Thursday, March 29, 2012

From Poetry to Action

When Dan Simpson gives a poetry reading, it's almost always a success. He walks up to the podium with his dog Chandler, lays out the Braille text of poems that he reads from, and begins reading in a voice that exudes both compassion and strength. His poems speak of his experiences as a blind man growing up in the United States, and frequently, when he reads poems like “Broken Reverie” - a political poem about why he does not write political poems – the audience will burst into applause as it did last week when he read at Arcadia University.

Last month, however, Dan’s reading was of quite a different kind. In a rally in the parkway in front of the central branch of the Philadelphia Free Library, he spoke out against the state of Pennsylvania’s plan to drastically shear the services of the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped by cutting the staff to a minimum and shipping all of the cassettes tapes used by its Philadelphia patrons to a much smaller library in Pittsburgh. Dan’s speech was an impassioned one, and for good reason. Not only have he and his twin brother David (also blind and a poet) used the library for over 50 years, but he helps to provide technical assistance for the blind to the library itself. Dan followed his speech with a written article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

There are, of course, poets who still consider their work ethereal, a product of the mind that has no connection with the physical body nor with any obligation to take action. If their work is to mean anything, writers with disabilities still cannot afford that luxury. We’re lucky to have poets like Dan Simpson, who puts his actions where his words are.


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