the amputee’s guide to sex & other discoveries of disability

Hello, friends!

I’ve been reading books lately by poets with disabilities, specifically by poets who write about the human body and the human brain and why “norms” shouldn’t exist in such intricate and individualized systems. Disability studies and poetry lend themselves well to each other: the voice that poetry has is strong, even when a physical presence is overlooked or disregarded due to a disability. I would encourage you to check out the following poets who have disabilities, and read the brief NaRMo review that I wrote for Jillian Weise’s collection, “The Amputee’s Guide to Sex.”

Laurie is a poet born in Newport Beach, California. At seventeen years old, she was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. “I was diagnosed at the age of 17, so MS has defined much of my adult life. I consider what goes on in my body an important factor of who I am; we are inextricably linked, MS and me,” Lambeth shares. She often writes poems that reflect the individual body’s form within the context of the world. She has an MFA and PhD in creative writing from the University of Houston, and has been published in many high-profile reviews and journals. Her book “Veil and Burn” is highly regarded and coveted, as her poetry is very much involved with her disability and what it celebrates.

Arthur was an Australian lyric poet. He was born with cerebral palsy and was unable to speak clearly or write with a pen. Ultimately, he learned to type and overcame his physical disability enough to put pen to paper. He received a higher education and was wildly successful in the world of poetry and the arts. Banning valued compression and brevity in a poem, admiring the haiku especially. He named his disability “his own particular demon” but was able to produce phenomenal verses before his death in 1965.

Denise Leto is both a poet and a Senior Editor at the University of California, Berkeley. Her poems have been published in a multitude of journals and reviews. Leto’s latest poetry tells of the somatic experience of grief as allied to perceptions of disability. She has a form of vocal dyskinesia in which she cannot control the production of her voice, which infiltrates her work in notable ways.

 

Jillian Weise

“The Amputee’s Guide to Sex” by Jillian Weise

“The Amputee’s Guide to Sex” by Jillian Weise is an electric and audacious collection of poetry that shows readers the complexity behind emotional and sexual intimacy when it comes to having a prosthetic leg. The poems are a dance set to (at times) hesitant music: the agile movement of sex with the unfriendly metal of a prosthetic seems incompatible to an unaware society.

However, to Weise, having a disability doesn’t keep a person from being a badass anywhere, including within the confines of the bedroom. Sardonic, thorny language litters the poems and adds an element of sarcasm, humor, and confidence to the collection, like this line in “Abscission”: “Your favorite post-coital pastime \ is nicknaming my scars.” However, poems like “Despite” show the micro aggressions that she faces even in moments of intimacy: “The leg would \ not slide on & would not \ slide on. He said he rather \ liked it, could \ kiss despite it. I know \ that word. It means \ the desire to hurt someone,” assaulting the reader with a delicate blow of irritation and pain.

As relationships become more intimate throughout the collection, so do the heartbreaks. “His hand felt the plastic of my leg \ and he froze. It was our first and last \ week. He called to say he wasn’t ready \ to date me…I thought he would make it. He had \ a dead father three years back. \ If that doesn’t show how entirely useless \ the body becomes, than what does?” reads the poem “Bust,” leaving the reader with the aching whisper of a question. The short, choppy line breaks and innovative images throughout the collection create a beautiful and enthralling world in which the arts and the human body are morphed, discovered, and uncovered deliciously.

*I have the book, currently on loan to Danielle, so feel free to borrow it whenever you’d like, or purchase one of your own here

Happy reading 🙂

Sleep/no sleep

I’ve written a lot of (my) good stuff around 3am. As I writer I’ve always savored absolute quiet, and since I’ve been living with a rowdy group of young lads for the past year and a half, 3am has been almost the only time to find such quiet. Oftentimes it’s much more of a draft-generation period than anything else, because at such a late hour my mind tends to fire creatively but not with much precision or attention to detail. Nonetheless, I’ve found the time invaluable in creating workshop pieces and completing various assignments, staying up until 3-4am often to complete writing something until I crash and burn.

