J., Black, S. & Northen, M., eds. Bartlett
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- Aull, Felice
This is an anthology of poetry by poets who have disabilities. The book's sections are ordered more or less chronologically, although the editors have identified other groupings as well: "The Disability Poetics Movement," "Lyricism of the Body," and "Towards a New Language of Embodiment." Also included is a well organized preface by editor Jennifer Bartlett and an informative "Short History of American Disability Poetry" by editor Michael Northen. An essay by or about each poet prefaces that poet's work. The book makes no pretense at being comprehensive but offers a large selection of poets with a variety of physical impairments (e.g. cerebral palsy, rheumatoid arthritis, dystonia, blindness, deafness, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke). It presents important figures who have contributed to current thinking about the disabled body and social and physical constraints imposed on it, as well as poets who do not/did not identify themselves as disabled in their work.
The first section, "Early Voices" presents poets no longer alive who wrote in the mid to late 20th century and rarely forefronted their disability (Larry Eigner, Vassar Miller, Robert Fagan, Josephine Miles-- and Tom Andrews, who DID write about his hemophilia). Their work took place mostly during a time when disability was stigmatized and kept hidden. Michael Davidson's essay on Larry Eigner's work is particularly informative, showing how the poet's severe cerebral palsy, which kept him housebound, pervaded his work although he made no overt reference to his condition.
"The Disability Poetics Movement" highlights poets ("crip poets") who openly celebrate their unusual bodies. These are poets who emerged shortly after passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1992. Some, such as Jim Ferris, Kenny Fries, Petra Kuppers became disability rights advocates and educators in the field of disability studies. Editor Michael Northen speculates that Fries "may be the single most powerful representative of this group" because he rejects both the medical and social models of disability and is "asking instead for a redefinition of beauty and of the way that disability is perceived" (20-21). Other poets in this section are Daniel Simpson, Laura Hershey, Jillian Weise, Kathi Wolfe, and John Lee Clark.
Ten poets contribute to the section, "Lyricism of the Body," most of them unknown to me (Alex Lemon, Laurie Clements Lambeth, Brian Teare, Ona Gritz, Stephen Kuusisto, Sheila Black, Raymond Luczak, Anne Kaier, Hal Sirowitz, Lisa Gill). Their prefatory essays are particularly helpful in providing context for their work. The final section, "Towards a New Language of Embodiment," is more experimental than the rest of the collection. "Rather than explaining an individual story, bodily condition is manifested through the form" (17). Poets are Norma Cole, C. S. Giscombe, Amber DiPietra, Ellen McGrath Smith, Denise Leto, Jennifer Bartlett, Cynthia Hogue, Danielle Pafunda, Rusty Morrison, David Wolach, Kars Dorris, Gretchen E. Henderson, Bernadette Mayer.