Friday, July 29, 2005

Something Close to Beautiful

For the third year in a row the Inglis House Poetry Workshop will be producing a chapbook of poetry related to disability. The tentative title of this year’s chapbook, Something Close to Beautiful comes from a line in poet Paul Kahn’s prize-winning poem “Katharine’s Room.” Readers’ familiar with the high quality of the writing in the workshop’s last chapbook, Dancing With Cecil, will not be disappointed. If they are active readers in disabilities literature, they will notice names more familiar to them: Stephen Kuusisto, Jim Ferris, Laura Hershey, Steven Brown, Sharon Wachsler. The presence of these writers marks a slight shift in balance from talented poets who have written poems about disabilities to writers who live in. Something Close to Beautiful is scheduled to appear in early fall 2005. It is book worth watching for.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Cummings Faux Pas?

While by in large the Disability Studies movement has provided a service to literature in general through its literary archeology, there are times when like any missionary movement its zealousness carries it just a little too far into the realm of fancy for a credible reading of a text. This would be harmless enough, if the implications of the reading were not that the artist is somehow being prejudicial or short-sighted. Such a missionary reading of e. e. cummings well known “In Just-" poem occurs in Sharon Snyder’s article “Infinities of Form.” Snyder appears convinced that somehow cumming’s lame balloon man is an outsider who is someone set apart from all of the “undifferentiated” children who are enjoying spring together and that cummings can only resolve the problem by transforming this figure with a disability into a figure of myth – namely Pan.

For me, Snyder’s telling phrase is “The poem takes three separate runs at the disabled figure…” Cummings can be accused of many things, but writing by the seat of his pants is not one of them. Anyone who has taken the time to examine even a few of his poems knows, that cumming’s work is carefully wrought and that each word is exactly where cummings wants it to be. His poems do not “take runs” at anything. He sees the whole poem as a unified picture and I believe he means the reader to see it the same way. He is not using the poem as a sort of psychotherapy to work through an issue.

I won’t pretend to know just what cummings means to say, but I will take a run at an interpretation which I hope is a bit fairer. I believe the poet is giving us a feeling for the mythic joy and renewal that comes to us each spring; it’s a joy that children in particular seem to be tuned to. Pan is an integral part of this process and is there (in each stanza) with us – quite the opposite of an alienated figure.

Just why Snyder wants to set up a straw man here, I won’t try to guess. As any tele-evangelist knows, you can prove anything you want using the Bible. You are sure to find a passage that supports you. The same is the true of poetry. There are plenty of real writers and issues in literature to be unearthed by Disability Studies scholars without having reinterpretations that belong on Swift’s flying island of Laputa. Such interpretations do the advancement of Disabilty Studies in literature no service.