Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Map of This World

Occasionally it is useful to look back at how far we’ve come – or haven’t come. When A. J. Baird placed the first call for poetry by writers with disabilities in an issue of Kaleidoscope in 1983, his intent was to replace the pity-filled and patronizing poetry that turned people with disabilities into poster children with “Tough-mind poetry grounded in physical fact.” Now in 2010, when poets like Sheila Black or Laurie Clements Lambeth write nuanced poetry that is not only artful but explodes the older patronizing images of disability, it is easy to forget that their work rests on some intermediary writers whose poetry may not have been quite as sophisticated but which was never the less barrier-breaking. One of the most impressive of these was Dara McLaughlin, whose book A Map of This World, now almost out of print, should probably be required reading for any poet who thinks she has something new to say about disability.

Any reader opening McLaughlin’s book does not even have to get as far as the first poem to realize that this writer is out to change some perceptions about disability and that she is not going to be subtle about it. The first heads up comes table of contents announces such titles, "The Exact Color of My Pubic Hair," "Twenty-Two Stupid Things to Say to a Crip," and "Yes, the Paralyzed Girl Can Have Babies." She also makes a point of politicizing the dedication, “Dedication: For Santo, Marla, Daina raised by a wheelchair mom and we did fine.”

McLaughlin works in two directions. The first, as the titles suggest, is in content. She is not offering easy solutions. There is no glossing over the realities of depending upon a wheelchair rather than her legs, but she also avoids platitudinous images.

Some mornings
damn them
some mornings I forget

I unfurl my pillow, turn around
and there it is
the "chair", sitting there, waiting

the necessary demon -
empty until I shake my hear free of demons
slip out of bed to nestle my body into its curve

Though McLaughlin does to some extent sound her barbaric yawp, she also is searching for new possible forms of expression for disability in poetry. This is the second direction in which it works. The book experiments with list poem, haiku sequence, odes, prose poems and forms with no particular names. Not all of these are successful, but that is what experimentation is about.
Her use of the term "Staring Back" in a poem title references Kenny Fries’ anthology of the same name, very popular when McLaughlin was writer. It is a move that disability theorist David Mitchell suggests is necessary for writers in this new field.

A Map of this World was McLaughlin’s only book of poetry, but it is sufficient to warrant her consideration as an important voice in disability poetry during the 1990’s. You will probably have to find a used copy on line somewhere, but if you can do it, the book is well worth the effort.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

TAHNKS FOR YOUR SHARING~~~VERY NICE.................................................

April 18, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post ~ 3Q..............................................................

May 12, 2010  
Blogger repadrick said...


My name is Rebecca Padrick and I'm an editorial intern at Drunken Boat, online journal of the arts (www.drunkenboat.com). We are currently accepting submissions for a folio entitled /Slant/Sex/ slated for our 13th issue this winter. Our goal for the folio is to feature bold, honest examinations of the sexual female/trans identity that is generally unacknowledged by polite society. We want to get the word out to a myriad of diverse female/trans voices and encourage submissions from disabled women, so naturally, DISPOET came to mind. Below is the permalink for the call; we are hoping that you can pass it along or post it to your blog.


My apologies for writing this is a comment; I couldn't seem to find any contact information for the blog.


Rebecca Padrick
Editorial Intern
Drunken Boat

June 02, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not only was Dara a great poet, she was also a really nice lady. I had the fortune to be her friend for a short time.
She is missed.

June 14, 2010  

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