This year, however, things have changed a bit. There’s about one night every three weeks where I don’t crash and burn past 3am, where I am effortlessly awake until 9am the next day, sometimes beyond. Last night was one such night. Such nights, however, are counter-productive. For some reason, losing the expectation of sleep yields utter apathy. Perhaps, in my mind, a complete disregard for the cardinal rule of bedtime reduces all other rules to nothing. I don’t know. At any rate, such all-nighters give me a completely new perspective.

When I sleep until 5pm and miss class, wake up to make myself a bagel and orange juice, I feel distinctly detached. Detached both from those around me, whose bodies are operating on wholly different schedules, and from time itself, which slides by evermore effortlessly with each all-nighter gone by. And I’m glad for this detachment. It’s reliable, calming, perhaps cathartic. It feels like I’m skating through reality as one might a dream, with almost entirely-internal thought processes. I’d like to think it makes for some halfway-decent writing. Maybe not.

Black Has Always Been The Strongest Color

ALSO POSTED TO NARMO BOOK REVIEW:

Rankine, Claudia, 1963- author. Citizen : An American Lyric. Minneapolis, Minnesota :Graywolf Press, 2014. Print.

Claudia Rankine skillfully, and powerful displays the everyday struggles of a black woman in society throughout her beautiful words of poetry and intense moments of feeling. This book is the most muscular, and heaviest page-turner of a poetry book I have ever experienced. The pages are dense with words, thought, and painful notions. The poems successfully weave through everyday life, and small moments that define the days of this colored speaker. Experiencing this day with the speaker was a huge change of perspective. Seeing from the lense of this colored person, and the constant racism and discrimination that is incorporated into tone, and conversation of everyday life is concerning. What kept the pages turning were the sensual experiences that Rankine painted. Within the first few poems, the language was heavy, but so intriguing. Seeing the different ways that very mundane days and happenings can shape a person, especially of color, and affect them is incredible. This book has such effective creativity and innovation–even though these events are not fiction whatsoever. That is what kept me, as a reader, to keep turning the page. My amazement in language, and in the occurrences were so interesting, yet real. And that is what truly hit me as an audience, poet, and human-being.

In addition to Rankine’s creative, non-fiction approach on poetry, the detailed language and powerful word choice were effective in creating a strong, punch-y poem and experience for the reader. Everything was very raw, and organic. The explanation of day-to-day activities and the sensation of feeling was all very real, especially because of the harsh, yet sensitive language. There is also hardly any poems with lineation. They are all dense blocks on the page, or paragraphs. This adheres to the dense subject matter. And I appreciate this weighted thought in creation and formation of this book.

This book not only deals with Rankine’s thoughts and experiences, but also real evidence based racism. There are allusions, and pictures referencing slurs and incidents on TV, and published elsewhere. After reading Rankine’s creative poetry, it was shocking to then see a picture of Serena Williams on ESPN. This element of surprise kept me reading, and curious as to what was coming next. The addition of these real, and public incidents are important to the comprehension of the book as a whole because it proves that these feelings Rankine previously displayed are derived from very real, common, and frequent events and discrimination regarding the colored community. The mention of televised and public incidents validated that this information isn’t just poetry. It isn’t just something pretty to write about–it’s real, it’s raw, and it’s a problem that Rankine preaches about.

Overall this book I highly recommend. It is very eye opening, and important to see from other perspectives. In addition, these poetry book is highly validated by real life events, which makes Rankine’s words even more vivid, and important. This book as a whole is cohesive, surprising, and strong. The poems individually are powerful and organic. I appreciate Claudia Rankine’s work and look forward to reading more of it.

 

Not all that Wilde

In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the corrupting Lord Henry Wotton states that he enjoys the company of second rate artists over good artists. According to him good artists tend to lead boring lives, living through their works, while bad artists, who cannot place their energies into their art, put it into their actions. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time pondering this idea and how it pertains to my life and work.

