking at and thinking about Sibony’s sculpture. Write down any thoughts that come to you–descriptions of the sculptural components, judgements, associations. Think about the title of the piece as well as its appearance and the material used to construct it.
- Find a quiet place to sit and write a bit more. You don’t necessarily need to be able to see Sibony’s work in order to move through the next steps. Try to move quickly and without over-editing or worrying about whether you are coming up with anything “good”—you’re just warming up.
- First close your eyes and think about your teeth. Run your tongue over them, open and close your jaw a few times and feel your upper and lower teeth connect, clench your jaw and then release it. When you open your eyes, list the first 3-8 words that occur to you in a column.
- Now think about your mother’s, your grandmother’s, or another woman’s teeth–preferably someone you know well and have strong feelings for. Picture her teeth, then add another 3-8 words to your list.
- Think about your daughter, your niece, or another person you knew as a child; think about her teeth when she was a baby, a child, and an adolescent. Add another 3-8 words to your list.
- Go to the top of your list, and next to each word, jot down the word that seems to you to be the opposite of the first word.
- Opposites are easy, but sometimes they aren’t all that interesting; let’s go someplace more interesting! Now, next to the word that is the opposite of the first word, write a word that sits just next to that word–a word that is somehow still in tension with the first word, but not directly opposing it.
- Finally, one more list: this time, use sound to help you come up with one more list of words. Choosing a word that sounds like the opposite but means something more like the original word might evoke both. Choosing a word that sounds like the original and means something only slightly different might just get you to a word that’s more precise and interesting. Ultimately, you might end up with a bunch of lists like these:
Original Opposite Tension Sound
ivory grey faded green (sounds like grey)
crooked straight polite stacked (sounds like both straight and crooked)
filled pristine silver-lined phony (sounds like both filled and pristine)
At this point you have a fairly large bank of words that you can use to move yourself in interesting directions as you return to All Her Teeth are Made of Slate. Go take another look at the piece, and then write a short poem or a paragraph that collects one response to it. Try to include at least one of the words from your word bank in each line of your poem, or at least two words from your bank in each sentence of your paragraph.
Still not sure how to start? Try using several of your words in a haiku, like the one created above! I’d love to see you share your poem or short response in the comments below.
Danika Myers is a poet and is a member of the First Year Writing Program faculty at the George Washington University. Her work has appeared in The Beloit Poetry Journal, Crab Orchard Review, and in Forklift, Ohio.