Wednesday, April 06, 2011

At Last - An Anthology of Disability Poetry

In September Cinco Puntos Press will release Beauty is a Verb: The New Disability Poets, edited by poets Jennifer Bartlett and Sheila Black, and Wordgathering editor Michael Northen. When it appears, it will be the first anthology since J. L. Baird’s Towards Solomon’s Mountain in 1986 to concentrate solely on the work of poets with physical disabilities. A few excellent anthologies of disability literature have been published before such as Kenny Fries’ Staring Back, and John Lee Clark’s Deaf American Poetry, but Fries’ book included samples of a variety of literary genres, while Clark’s book focused only on Deaf poets. Beauty is a Verb, moreover, goes Towards Solomon’s Mountain one better by including along with the poetry, essays by each of the poets related to their work.

The anthology is arranged in a way that will be useful both to readers new to the field of disability literature and those all ready familiar with it. It begins with a short essay by Northen summarizing the brief history of disability poetry and then introduces poets like Larry Eigner and Vasser Miller who, before ADA, pioneered the field. In the case of writers who are no longer living, a scholar in the field has contributed the essay. The next section introduces those poets such as Jim Ferris and Kenny Fries who “came out,” leading the way by writing about their non-typical bodies and identifying as disability writers. The work in this section pushes hard against stereotypes while at the same time demonstrating how disability poetry contributes to poetry theory and poetics in general.

The third section of the anthology, gives the reader writers who, although they may not identify as a poet of disability per se, have consciously written poetry that takes aim at normative images of disability while at the same time keeping an eye on their own artistic development. This section is typified by the work of Laurie Clements Lambeth and Stephen Kuusisto. The final section of poetry hosts the work of the most experimental writers, those whose work derives from embodiment but who do not share the urgency to identify with a disability community that that the poets in section two do. Writers in this group, like Norma Cole and G. S. Giscombe are probably the most recognized by poetry literati.

Beauty is a Verb is truly a first of its kind and Cinco Puntos deserves credit for backing it. It may be true that poetry does not sell and that most poetry anthologies have little to distinguish them or, if they do, it is difficult to see what kind of contribution they make. Bartlett, Black and Northen’s anthology is different. It is an important work that merits a place not only on the personal bookshelf but in the college syllabus.


Anonymous sewa mobil said...

Nice article, thanks for the information.

April 19, 2011  
Blogger Caroline Gill said...

Those who have enjoyed 'Beauty is a Verb' might also like 'Hidden Dragons' published by Parthian and produced by Disability Arts Cymru. The book was the result of a most enjoyable project and some of my poems feature in it. Really pleased to find your blog (via Mark Burnhope's FB message).

February 23, 2012  

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