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Jochem Naafs // Teacher
IDOCs » Lecture on Poetics/ Poetic Lecture (complete text)
Since it is nice to share, and since many of you asked for the text, I share it with you here: the text I read to you during the 4th IDOCDE sympisium. "I will try to talk about something I do as a teacher at the theatre school in Utrecht and the dance academy in Arnhem: giving poetic feedback. So this is my lecture on poetics. I would also like to share my writing of yesterday and today: this is my poetic lecture."

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Lecture on Poetics/ Poetic Lecture
Jochem Naafs

Thank you all for being here after an intensive and inspiring day. I will try to talk about something I do as a teacher at the theatre school in Utrecht and the dance academy in Arnhem: giving poetic feedback. So this is my lecture on poetics. I would also like to share my writing of yesterday and today: this is my poetic lecture. I would like to start with reading a poem to you I wrote half a year ago, titled:

Next to each other
Two men on stage
Both sitting
They are both sitting

Two men on stage
Both moving
They are both moving    

Still they are moving
On their chairs
On their stage
To the sound of
No music

A score in a notebook
The rhythm
The tempo
A score in a notebook
The words
And numbers
The words
Are actions
The words
Represent actions
And they
They are

Two men on stage
Both bold
Wearing identical shoes
Moving identically
But just

Hand gestures
And arm gestures
And poor gestures
Rich gestures
No legs
They are too expensive

Two men on stage
Both sitting
They are both sitting
At home

Rehearsing and repeating
Repeating and rehearsing
They are not meeting
They are not meeting
They are just sitting
Next to each other
And moving

This is one of the poems I wrote last February after I visited the performances Both Sitting Duet and Body Not Fit for Purpose by Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to read them to Jonathan and Matteo myself that evening. Instead I e-mailed them to Jonathan later.

He replied: “These are super nice Jochem thank you, precise and open and rhythmic but not at all insistent. You have cheered my day and livened it with thinking.”

Of course I cannot know to what extent he thought about my words or re-thought his own practice, let alone that I know what he thought about. But still, it made me aware, once again of the power of poetic language.

Poetic language
I do not consider myself a poet
I haven’t published any poetry
I do write texts that I perform
I do enjoy the rhythm in spoken language
I do enjoy writing
I do enjoy repeating myself
I do enjoy writing
I do enjoy repeating myself
I do enjoy writing
I also work with objects
I use them as containers for my memories
Unfortunately they are expensive
Just like the legs of Jonathan and Matteo
Unfortunately they are expensive
To take with you on a plane to Vienna
So today
You will have to listen
There is not much to see
You will have to listen
Or watch the people around you
Listen to me
Or doing something that is
More important
More necessary
Or unnecessary
Or unimportant

In the proposal I wrote to the organizing committee of the weekend: In the last years I have developed a method of giving poetic feedback to students in addition to the feedback they will normally get. I often write these texts during or immediately after presentations and read them out loud for them shortly after. Although this form of feedback might not be required, and could be considered irrelevant at times, it is very much appreciated by my students. It challenges them to take next steps instead of thinking about what they have done already and it stimulates associations rather than directions. I would be interested to create a lecture performance for the upcoming IDOCDE symposium that has a framework that discusses the general ideas, but has the possibility to include text that I write during the symposium itself. To be able to do this, it would be most interesting to be scheduled quite late in the programme.

So here I find myself. Reading to you all.
So here I find myself. Reading what I wrote.
Texts from then
And texts from now
That might be debated
At the kitchen table

Yesterday I found myself. Sitting here in Vienna
Yesterday I found myself. Writing here in Vienna
I found myself
Observing and sitting
Observing and writing
But I did not write about what I saw

I do not write about what I felt. I wrote for you
I do not write about what I felt. I wrote for today
Trying to contextualize
A practice
Trying to illustrate
A praxis
Trying to pin down
A poiesis
Of how I make
Of how I write

Nevertheless I do not want to explain too much. I do wish to explain a bit about the underlying ideas of feedback through poetry. My ideas about poetic feedback fit into a larger research project I am working on regarding various forms of performative research. Today I do not wish to dive to deep into the subject of performative research as such, but it might be nice to share one quote with you from Hanne Seitz. She argues that performative research “does not aim to capture reality in graphs or to describe it in words; nor does it set out to test existing hypotheses, pursue existing questions, or document processes. Rather, it aspires to be one with practice, to activate tacit knowledge, and generate new insights – both on the part of the researchers and the research subjects – while processing, dealing with, and handling practice (Seitz 2012: 4)”.

