Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A Poetics of Disability

As philosopher Susan Wendell points out in her pioneering work, Rejected Bodies, aside from a common label, there is little that all persons who are considered disabled can be said to share. Rather than being defined by what they are, individuals with disabilities, tend to be defined by what they are not - that mythical average person. Because of this, it is difficult to say that there is a disabilities point of view. Wendell believes, nevertheless, that there are perspectives that the disabilities community can lend to the mainstream merely by virtue of their having lived through experiences that by definition, the non-disabled have not lived through.

A similar question might be asked about a poetics of disability. Are there experiences that a writer with disabilities can bring to a poem that an able-bodied writer can not? Poet Stuart Sanderson hints at this in his poem, “Experts”:

They know everything about you,
Except your name.
You don’t communicate
With other people well
Therefore your are retarded.
Education, forget about it.
You can’t have any feelings of love
Towards another human being
Because you are in a wheelchair.
The Experts read their textbooks
But their books are filled with cold words.
Instead, you know within
You are smarter than
The Experts.

Though Sanderson’s poem is immediately about the medical establishment, his point could apply to poetry as well. Obviously, he has the inside track on what it is like to have CP and be in a wheelchair, but can someone with a disability contribute a perspective to poetic theory that someone without a disability cannot? Can there be a poetics of disability?


Anonymous Stuart Sandrson said...

I was happy to see my poem quoted! I do think my disability affects my writing. I used to use a communicator to speak. When I wrote, I could see the style of my writing was influenced by the communicator!

May 05, 2005  
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August 15, 2006  

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