While I enjoy comfort over adventure I often end up among crowds of people who prioritize differently. It can be liberating for a while, but eventually I find myself unable to keep up, tired out, and doubting my own merit, wondering if I’m just not all that exciting a character (or a character at all). In these moments I find some comfort in Lord Henry Wotton’s theory. I tell myself that I am a trepid observer, the Sal Paradise to Dean Moriarty, the Nick Carraway to Jay Gatsby. After the latest escapade is done I can retreat to my home, to reflect and write about it. Maybe I’m not the charismatic reveler I sometimes wish I was, but I can always write about those who are. It has proven true, in my experience, that the types worth writing about often don’t put out very much work. They own expensive typewriters but seldom use them, allowing them to gather dust in the corner.

However, I don’t write as much as I should. I’m alright with poetry, but don’t produce nearly as many short stories as I ought to, and “the novel” is still a collection of vague ideas circulating the inside of my skull. Often, when I do sit myself down and tell myself to write, I find some way to distract myself. I talk to one of those aforementioned larger than life characters on the phone, then go for a late night walk, gaze up at some celestial bodies and compose some trite lines about them in my head, return home and watch a very inspiring movie, then proceed to fall asleep.

I’ve been getting worried that I’m somewhere in between being a writer and being someone worth writing about. Not quite ecstatically energetic enough to be an inspiration, but not broken down and jaded enough to dedicate my existence to putting that of others onto the page. Hopefully with time I’ll gain more focus, burn off the last of my vitality, and be ready to sit and write something substantial. I feel like I use this blog as a confessional a little too often, that I treat it like some canvas to fling my anxieties at, and I’m sorry if it’s getting annoying. I’ll try and get a little less self deprecating with it next time.

Ambiguity

I’d been meaning to go hunting through my room for a past class book, and today I was excited to find that I still have it. It was a book I used in my first creative writing workshop back in 2013: In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit. In it, I rediscovered a poem I had liked. After reading the poem and Kowit’s discussion on it, I realized it might have strongly influenced what I aim for in my own poetry.

The poem is called “Girl in the Doorway” and was written by Dorianne Laux. It displays multiple terms and phrases that serve more than one purpose/meaning in the piece – a technique called ambiguity. I love poems that can (or have elements that can) be read in multiple ways. This is something I often try to accomplish in my writing. One of my favorite parts of a workshop is getting to hear others’ interpretations of my work, especially if there’s a variety. I think that was partially inspired by this poem, so I thought I’d share it:

Girl in the Doorway

She is twelve now, the door to her room
closed, telephone cord trailing the hallway
in tight curls. I stand at the dryer, listening
through the thin wall between us, her voice
rising and falling as she describes her new life.
Static flies in brief blue stars from her socks,
her hairbrush in the morning. Her silver braces
shine inside the velvet case of her mouth.
Her grades rise and fall, her friends call
or they don’t, her dog chews her new shoes
to a canvas pulp. Some days she opens her door
and musk rises from the long crease in her bed,
fills the dim hall. She grabs a denim coat
and drags the floor. Dust swirls in gold eddies
behind her. She walks through the house, a goddess,
each window pulsing with summer. Outside,
the boys wait for her teeth to straighten.
They have a vibrant patience.
When she steps onto the front porch, sun shimmies
through the tips of her hair, the V of her legs,
fans out like wings under her arms
as she raises them and waves. Goodbye, Goodbye.
Then she turns to go, folds up
all that light in her arms like a blanket
and takes it with her.

Two poetry-related things that make me anxious

  1. Writing the poetry book review
    I don’t “finish reading poetry books.” I have no desire to read an entire book of one person’s poetry.  Hell, I lack desire to read an entire book of collections of poetry!  When I want to read poetry, I read a few online and then walk away, because I typically don’t hold onto poems if I read twenty at a time.
    Also, does anyone really want me writing a book review?  I’ve only written one, and that was for my dad’s co-authored psychology memoir six years ago.  Now I have to review a book full of poems and find recurring themes and keep my ears open for rhyme and…

    Fourteen-year-old Megan spends recess and choir class in a classroom on the third floor.  Lined paper remains untouched as Megan attempts to conceptualize a poem analysis that will fulfill her teacher’s request.  She does not like handing in late assignments, but she had no choice when presented with this one; not even her dad could understand it, and he was an English major.  It is only on her third day of head-wracking and crying that her teacher finally says, “Just don’t worry about it.  Your grade will be fine, go to recess.”

