A Body of Words: The Apologetic Body

Helen MortMCRf

The body is a strange home. Our relationship with our bodies is characterised by a deep ambivalence that we grapple with, inevitably, on a daily basis. We both live inside our bodies, and in complex ways attempt to elude them. This panel presents perspectives from creative writers and academics on the female body and the urge to apologise for it, looking at how bodies are represented in literature from the perspective of readers and writers. How does our ambivalence about the body express itself in the tendency to apologise and how might we become unapologetic in our physicality? Creative and critical perspectives are combined.

Hunger (Dr Muzna Rahman)

Lecturer in English, Manchester Metropolitan University

Muzna’s paper explores how the body is inscribed and read, focusing on the notion of weight. This paper looks at the writing of Roxanne Gay – specifically her memoir ‘Hunger’ – from the perspective of literary food studies, and explores the abjectification of the racially and aesthetically othered obese female body. It examines the politics of space (both space given to, and space taken up) and subjectivity in the context of the ‘too-big’ female somatic self. The epigraph to Hunger reads: ‘Every body has a story and a history.’ Whilst agreeing with the sentiment, Muzna argues for rephrasing it: ‘every body IS a story, and a history.’ This paper explores the female body-as-text, and explores its insertion and function in the social.

Sorry, My Fault (Dr Helen Mort)

Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, Manchester Metropolitan University

In 2019, Helen was commissioned by Radio Three to write a series of essays exploring her tendency to over-apologise, to say sorry when it might not be warranted. This practice-based paper reflects on that experience, examining how female poets use the concept of apology to write about their bodies, particularly in relation to sexual assault and the ‘MeToo’ movement. It links the concept of being ‘at fault’ to the physical notion of a fault line - a fissure or crack in the ground - and to the female body. It draws on poems by Hannah Copley, Layli Long Soldier and Alan Buckley. Helen’s own creative work often seeks to apologise, but she has also written about unapologetic female figures, from early mountaineers to Hull’s Lilian Bilocca, a fishwife and strident political campaigner who faced abuse from the media because of her weight. She reflects on how the two impulses - to apologise and to celebrate those who do not apologise - combine in her writing, how often apology contains a paradox.

Unchecked States (Dr Hannah Copley)

Lecturer in Creative Writing, University of Westminster

In this practice-based paper, Hannah will examine the idea of the apologetic body through the lens of pregnancy and sickness. In particular, she will focus on the experience and representation of extreme morning sickness, and explore how the inability to control or ‘inhibit’ the functions of the body in this context might allow – or even force – a wider renegotiation with secrecy, confession, and personal and creative editing. Drawing upon the writing of Denise Riley, Holly Pester and Sandeep Parmer, and reading pieces from her own upcoming collection, Hannah will ask what it means to produce an unapologetic body of words; a form and content that seeks to emit rather than omit its own ambivalence.

Sun 1:00 pm - 2:15 pm