Angie River will be teaching the upcoming class “The Five Senses and Four Elements: Connecting with Body and Nature Through Poetry” which begins on June 14th. This class will “help us to slow down, breathe deeply, and experience our bodies in this world.” Below is an interview with Angie about her class.
TLA Blog (TLA): How did you discover, learn about and experience the topic that you’ll be teaching?
Angie River(AR): When I was in college I had a professor, Bruce Goble, who introduced me to the concept of the ‘small noticing’ (a term coined by poet Samuel Green). The small noticing is essentially a focused, mindful, close observation turned into a concise, yet highly descriptive, sensory phrases or pieces of writing. The introduction to this concept made me start slowing down and noticing more things, especially in the natural world.
I began combining nature walks and exploration with writing in some of the classes I taught, and even had the opportunity to co-teach a class with a science instructor that brought together the worlds of biology and poetry! I also spent more time myself immersed in nature when writing. I found some of my best written reflection and contemplation happened when next to a campfire or when leaning against a piece of driftwood at the ocean.
As I age and learn more about myself, I have found the importance in my own personal life of slowing down, communing with the world around me, and turning inward in reflection. My hope is that the participants can use this class as an opportunity to do those things as well.
TLA: Which element do you find yourself writing the most through?
AR: I find peace at the ocean and find myself in life repeatedly drawn to Water, so find myself often writing about this element. However, I think that all the elements have such interesting qualities and can inspire our writing (and our lives!) in different ways. Recently a student in another class I teach wrote a piece with a line in it about the “grass muttering” and ever since I’ve been thinking a lot about the Earth element and the ways that the Earth speaks to us. I think that there are different phases in my life where I am drawn to different elements, as they each have distinct qualities and characteristics.
TLA: Who would benefit most from taking this class?
AR: This class is really great for anyone who wants to take some time to slow down and be more present in the world and within themselves. It is good for novice writers as well as those with more experience. It doesn’t matter where you live either, both rural and urban settings are fine, because we can find little bits of nature everywhere!
TLA: What can students in this class expect?
AR: Each week will have a different focus, and I will provide students with texts (articles, videos to watch, things to listen to, art to view, etc). There will be a few discussion questions where students respond to the texts and we engage in conversation around them as a class. Each week a different form of poetry will be introduced as well. Finally, there are three creative prompts provided each week from which students can pick to do some creative writing. We will engage in the natural world, as well as turn inwards to ourselves, in some way each week.
Specifically, Week One will begin with an overview of sensory-based writing and a discussion of the benefits of using the natural world as a way of talking about our bodies and selves. Weeks Two through Week Five will each focus on a different element – earth, air, water, and fire – and the ways we can connect with both with these elements and with our selves through writing. Week Six will bring the various writing we’ve done throughout the course together, and will be a time for reflection upon the previous weeks’ work.
My hope with this class is to create a space for students to be able to explore, where they will feel comfortable digging into new ideas and growing new creations.
TLA: Why is connecting to our senses so important in our writing practices?
AR: I think this can be looked at two ways…both in the way that improves our practice, and also in the way it improves our writing. In regard to our writing, I believe that sensory details are really the backbone. Sensory imagery brings writing to life, and can create a vivid picture for the reader.
Connecting to our senses is important in our writing practice, though, as it brings us into our bodies. When we write from a place where we are really connected to our selves, I believe we can more fully engage in our writing. We aren’t detached from it; it becomes more personal. Also, connecting to our senses gives us so many points of inspiration to write from! If going through our day unaware and disconnected we may not notice all the amazing details of life that we can write about, but when more tuned in with our bodies and senses, we are bombarded with material and inspiration, and one almost can’t help but want to write!
Angie River is a writer, educator, activist, and performance artist. She has taught writing workshops and done performances in various states across the country, and is published in “Tidepools Literary Magazine,” “Reading for Hunger Relief,” The Body is Not an Apology webpage, and the upcoming anthology “Queering Sexual Violence,” as well as having her own blogand zines. Angie fully believes in the power of writing to help us gain a better understanding of ourselves, to build connections and community, and to make personal and social change.