In spring 2022, I put on a series of three “liberation poetry workshops,” open to the public. They explored the themes of “feeling,” “sex and desire,” and “freedom.” I designed them to be reflective, vulnerable, cathartic, fully-felt sessions, exercises in using language to understand ourselves and our experiences and spaces for community-building.
These workshops can be self-guided and completed asynchronously (45min each), or led by a facilitator as a group workshop (1hr each). They can be used in settings ranging from a 10th grade English classroom, a creative writing workshop, a political organizing meeting, a small group of friends in a dorm room, or by yourself in bed. Both versions of the Google Slides are provided below, so you can use and adapt them however you want!
In her essay “Uses of the Erotic,” Lorde discusses the importance of full, embodied feeling through her concept of the “erotic.” She describes the erotic as a deep mode of engaging with the self and the world that depends not only on what we do, but on “how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing” (54). This deep level of attention to the body, from the body, applies to every kind of moment, activity, or feeling, whether it’s an intellectual examination of an idea, the mechanical actions of “building a bookcase,” or the creative action of “writing a poem” (57). Engaging the erotic thus offers a fullness and richness of everyday feeling—it “heightens and sensitizes and strengthens” all aspects of experience (57).
This then informs our understanding of our responsibility to ourselves and to others. When we “live from within outward” in a way that is informed by the erotic, feeling deeply and becoming aware of our capacity for joy, we become “responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense”—holding ourselves to the highest standard of pursuing joy and acting in internally resonant ways at every moment (58). This becomes the basis for a “deep participation” with each other and a commitment to each other’s joy and liberation, providing energy and stakes for pursuing change in the world.
I created these workshops in order to explore the erotic as a theory of liberation that engages with our lived, material present as well as opening possibilities for the future, individually and collectively. In the introduction to her book and guide Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint, June Jordan describes poetry as a “medium for telling the truth” (8)—a practice of claiming and crafting language to name and make sense of the self and the world. Her “Poetry for the People” courses she taught at UC Berkeley in the 1990s were crafted around the idea that rather than a sterile, high art form reserved for the white elite, poetry is a “political action” (3) that young and oppressed people especially should take to claim power. Poetry allows you to “tak[e] control of the language of your life” (3). Pamela Stafford, a former student who became a teaching assistant in the course, writes: “Words have tremendous power. When an individual can name her circumstance, name her pain, name herself, she becomes an active agent in her world” (57).
Modeling my work on Jordan’s, I wanted to explore poetry as a methodology for getting in touch with and practicing the erotic. This project began with two broad questions: how can we pursue the erotic through aesthetics? And how can that project be not only individual, but collective?
I designed the workshops’ general structure to encourage people to engage with their life experiences and develop erotic attunement. Before each workshop, I asked participants to “bring a poem, paragraph, quote, song lyric, dialogue, or any piece of language that’s resonated with you recently” on that workshop’s theme. This invited them to spend a moment identifying and reliving a feeling through how it was provoked or encouraged by a text, asking them to practice erotic engagement and begin to draw a connection between word and feeling before we started generating our own language. Then, in the journaling section, I provided guiding questions that asked participants to list as many moments of a kind of experience as came to mind, and pick one to describe in further sensory detail, including what was in their head, body and surroundings at that time. This asked participants to reflect on and search their felt experiences to identify important moments, then lean deeply into meticulously recovering and naming their embodiment of one of those moments, both of which require a practice of erotic self-engagement. For the final section of generating poetry, I invited participants to make something with language that captured, clarified or investigated anything from their journaling and reflections, asking them to practice using language to understand and claim something about their experiences.
Participants found the workshops to be really powerful experiences! People who had never met before were sharing deeply and vulnerably about their life experiences and made new relationships. I came away from each session with some new language for understanding my mental health struggles, flexible forms of intimacy, and the joy of spring. I hope this can be generative to you in some way!