These next words are based on what
I could do
And maybe I missed
What I couldn’t do:

An arsenal
Transformed into
A sunny gathering
Of tank-tops
And flip-flops
Flooding with people
When a workshop stops
Waiting for the opening
Performance Lecture
With children in the pool
Trying to cool
Down from this summer gathering

And then, slowly
Slowly, very slowly
We race
We race with cups
Filled to the brim
With water
Refilled with water
Alone or
In a rare case
We race
A ritual
Of de-rushing
Agon, ilinx and mimicry

Are Gut für Österreich
And good for you
While we watch
The last person racing
And wait for the gnome
To appear on stage
The gnome is breathing
The gnome is practicing
Being useless
Or being lazy
Is it even possible on stage?
To be useless?
While the door is squeaking
Opening and closing
Maybe the thing the most useless
Is her belt
Is it even possible on stage?
To be useful?
Useful for trade
Laziness is only aloud when
You make lots and lots of money
Through speculation
Loose money and waste time
Through poetry
It doesn’t earn you money, thus
Poetry is useless productivity
The universal declaration of the human right to uselessness,
So says the garden gnome.

Am I un-working
When I write these words
Am I being useless?
Or am I a fallow field?
Writing redundant words down
To be more efficient

Talking about poetry makes my think of the origin of the word, poiesis: “to make”. Poiesis is an action, as praxis is. But praxis is about the action itself, while in poiesis it is about the production of something. So while we dance, while we make music, while we perform, our action is a praxis. While we are preparing this, while we are rehearsing, making a score, writing words, the action is a productive action: poiesis.

While the feedback we tend to give tends to come from a more theory, theoria, as Aristotle defines the third form of action: thinking. We might produce something through this thinking, either in writing or in words, but the main emphasis is on the thinking about the work the students creates. When writing poetry, one cannot just think, one has to act; one has to produce something that is also a ‘product’ on itself.

21 years already?
Not waiting
But another one
Which is not in Swedish
Waiting in the margins
From South-Ossetia and Abkhazia
In Georgia
Using art
To reflect
But they didn’t know
What they were doing
In the beginning
They didn’t know
But it was fun
And then they were showing
What was in their hearts?
But how can you select
7 out of 30 or 40
How do you not hurt
The others?

Children in trees
Children in school
Children in shadow
Discovery is cool

A patriarch entering
And turning away
Discussing this with children
To know what’s at bay

What is the feeling
When you think back of the house you left?
An interior drama
In black and in red
And dreams that are always
Only in red

Children taking care of their parents
Children not being victims
Children being proud of their friend
Children being filmed throughout

They were playing
They were telling
They were making
They were performing
They were sharing

If you want to see it again
You can see it online

The muses
Who else then the muses were capable of creating, of making through translating the epic deeds of the Greek gods into poetry? The muses didn’t just re-tell these stories. They re-created them through reflection. Without the muses neither gods nor men would have known or remembered the stories.

Through their poetry the muses created a certain counterforce. Not of the aggressive type, but of the type that might be considered morally “right”, as Bart van Rosmalen wrote in his dissertation Muzische professionalisering.

In his work Bart van Rosmalen talks of Muzische distantie en Muzische tegenkracht. In his summary he uses the work artistic as a translation for muzisch, but I think it is also important to mention that muzisch is ‘muse-like’ or ‘musical’. So we could talk of muse-like distance and muse-like counterforce.
He writes (in my translation): “The muses address our sensory experience and not our thinking and contemplating. The muses shed their light beyond our normal thinking frames. The muse-like creates an own world with its own rules. The performance by the muses creates a certain distance, a muse-like distance in which it drags both performers and listeners along into a shared experience.”

