Writing the body, authentically

Friday, July 6, 2018
Quinn Eades interviewed by Elisa McTaggart

The body is the vessel through which we experience life. Through the body, we experience ourselves, our environment and other human beings. Our perception can be skewed by reflections, messages and stories in literature, the media and culture about what a ‘normal’ body is - stories that are often censored, biased and exclusive. We chatted to Quinn Eades ahead of his Winter School workshop, The Body, Writing, about his inspiration and passion for telling and portraying honest, authentic, raw and diverse stories of the body.


The body features prominently in your writing and has been a focus of your career. What inspires you to write from (rather than about) the body?

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write about the body; in particular, this body that types these responses, now. This body gets sick a lot, and is no stranger to emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, and more physio/ osteopathy/ acupuncture/ shiatsu/ massage tables than I can count. So I write these places, because it feels as if very few are writing them for me.

After giving birth to my eldest child, I was stunned at how unprepared I was for the gore in that birthing room. Lichor, blood, shit, tears, piss, and colostrum were the fluids that my baby came with. The heavy fug of iron, the sweet rot of defecation; holding him as I birthed placenta, not caring about the meaty push between my legs. It was at this moment I knew I needed to write birth, and then breastfeeding, in all its abject, leaky, glory. Later came sex, sadness, abuse, and a terrible year of addiction. Once I started writing, I focused on the ways that the abject body has been consistently written out of text, and sought to change that by writing a poetics of the abject – a love letter to the dis-ordered, undisciplined body.

How important do you think it is to have new voices representing the true diversity of human experience from the body?

It is absolutely vital to make space for new voices in text exploring lived, embodied, experience. When we read these texts, our bodies absorb them. Our bodies find strength and love in connection to other bodies. Our bodies teach us about desire, about imperfection, and most importantly, about difference.

We are living in extraordinary times. As quickly as the far right reaches for power, the rest of us write, dance, sing, paint, create, research, and protest (and yes, creative production is and can be protest). LGBTIQA+ bodies are writing and producing creative work that challenges learned assumptions about gender and sexuality. We are asking you to pay attention to the structures our understandings of bodies lie within. We are saying: ‘enough’.

What social change would you like to see in how embodiment is represented and addressed in literary culture?

I would like to see us stop framing conversations about ‘men’ and ‘women’ as if these are knowable, discrete, and clear distinctions we can make. I would like to see writers and readers embracing the abject. To know that those who birth have read enough stories for the labouring body to understand that birth is bloody, raw, and eviscerating (I think the body does know this, but we lock it in to a controlled and controlling medical framework that teaches us to not know our bodies. I would like to see bodies of difference written without fear of reprisal. To see/read bodies of difference in all states — leaking, birthing, limping, squirting, fucking, dancing, stretching, bending, and sometimes breaking — in the texts we produce and consume. I would like us to tell body-stories to our bodies, and find in those stories connection, discomfort, resonances, and possibly relief.

In your workshop, there will be some exercises which are set to music. How does music help you write?

Writers are strange beasts. What works for one in a writing practice may not work for others. I’ve run this workshop in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, London, Utrecht, and Amsterdam. Some writers love the writing to music exercises, some find it distracting, some nod their heads and write faster, some push through sound to get anything down. I continue to play music for some of the workshop-writing we do to challenge the myth of The Writer (be aware that in the realm of the symbolic The Writer is white, male, cisgendered, heterosexual, and usually has a woman minding the children and keeping the house quiet while He Writes), who locks themselves away in an austere, silent, room and cannot be interrupted. Writers with children, writers with chronic health conditions and/or disabilities, writers in detention camps or prisons, writers who do poorly paid work to fund their words, do not have the luxury of sitting for hours in silent rooms while others do domestic and affective work for them.

When I had my babies I realised I had to learn how to write anywhere, under any conditions. On the couch with playschool blaring and a baby sucking milk from me; in cafes because the home has demands that are hard to ignore; on buses, trains, trams; in bed; at the kitchen table. I had to get used to the noise; to learn how to take interruptions and weave them through what is being written. That meant I needed a way to enter into writing quickly — the luxury of procrastination vanished with the first baby — and I discovered that music was a way to do this. I wrote most of my first book while listening to a single singer/songwriter, Lucie Thorne. I can hear a particular guitar riff from ‘Black Across the Field’ as I write this. When I sat down to work on that manuscript, playing this album acted as a trigger to write, because I had written so many words already to this music, and so it became possible, very quickly, to write more.

Who are some of your favourite writers on the body? And which writers do you come back to again and again?

Some of favourite body writers are: Kathy Acker, Hélène Cixous, Elizabeth Grosz, Vicki Kirby, Marie Cardinal, Nicole Brossard, Roland Barthes, and Jean-Luc Nancy. Nancy’s ‘Corpus’ changed the way I thought about bodies and writing, particularly in his insistence that touch is what connects one body to another. Shelley Jackson’s ‘The Melancholy of Anatomy’ is a book I have read many times, as is Patrick Califia’s ‘Macho Sluts’. My copy of Cixous’s ‘Three Steps on the Ladder to Writing’ is coffee-stained, bent, and inscribed by Hélène. This is one of my most treasured possessions. Ellen van Neerven’s The Country is like a Body’ and Archie Roach’s ‘Into the Bloodstream’ make me swoon and drip tears. Virginia Barratt’s work on bodies and panic is a hot flash of recognition. Sharon Olds, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde… I think I could write this list for you forever…


About Quinn Eades

Quinn Eades is a researcher, writer, and award-winning poet. He is the author of 'All the Beginnings: A Queer Autobiography of the Body' and 'Rallying', and is currently working on a book written from the transitioning body, titled 'Transpositions'.

About Elisa McTaggart

Elisa McTaggart is the Program and Marketing Intern at Writers Victoria. She works freelance as a writer, photographer and project manager, while establishing a wilderness photography and nature writing art practice.