Monday, March 21, 2011

Ninth Year for Disability Poetry Contest

In a field as relatively new as disability poetry, nine years is a long time, but the 2011 contest beginning in April will mark ninth year that the Inglis House Poetry Contest has been going. In addition to the modest monetary prize, each year the Inglis House Poetry Workshop, which sponsors the contest, publishes a chapbook of poetry culled from the best submissions. Last year’s book was called Their Buoyant Bodies Respond from a line by Liz Whiteacre, one of the winning poets.

As in previous years, the contest is divided into two categories. The first is open to all writers and must be on a disability-related topic. The second is only open to writers with a disability and may be on any topic. Guidelines are available at As in the past, there is no entry fee.

South African poet Liesl Jobson was the winner of the very first contest in 2003, and her winning poem “Praise Poem For an African Girl” was featured in Why Can’t You See Me, the first of the chapbooks. Since that time the list of winning poets with disabilities has included the work of writers with growing influence in the genre such as Paul Kahn, Sheila Black, Ona Gritz, Ellen LaFleche, Jimmy Burns, Patricia Wellingham-Jones and, most recently, Liz Whiteacre. Writers from over a dozen countries have been featured in the contest chapbooks.

The only major change in the contest throughout the past eight years has the expansion from one category in the contest after the first two years, to the current two categories. As the “Foreword” in Their Buoyant Bodies Respond says, “We were thrilled at the response to the [initial] contest and received some excellent work, but were chagrined that most of the entries were from able-bodied writers who were writing about disability. In order to help remedy this situation without discouraging those writers who were already submitting, after the second year of the contest, we expanded the contest to include two categories.”

Perhaps the purpose of the Inglis House Poetry Contest and its chapbooks comes through in a winning poem from last years contest by Teddy Norris”, an able-bodied writer:

For My Disengaged Intro to Poetry Student

I watch you in my early morning class:
twitchy with boredom, the yearning
for the opiate of your I-pod written on your face;
I can almost feel your fingers’ itch
to text someone, anyone, on your waiting cell.

This, while I yearn to have you understand
how even half a poem might knit a heart, explode
a head, memorialize the very hair of the dead,
of be the breaking news.

Later from my office where I am grading your essay,
I see her – also early class, front row – wearing her heavy
book bag, working her way across the snowy lot
with her awkward gait. Not far from her car she slips and
over-balanced, tips like a bowling pin and goes down hard.

Minus sound, the scene seems slowed. At first she flounders
as she tries to rise – there’s no one near – and I can’t hear
if she cries out, can't hear the sound of her prosthesis
on the pavement.

Soon she rights herself, leans briefly on the nearest car,
as I turn from the window like a voyeur
and wonder how, tomorrow I might tell you
before you amble from my class,
that hers is the poem you have yet to read.


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