Friday, April 11, 2008

Sixth Annual Poetry Contest

The Inglis House poetry contest, the first annual nationwide contest for disability poetry, began accepting entries for this year’s contest on April 1. As in the past five years, the contest has two categories. The first is open to all writers, but poems must relate to disability. The second is open only to writers with a disability but may be on any topic. For further details, just check the guidelines on the Inglis House Poetry Workshop website. There is no entry fee. The contest ends June 1.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Short History of Disability Poetry

Like African-American and feminist literatures, disability literature has a shape and a history to it. Unlike those genres, however, very little writing about disability literature is available. Perhaps the greatest amount writing has come in the region theatre. Published last summer, Victoria Ann Lewis' first of its kind anthology of disability drama, Beyond Victions and Villain is certain to have an impact on thinking in the field. When it comes to disability poetry, though, despite the growing number of individual writers, there has been very little done to look at disability poetry as a genre in itself. There is, of course, the writing of Jim Ferris; Petra Kuppers' work is also beginning to make its way into the public eye. Still much more is needed, especially for the beginning or casual reader. That's where Michael Northen's
A Short History of Disability Poetry published in last month's issue of Wordgathering is useful. While it may not have the academic rigor of Kuppers or the poet's play of words that Ferris' essays achieve, "A Short History..." gives the average reader on the street a good feel for the trajectory of disability poetry: how disability poetry came into being, what it is trying to accomplish, and some of the key players in the field. It won't be surprising to find out that some of these latter include Kenny Fries, Steven Kuussisto, Floyd Skloot, Karen Fiser, Sheila Black, and, of course, Ferris himself. What may surprise readers a bit is the role some of the almost invisible pioneers of disability poetry like Josephine Miles, Larry Eigner, and Vassar Miller. Northen's essay certainly needs to built upon. His insights do not run as deep as those of Ferris or Kuppers, but for the unitiated or those who just want to try get a basic grasp of what disability poetry is and what it seeks to offer, it is a good place to start.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Audio Chapbook

One of the most surprising things about David and Daniel Simpson's Audio Chapbook is that it has not been published sooner. Nearly as surprising is that what they have accomplished is not done more frequently. The Simpson brothers, who are accomplished musicians as well as poets, are both blind and have chosen to publish their first book of poetry not in a traditional print medium and not even in braille, but as a CD. This was a felicitous choice because their work comes across beautifully in this format. There also a certain poetic justice in the fact that while a sighted person can enjoy Audio Chapbook every bit as much a non-sighted listener, they are the secondary consideration when it comes to the structure of the CD.

David Simpson leads off with his poem "Driving Blind," a great pick for someone who might be listening to the CD in the car:

With the windows closed and the Carly Simon tape turned up loud
I can't hear a thing out side the Hond Civic we're speeding in.
"Hey, why are you swerving left and right." I ask.
"To avoid a tractor trailor," she says, hardly missing a beat in her duet with Carly.
Its the stuff that dreams are made of.

From this opening poem, the Simpsons' poems range far and wide covering an amazing range of material. While many of the poems are very obvious contributions to the genre of disability poetry in their to description of experiences from a perspective that is inaccessible to a sighted person, it is in the context of this knowledge that other poems that make no direct reference to blindness are imbued with an even richer meaning. The subjects range from Euclid to religion, from condoms to Heidegger.

One of Dan Simpson's special interests in this volume is the exploration of the nature and value of poetry itself:

We all have something of the poet in us
which is why the book store clerk passing through ailes of Danielle Steele
and waiting for new words, has stopped telling her boyfriend that she loves him
and the crane opeator who would take the Phillies over Frost any day
nevertheless searches his mind before resigning himeself to sweatheart, darling, honey,
names already used up by previous lovers.

Audio Chapbook is much more than truth in advertising. And much more than a quick precis like this can capture. It deserves to be experienced.