Sunday, May 08, 2005

Toward A Crippled Poetics

Jim Ferris’ essay, “The Enjambed Body: A Step Toward a Crippled Poetics”,which appeared in the Summer 2004 Georgia Review surpasses anything else I have read that discusses poetry and disability. No one who has not lived with a disability could have written it. It is not just that Ferris brings both personal and academic knowledge to the piece, but that it is immeasurably more creative than the sort of pedantic pieces one tends to expect from literary theorists. My prediction is that if a significant amount of disabilities literature if ever amassed to make it a recognized literary field (as African-American or Gay/Lesbian literature has), this essay will be one of its classics.

Ferris’ basic image is a comparison of his own feet to feet in poetry. Poetry grows out of the body and one can look at poem as a body. Ferris own legs were of increasingly different length as he grew; they were uneven. This leads naturally to his image of uneven feet in a poem and further to enjambment. His is an image of protest against traditional forms to which one is supposed to adhere. While that is hardly a case that needs much arguing in modern poetry, Ferris insight is to tie that protest to the concept of disability, and the fact that by its very nature, disability goes against what society takes to be its norms. Just as the poet is measured against conventional constructs of what poetry should be, i.e. certain forms, the person with a disability is measured against norms of bodily appearance or function. For Ferris, the insistence on a poet’s forcing his own natural style of writing poetry into the constraints imposed by structures inherited from the past is comparable to his experience of physicians forcing his own unconventional legs into braces in order to make them conform to a structure that was not their own.

The essay is a braiding together of physical facts about Ferris’ own body (e.g. the measurements of his leg length), his own experiences of these facts, and quotes from poets on poetic theory. The construction itself is uneven in a conventional sense and this unconventionality allows a secondary metaphor comes in. Ferris looks to the molecule, specifically to the molecules in polyprophylene, a resin that has a remarkable flexibility and strength. The molecules in this polymer are “tightly ordered but unsymmetrical” and it is this arrangement that when excited by heat allows it to be flexible and shaped into whatever is needed. The application to poetry, of course, is obvious.


Anonymous Chris said...

Thanks s lot for the link to the essay. It's fascinating looking at it after reading, and kind of devouring, Ferris' Hospital Poems , which also narrate his own condition -- but in a deeply modernist, elliptical vein.

June 02, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Strage to find myself in a poem by an award winning author, in his poem "Normal" I am Hoffmann! Thanks for remembering me Jimmy.

September 24, 2005  

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