Van Rosmalen uses the verbs: narrate, play, create and share to elaborate on the qualities of the muses and the relevance of the muse-like distance and muse-like counterforce today. I will try and address them shortly as well and connect them to some of the reactions I got from this years graduates of ArtEZ Bachelor of Dance.

I will start with creation. As I mentioned before the act of writing poetry, is not just an act of thinking, of theoria, it is an act of poiesis, of production and creation. The deeds of the gods are done, but the translation of these deeds into words, music or something else, is in need of an artistic act of itself.

One of my recent graduates, João Dinis Pinho commented:

“I’m thinking if I should answer you in a poetic form, but somehow poetry for me has more to do with intention than anything else. Perhaps that’s what links it with contemporary dance, or the dance I am interested in. A work that might have no visual references, no movement beauty, nor harmony, but has an intention. Poetry has a role there too: when writing or reading a poem, one invests in abstraction, useful when performing or choreographing. Poetry works on form and content - known elements for a dancer/choreographer.”

The muses create a performance through narrating the stories they wrote. Their poetry is there to be told to others. This does something with both listener and narrator.
Madelyn Bullard commented: “Words become more like a material to work with, as opposed to relying on the connotative definitions of the meaning of words when strung together... Meaning stems also from their rhythm and sound, and experiences which happened over broad gaps of space and time can lie together on the same line. In that way, having a poem read at graduation felt like a mystic funnel used when cooking, a small but specific open space where important ingredients, gems of information, can collide like powder before mixing into the bowl of shared information that was the experience of the day…”

Within this action of narrating there also is a certain amount of playfulness. The story told, calls for an experience, associations, new interpretations. The audience is not passive; it is actively involved in the act of performing. This is even more the case if the text that is narrated is about them.
Van Rosmalen writes:

“For a while, during the performance, the normal borders and restrictions disappear: the rules of the protocol, the everyday frames and boxes, the hierarchical positions of power and our everyday cares.”

Madelyn Bullard again: “I think because of the abstract nature of poetry, its permission to tie together disparate jewels of information into a ramshackle necklace, without having to adhere to a totally transparent/cohesive logic, your poem did lend another kind of intelligence of message to me on graduation”

Through these acts of creating, narrating and playing there is a fourth one: sharing. This might be considered the underlying act. The muse-like activity of reading out a poetic text to an artist or student that is a reaction to her work, creates communality and strives for shared values. Descriptions, inspirations, associations are shared and there is certain form of sensemaking.

And still it is critical, but through connecting
And still it is feedback, through association.

It is not about the beauty of the words and form. It is not about the beauty of poetry as such.

Sophie Mayeux observed: “I never made the connection between the fact that I can seem often away or absent and the fact that I work with the disappearance of the body on stage. Now, this seems to me obvious and logical but I’ve never thought about it like that before. So, yes, poetry can be seen as useful feedback.”

I want to start standing up
Walk to one direction
Touch and change
Make a figure eight
Smaller and smaller
Until we get stuck
Each other
Turn around
Each other
Until the gong
Says it’s enough

And we turn
And we look
At the place we were
And we return
And we turn again
And we look
And we move towards the floor
Over and over
And we create a circle
We breathe together
The space breathes with our bodies
In and out and in and out
And we shake hands
And we say thanks
For being warmed
And being touched
For getting to know
The morning

Other feedback methods
In the past and also in my current practice as a tutor and lecturer I have worked with various more and less structured feedback methods. Some of these proofed more useful then others. I would like to briefly touch upon two methods that were inspiring and useful for me.

I was introduced to Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process in 2009 and had a more thorough experience with it in 2011 when John Borstel visited Utrecht to work with some professionals in the dance field. The Critical Response Process is in short a four-step response process in which the artist is in the central position, but cannot function without the responders and the facilitator.

In 2014 I was introduced to the DasArts feedback method, developed at the master of theatre now known as DAS Theatre in Amsterdam. A more elaborate process with a wide variety of possible forms of giving feedback.

Both forms share some of the values that I described earlier: narrate, play, create and share. These feedback forms stress the position of the artist and more importantly on the work of art. They aim to rule out the first flush of opinions, either relevant or not, and postpone them to a moment in which the artist might be ready to work with these. Still they also emphasise the position of the responder as well and how a response is a communal act between responder and artist. It is about a certain generosity.

