Stephanie Heit is a poet, dancer, and teacher of somatic writing and contemplative movement practices. She is a Zoeglossia Fellow, bipolar, and member of the Olimpias, an international disability performance collective. Her poetry collection, The Color She Gave Gravity, explores the seams of language, movement, and mental health difference. She lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan where she creates Turtle Disco, a somatic writing space, with her wife and collaborator, Petra Kuppers.
How did you begin working with/in response to natural environments?
Notice. Follow curiosity. Tune senses. My interaction, my dialogue with landscapes began at a young age. Growing up in Michigan, I had the beautiful opportunity to walk the Lake Michigan shores and swim in the waters as early as I can remember. As someone who later fell in love with movement and words, those early moments staring at waves, observing the breath of the lake, and feeling its gentle and fierce capacities in my muscles, definitely shaped my way of being and relating. Rhythms. Tides. Undertows. I am a disabled poet and dancer. But those disciplines aren’t separate. And when I say disciplines, I mean being bipolar, a poet and a dancer. These all inform who I am in the world and how the world shows up in me. There is an interdependence between my interests and my relationship with myself and my environment. I rely on the natural world to model and remind me how to navigate the shifts in energy, focus, mood that come with mental health difference. I often say water is an anchor in my life. I love the tension between the rootedness of fluidity. This dance is one I return to: the flow between movement and words. I dance as a kinesthetic source to write; I write to make dances on the page. The other element so elegantly mapped by mycelium and other symbiotic critters is collaboration and mutual support. My wife, community performance artist and disability activist Petra Kuppers, and I have a lovely practice of 5 minute dances in the water. It is indeed a trio.
Share with us one of your favorite creative pieces and the natural environment it responds to.
I’m currently working on a poetry series, “High Water Detours,” which documents the effects of Lake Michigan’s rising waters through somatic engagement. Climate change and high water levels have dramatically shifted the landscapes around Lake Michigan that have been a part of my world from the beginning. These poems come from physically engaging with these sites and the sites’ memories; this may mean walking the edge of the lake and noticing erosion’s traces, or visiting the local lighthouse and writing down a list of all the washed up trash. I enjoy embodying different aspects of the landscape through poems that personify a wave or a now underwater stretch of beach. In addition to incorporating exploration and time spent in some of my favorite places, this project has also led me down many internet searches to learn more about sturgeon’s barbels (sense organs) or the endangered pitcher’s thistle or the vocabulary of waves.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to co-create with the natural world?
Consider how to make a sustainable practice; something that will support you and the environment over time. Engage in awareness exercises to sensitize and train your senses. The richer your capacity to attend and notice, the more you have to offer in this collaboration. Invitation: The next time you are outside, take a moment to be still. Notice the temperature of your skin, the sounds you hear, any tastes or smells. Notice what you see. Track your sensations. Track any thoughts, memories, images that arise. Try this exercise in different body positions – lying on the grass, standing on cement, sitting on a bench. Most importantly, keep breathing and enjoy.
Visit Stephanie's Website
Listen to Stephanie Heit's Green Point Dunes Nature Preserve, Benzie County, Michigan, USA as part of Sounds of the Forest.
Image Info: 1: “Tendings: Creative Practice as Self-Care” essay with Petra Kuppers in Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts Quarterly (text with audio file and image description)