Write on the Periphery: Megan Kaminski Visits Writers in Community

By Ellie Swensson

In Megan Kaminski’s workshop on September 10th, she asked us to write on the periphery of a subject we were unable or unwilling to address directly. She told us to walk around it, touch it in passing, trace its borders, feel the adjacent, and locate the subject through this process of concentric, constricting circling.

Identify meaning through the absence of the thing itself,

untouchable, unspeakable, shaped

by its shadow

and shadow alone.

Through this ten minute free-write exercise I failed to find a topic I was afraid to write, but from that failure emerged a subject I had never addressed in any of my work: honor.

I write:

I write about everything I have held in my head and heart and body, so why is no thing left unturned? Where is this honor?

            When I was a child, the phrase “Honor thy mother and father” seemed completely void of logic.

                        I value myself and value others above the relationships between us.

                        I do not compromise for the sake of it rather only for the sake of  something larger (the definition of which I determine conveniently on my own).

                        I tell my lovers everything; I do not fear how my words will affect them as long as it is an honest portrayal of where I stand.

After the free-write, Megan asked us to pair off and begin a three step process of 1.) sharing our work with our partner, 2.) embodying what our partner shared with us through a bodily gesture and 3.) performing this gesture for our partner. The goal of the exercise, she explained, was “to bring your partner’s experience into your own body.”

I found a partner. I read my piece. I watched the embodiment of my writing–right foot stepped forward, head tilted back, arms extended and then raised up towards the ceiling–

spread impressive

and thin

like cellophane.

He heard the pride.

I see the absence.

“This is a way to use the connections between each other to learn more about our own experiences,” Kaminski said.

I wrote a poem about translation. I wrote a poem about connotation. I wrote a poem about the shame of pride and the constant battle to be understood.


Ellie Swensson is a first year MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. She graduated from Denison University in 2011 with a BA in Creative Writing and Religious Studies, and she won the Ohio Poetry Association’s William Redding Poetry Prize in 2012.