Being generous
Is not about gift-giving
Is about giving
Without expecting
A return
What would you give yourself?
What would you give your body?

Move your body
Not for a result
For the action itself
For the praxis

My body moves slowly
And suddenly
My arms sweep
I am watching her
I am watching me
Softly touching the finger
The hands
And then
Turning and turning
Around Peter
And again turning and turning
Around Peter
To the floor and end

I move blindfolded
Slowly, backward mostly
I get a bit bored
By my own moving
And then a touch
I get amplified; I follow
And it grows on me
I feel comfortable
I am willing to listen
To both myself and my partner
I feel generous
And then she suddenly
Has her personal agenda
I resist, I follow
Resist, sit down
I feel hesitant
I feel cooperative
And this combination
Is intriguing, is nice
It’s ambiguous, it’s generous

Subjective awareness
Comes out into writing down
Your thoughts and then
Talk these thoughts out
To someone else
Sharing them
And I did it
I wrote and now
I am speaking out to you all
Some hours later
And I still feel aware I still feel like being

What is done
This poetic feedback does not wish to replace these methods or others, it is a necessary or unnecessary, but for me important addition to these methods. It generates material that might proof useful and inspiring for both the artist and the responder.

What the muse creates is not about her. It is not the poet that matters; it is the subject of her work. Furthermore it is not about protocol, or evaluation forms or results. The poetry of the muses is about experiencing, about rapture. It’s about aesthetics and ethics, not about personal opinions.

And although it is not about the poet, it actually is about the poet as well. It is the poet who chooses to be just as vulnerable as her object. Just as vulnerable as Burrows and Fargion, just as vulnerable as first of fourth year dance students at on of our academies or conservatoires. The poet performs. I prefer to read my poetry to my students, but even the writing itself could be considered performative. Or the text performs through being read by someone else.

So I have been thinking about what I do when I write my poems. In the actual words I use tend to combine two main things. In my poems I include many descriptions. I write words and sentences down that I have heard. I name the objects or actions I see. Sometimes making connections, but very often just enumerate all of these. Next to the description I include, more cautiously, associations I have when watching and listening.  These can either connect various descriptions or be connected to something else. Next to these I tend to not reflect through content alone, but also through form. Working with repetition, tempo, dynamics et cetera. This challenges me to not only consider pragmatics and formal issues, but also aesthetics and ethical issues, which I consider important in giving feedback as a teacher.

Further development
A last point I would like to address regards something for further development or research. I would like to start to challenge my students to write poetry for each other. I already introduce them to another specific form of writing, which I call ‘Associative Writing’. In this method I associate and connect. I start writing and I always create complete sentences and complete paragraphs. But the paragraph that follows could contain something completely different, something that pops up in my thoughts when writing.

To some extent this associative writing is related to how I write my more poetic text, although it aims more on writing in a discursive matter. Being challenged by some of my colleagues I started to explicate my method in such a way that others could use it. I use it to write texts for performances, but also to rewrite minutes and to reflect on input of others. So my next step would be to see what’s needed to give enough to hold on to for others to write poetic feedback, without coming up with only restrains.

I just realized I brought a red pen
Instead of a blue one
I might have to swap it
But now I am writing in red
Not sure if I really pay attention
To the others
I am thinking about this afternoon
Which I do not want to do
Which I wont be able to not do
Pass it on
I pass it on

And then she lays her head
On my words
She touches them
With her hair
With her skin
Her periphery in the centre
Of my thoughts
We touch upon
We touch
We touch upon
And structures
In the performances
How do people move
Through space
If they are not able
To move anything
But the eyes
To different ends of the periphery
The different ends
It has to end
Not like this workshop
But really
Not like this lecture
But really

The italic texts within this lecture were inspired by The Use of Uselessness (Claudia Kappenberg), Politics of Necessity (Benno Voorham), Food for the Day (Trude Cone), Somatic Generosity (Deirdre Morris), Abilities for Inclusive Dance (Dorka Farkas) and the 4th IDOCDE symposium: The importance of being [un]necessary 2016 in general. Many thanks to all presenters and participants.

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