Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Anne Kaier

Philadelphia Poet Anne Kaier was the subject of a recent article in the Montgomery News. It’s about time. Kaier, the author of In Fire and a contributor to the recent anthology: Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability has a take on disability that is quite unusual. In her own words, “I have a rare skin condition called ichthyosis in which the skin does not shed normally, but clots and peels perpetually. It’s genetic, chronic and inelegant.” Kaier’s condition, then is not one like cerebral palsy or blindness, that would inhibit ones mobility nor make it difficult to function in situations which most people would consider ordinary. Nor is it like autism or schizophrenia that affect one’s cognition, emotional responses or ability to communicate. In this sense, though it certainly involves a medical condition, Kaier’s disability is almost totally a social construction. As such, she is possibly the contributor to Beauty is a Verb for whom the entire title of the anthology is most appropriate.

At the beginning of In Fire, the poet sets the stage and context for the standards against which beginning in childhood, she will be measured:

My mother
Works at her mahogany table,
Sketching brows and painting eyes;
After years as a practicing beauty,
She deft.

Her mother, though doing what she has to do to provide for her daughter, is conscious of her own disappointment in her daughter’s appearance, justifying her elf at the dinner table by saying, “I could have let you die when you were born.” In her poem “Mother Love” Kaier writes:

I could not please you
I could not make my arm…
Clean, soft, pretty.

Among many other issues, Kaier also explores the role of that medical field plays in making people with disabilities objects of what Irving Goffman called, “the gaze.”

Like Susanna with the elders,
I tell my story,
Swinging my legs against the metal table.

In childhood, standing in Dr. Shelby’s office,
I stretched my arms to his soft, scientific gaze.
My body came along with me who looked and saw and did not see
But now on this day,
I sit on the edge of the examining table, nakedly me.
The ridges in my skin stick
To my arms and I am one with them
I sit whole on the table edge, Case #18.
Kaier is Harvard graduate, has written and had poems published on many subjects, and teaches at several colleges, so she could simply distance herself – as some writers do – from identification with disabilities poetry on the basis that she does not want to be categorized as a niche writer. Fortunately, she has not. As she herself says,

I have broken the old taboo,
Named my affliction,
Called it mine.


Post a Comment

<< Home