Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Beauty is a Verb - Time to Brag

I’m so proud of Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability that I have to come out of my root cellar and talk about it. Collaborating with poets Sheila Black and Jennifer Bartlett to edit the anthology and with Lee and Bobby Byrd at Cinco Puntos Press to get it published has been an invigorating and rewarding experience.

Since the first books appeared barely a month ago ago, the praise has been coming. It received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and poet/critic Ron Silliman wrote that it will be one of the defining poetry anthologies of the twenty-first century. Poets Molly Peacock Naomi Sahib Nye and disabilities scholars Lennard Davis and Anne Finger have all given it powerfully positive endorsements. Recent readings in Philadelphia, Berkeley, Albuquerque, and Las Cruces have impressed the crowds that they have drawn with more coming up in New York, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C. and Ann Arbor. Two weeks after publication, the anthology showed up as number six on the Poetry Foundation’s list of best selling poetry anthologies (behind Caroline Kennedy, Garrison Keillor, Harold Bloom, David Lehman and Jeffrey Yang).

What is so special about Beauty is a Verb? At 383 pages, it is the first comprehensive anthology to focus entirely on the work of poets with physical disabilities – most of them, visible disabilities. Moreover, each poet in the book is represented not only by his/her poems but by an essay about their work as well. (For the handful of poets who are no longer living, such as Larry Eigner, the essay was supplied by a scholar who knows that poets work well. In Eigner’s case, it is Michael Davidson.) The book proceeds from “First Voices” like Eigner, to voices of the disability poetry movement like Jim Ferris, to the work of more lyrical poets such as Sheila Black, and finally to experimental writers like Denise Leto in a section called “The New Language of New Embodiment.”

With Beauty is a Verb in hand, college instructors will no longer have the excuse of lack of quality material for not including the work of writers with disabilities in poetry or literature classes just as they now do African American, Latino or GLBT writers. The anthology itself could be used as a course text. The diversity of style, subject and opinion is quite amazing. While not ever reader will be up to the intellectual challenge of David Wollach’s pieces, any high school student can become engaged in a discussion of Laura Hershey’s “Telling” or Hal Sirowitz “A Step Above Cows.” If the readers of Lisa’Gill’s poems send a reader in search of work by Bogan, Zukofsky and Wendell Berry, readers of Jillian Weise’s “The Amputee’s Guide to Sex” may send them in quite a different direction. The writers in the book dialogue, diverge from, and disagree with each other. It would be a willfully obtuse reader who could walk away after reading Beauty and not have gained something from it.

Cinco Puntos owners Lee and Bobby Byrd deserve a great deal of credit for taking a chance on Beauty is A Verb. While they are used to dealing with quality work, this was a considerable undertaking for a small independent publisher. The other the other editors and I, as well as the intelligent reading public, owe them a tremendous debt.

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Blogger Melissa said...

Great to see your blog up and running. Congrats. on the success of the book!

November 01, 2011  

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