Thoughts about Verbs

Nicola van Straaten

A while ago, Kopano, Julia and I were discussing the idea of themed issues for Any Body Zine (ABZ). In case you aren’t quite aware of what you’re reading right now, ABZ is a collective publishing project that the three of us have been doing together since our first issue came out towards the end of February last year.  

When I say ‘came out’ I mean we organised ourselves a website, a Facebook page, an Instagram page and a Twitter page (which we never use but felt like we had to have). Having claimed our piece of online space, we then stepped into our immediate world. We wrote most of the first issue’s content ourselves; I taught myself some basics off a cracked copy of Indesign and designed a basic A5 booklet. We then garnered enough money to print 40 copies at TopCopy in Claremont, pressed ‘publish’ and had a party at my old digs in Obs where we made a speech and sold the zines for R15 each. (Wine and snacks included – donations please). And a few of the people who came weren’t even our friends or family, but they bought our zines!

The rest of 2016 saw a similar procedure happening about every second month. With each issue, we received more contributions and with the funds from sales of the previous issue, we were able to print slightly more copies. Six different issues were published with the following themes:


Space / Place




Subject / Object.

The themes gave us a parameter within which we could make a body of text happen. Because we were living and working in close proximity to each other, we could talk through each issue. The process was both dynamic and organic; we were rushing around, learning, figuring things out. There were many things to figure out and take care of, so the idea for a theme seemed to happen by itself and we ran with it.

As these sorts of love-projects go, each issue began to grow and morph into an actual thing, an entity that had (or became) its own narrative, collectively created by a growing array of bodies and brains and organs. It was (and certainly still is) thrilling to be so intimately involved in this process. However, this year our situation changed somewhat; the three of us would all be in different parts of the world, which makes ‘running with it’ slightly more challenging. How to make this project continue within a different context? To start off, we opted for four issues this year instead of six. We decided to print online throughout the year and then print each issue in the form of a special pack towards the end of the year. And, since the themes helped us do things, we decided to theme the themes. This is where the verbs come in.

VERBS! DOING WORDS! But before I continue, I lay the words of Wikipedia, before your eyes (we at ABZ are fascinated by Wiki as a platform for collective knowledge – keep an eye out for our ABZ Loves Wiki Project!)

“A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word (part of speech) that in syntax conveys an action (bring, read, walk, run, learn), an occurrence (happen, become), or a state of being (be, exist, stand).”

So we decided that 2017 would see four issues, each themed around a different verb. As I write this we have just published our first batch of contributions around the verb ‘Falling’ (as you read this, it will be a part of our second batch of contributions). The previous issue was themed on ‘Marching’ and we’ve an idea of the next verb we’ll jump into 🙂

Verbs seemed to make sense, since the three of us all come from a background in body-based artistic practises and all three of us continue to work in performance/theatre spaces. We’re trained in being in the physical act, exploring bodies and their politics; we’re versed in discussing and dissecting movement. Language is just one of the things we use to access dialogue around an embodied experience of life. Having a body and using that body is another thing we use.

What I’m trying to say is that verbs follow dancers in a messy trail of activity… and in various languages, too. As a nine year old starting ballet lessons, I didn’t realize that the words thrown at me from across the room were mostly French verbs. (At the time they were just the oral sound that came with the tricky movement I was trying to copy from Ms. Fuller, the first teacher I fell in love with.) The first thing you learn in ballet is a plié, which comes from the verb plier which means to fold, to crease, to double over, to bend. In fact, ballet comes with an entire vocabulary and glossary of words that were solely created around and for a very specific kind of movement.

2013 strangely found me in the north of France, when I was working as an au pair and learning French in order to communicate with my two tiny colleagues. During this time I started encountering forms of these verbs that I recognized from my childhood but there were two new verbs, being and having that excited me in a way no other verb has done. In English, for example, we say “I am 27 years old”. Age is something that you are, a conjugation of the verb ‘to be’. In French and other Latin-rooted languages, however, age is something that you have – “J’ai 27 ans” – directly translated as “I have 27 years”. I still ponder on what it is to be and what it is have, especially during these apocalyptically capitalist times we live in. Perhaps we should switch the saying, ‘You are what you eat’ to ‘You are what you have’?

Anyway. Since then, I have developed a noticing of, or an interest in verbs in general. I think this interest largely stems from the way in which verbs sit so interestingly at the intersection between bodies and language. There is motion, action and implied movement behind a verb. And movement, especially movement attached to the body, is something I love.

One cannot speak about language without speaking about the body, because the body produces language, always. And yet at the same time, I’m inclined to think that language brings the body into a different state of being. Perhaps this is why Kopano, Julia and I decided that a publication was an effective way to bring ourselves, and the community around us, into a different state of being or perhaps – a different state of having. Through the creation of ABZ we somehow began to actualise the ownership of our own artistic community, with the hope that by claiming something, we would simultaneously be fostering something.

Through the act of manifesting words in the form of ABZ, there is a kind of self-insertion, perhaps even self-legitimizing act that occurs in the current context we find ourselves in. Let me end with a little etymological gift from the Internet, one that offers some insight into a verb that three of us engage with daily – to publish.

publish (v.)

mid-14c., “make publicly known, reveal, divulge, announce;” alteration of publicen (early 14c.) by influence of banish, finish, etc.; from extended stem of Old French publier “make public, spread abroad, communicate,” from Latin publicare “make public,” from publicus “public” (see public). Meaning “issue (a book, etc.) to the public” is from late 14c., also “to disgrace, put to shame; denounce publicly.” Related: Published; publishing.