Welcome to This Week in Books, where we highlight books just released by small and independent presses. Books have always been a symbol for and means of spreading knowledge and wisdom, and they are an important part of our toolkit in fighting for social justice. If we’re going to move our national narrative away from one of hate and fear, we need books that display empathy, that help us understand different points of view, that show us we aren’t alone, that feed our spirits.
This week we’ll look at The Color She Gave Gravity (The Operating System, March 2017), a debut poetry collection by queer, disabled dancer and poet Stephanie Heit. These intersecting identities and ways of being and moving in/through the world are on full view in Heit’s poems.
The poems have a distinct sense of movement about them, graceful and measured, rooted in the physical, but always with a sense of how our emotions and states of mind affect our bodies. A dancer first, Heit took up poetry when debilitating mental illness precluded her from her first art form.
The collection is deeply informed by Heit’s struggle with mental illness, hospitalizations, and a close brush with suicide. She actually included an earlier version of the manuscript with a suicide note that asked her family to find a publisher. Thankfully for her readers, she survived that period and with her partner’s help was able to finish The Color She Gave Gravity.
How she did so is an interesting blend of performance art and poetry, a sort of call and response between her and her partner, between movement and language.
She notes in an interview on the publisher’s website:
I initiated overhaul and revision through working with the manuscript in authentic movement. This practice involves following impulse and desire to move with eyes closed while being witnessed. I took lines and invited the words to take new shapes. I spoke a line and then moved letting the language unfold. Then my partner offered a movement response based on her witnessing, and I jotted down a written response.
The result is a beautiful, moving collection that plumbs the depths of longing, living with—and surviving—mental illness, and the connection between body and mind. Indeed, Heit often uses the term “bodymind” to describe experiences in a holistic way. She suggests that mind and body are not separate from each other, but intrinsically linked. The experience of the mind shapes the body, and the experience of the body shapes the mind.
Heit does not limit this way of thinking to her own body and mind. In the same interview quoted above, Heit also says, “I want this book to live inside your body and to change and be changed by you. I want this book to make its own weather and supply umbrellas.”
Logo art by Max Winter.