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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Tham

the body electric 2

Updated: Feb 8

We will sing the body electric to celebrate the SYC to come.

Post 2 is a collection of thoughts on the making of this SYC60 song-project of ours—

the writing of text, wrestling with memory–place–voice–legacy burdens and Whitman–Ogunbiyi* influences.

Whitman is wordy, maximalist, influencer to the Beats, longwinded and free, authentic. In the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass—self published and bound, before the pride of discovery became humourless arrogance, before Song of Myself had a title—we find the bugle boy and drummer, the not-myself who looks beyond the crowd to what is untried and afterward; the Everyman, bequeathed to dirt to grow from the grass. It is a philosophical outline of life, the universe, Becoming, and Being. Listen to this :

I am an acme of things accomplished, and I an encloser of things to be.

Read as—we are fruit of ages past, and seed of untold ages to come.

In SYC-speak :

Who we are is the sum of all the voices we've embodied.

Who we are is what we sing.

What we sing gives birth to new Song.

You will sing from a body electric.*

You will be a poet of the body.

You will know you are solid and sound; all are written to you and you must get what the writing means.

You will acknowledge red, yellow, white, playing within you, and consider green and violet and the tufted crown intentional.

You will encompass words and volumes of worlds with the twirl of your tongue.

You will celebrate the smoke of your own breath.

You will savour the sound of the belched words of your voice, words loosed to the eddies of the wind.

You will engirth, be engirthed by, the bodies of men and women, beautiful curious breathing laughing flesh.

You will hear what the talkers are talking, the talk of the beginning and the end.

You will do nothing for a long time but listen, and let sounds sum up your Being.

You will merely stir, press, feel with your fingers, and be happy.

You will take your place in the procession with measured and beautiful motion.

You will know in your body what note comes next, even though you have nothing, yet, to call them.

You will not know what is untried and afterward, but you know it will be sure and alive and sufficient.


*Some of these words are mine, others selected from Whitman (both 1855 and 1892 editions), some inspired by the marginalian's take on Richard Powers' 2003 novel The Time of Our Singing.

The lines beginning with "You will ..." are part of my ongoing Ode to Ogunbiyi, a visual artist based in Lagos, Nigeria. She titles her drawings / paintings / installations / sculptures starting with You will ... , a call for us to play, to imagine, to heal, to act, to compose, to connect. We encountered her work at the Tinguely Museum in Basel, 8 December 2023.

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