Exploring whether or not my art features ‘enough’ disability

Last May, I appeared as a featured reader for the online event Spofest (which stands for spoken word fest). Among Spofest’s many segments was a Q and A where the host asks participants three questions about writing. The first two are the same for all three presenters, but the third is a question that the responders write themselves and submit before the show. The question I chose for myself, and for the listening audience, was, “Why don’t you write more about your physical handicap?”

This was a curious question because in a virtual zoom setting like Spofest no one can even tell I have a physical handicap. Before I could answer the question I had to show off my radial club arm to the viewers and verbally explain it to the host: artist, musician, poet and comedian James Bryant, who happens to be blind.

After the Q and A, I began my second set of readings with the poem “Twists,” which is now the title piece for my book, forthcoming from Parisian Phoenix in December. This piece included the only passing reference to my handicap that appeared in any of my writing up to that point.

Now, my friend Nancy is always urging me to send out my work. Nancy is a blind poet (yes, I know two of them) whose work has appeared in innumerable magazines, websites and chapbooks over the years. Many of those placements are in disabilities publications.

Nancy always asks, “Why don’t you submit to some of those?”

My answer is always, “Because I don’t write disability poetry.”

She counters that poems like mine, with themes of feeling apart or distanced from the world and trying to connect, would definitely count. She assures me that these are typical disabilities issues.

And thus, I wonder how much my handicap really does inform my writing. I write mostly about everyday things from my own strange and unique perspective. Poems like, “The Perfect Shade of Weird,” “Vacuuming in the Dark” and “Closet Creeper” all celebrate or seek to explain uniqueness. Since the poems I write are fueled by a point of view that is very much me, and since being handicapped is a large part of who I am and how my perspectives have developed, then perhaps I do write disability poetry without even realizing it.

This thinking settled into my brain as I plotted out the chapters in the poems I had collected into my new Parisian Phoenix title, Twists: Gathered Ephemera. I chose a cover image that reflected the title poem’s single reference to my disability (lines 4-8. Sorry, you’ll have to read it and find out) and chose to continue with some elements of that imagery in artwork throughout the book as a sort of acknowledgment of that aspect of the poetry gathered into the collection like leaves pressed between its pages.

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