  2. Not having a known poetic “style”
    We all know what a Grace Poem(TM) looks like, and what a Jasmine Poem(TM) look like, but I don’t have a history of taking workshops and being published so that people know what kind of shit I write. I don’t even know if there’s a theme or motif in my work the way there is in Julia’s.  Are my poems supposed to look similar?  Are they supposed to sound similar?  What if they sound too much like someone else?

Regarding poetry, what makes you guys anxious?

Limits in poetry

I think that every poet has limits–what they come to understand they will and won’t do in their poems. They may be based on structure, content, form, et. al., but I am willing to bet nearly every poet has them.

For example: Sound poetry. I am fascinated by sound poetry and would see myself moving in that direction in the future as I continue to explore down to the letter level where I’m going in my poems. Other poets are not so interested in sound poetry or think that poems should explore real things/have functional properties. This is an okay limit to have, but I can see myself moving past it. I don’t necessarily see poetry as being tied up in the emotion of the speaker. Sometimes it has to do with the visceral, psychosomatic reaction that a reader has to the poem. And sometimes, the poem just sounds fascinating and intricate. It may just be a work of art, an experience. That’s okay with me.

But there are limits I don’t even want to get close to. For me, those are not structural or formal limits. They’re content limits. Moral limits.

Though I see poetry as an exploration of some of the deepest parts of the human, including the grotesque ones, I’m not sure how far I could go in describing depravity and evil. As a Christian, I think that there are lines I wouldn’t want to cross or even toe near. Some poets may agree with me and others may argue that I’m limiting myself to certain subject matter. I’m okay with limiting myself in this way. I think that each poet ought to decide what his/her limits are in poetry. These limits may change over time as each of us develop, but right now I’m starting to consider for myself what it means to guard morality within a poem. (For myself? For readers?)

Do you see yourself having limits when you approach your poetry? If so, what are they?

Truth About My Pieces & The Addiction Within Them

After my poems that I have written for whirlwind/workshop, I feel as though there has been speculation in relation to what parts are raw from the author as the speaker and which parts are fabricated to create poetry. This information is not something that a poet usually divulges, but I feel it necessary to get closer with you all, and have you understand my writing, and myself as a person.

I do not smoke cigarettes–nor have I ever. I do not plan on having toxic chemicals in my lungs, but I find them mesmerizing to write about. The concept that arises from them, and the sensation (I can only imagine) is so vivid that I crave to write about things in that realm of topics. There’s so many angles to take with an idea like cigarettes–something that is mental, and physical, and emotional–yet literally killing you. It is baffling for me to understand WHY people actually smoke, but it is also baffling how much fantastic language can come from such a cruel idea. I understand that this topic can be ‘overwritten’ about, but I don’t believe in that. I think that anything written is original, and that I can take a spin on something that is mainstream–making it completely my own. I tend to, personally, focus on manipulation of language, and the sonic qualities of words. That is where I took my Marlboro Orange piece. To create an unexpected, sensual experience. That is typically my goal after I ‘finish’ a poem.

Yet, I do have an alcoholic dad–and I always will. I have never truly known my father sober, except for the fourteen months that he dedicated to ‘bettering himself’ AKA rehab. However, that ended this past month–AKA relapse. But, that’s a different story for a different day. What I am here to tell you, is that my “cigarette” poem was a ‘lie’. And my “recovering alcoholic as a dad/not really recovering, not really a dad” poem is as true as it gets. That was down to my core, raw.

Not that any of this should change your interpretation of my piece, or allow you to view me differently as a peer, but it is an FYI to then look at the difference in my pieces. Personally, I think my cigarette piece was easier to write. That might be why the language is prettier, and more fluid and sensual. I enjoyed writing it. As for the alcoholic piece, that seems less ‘Julia’ to me. And that’s due to the fact that I was literally uncomfortable crafting it. But maybe that ‘uncomfortability’ is good. Maybe it will help me–in poetry, and in my family…

I am not sure what causes my inclination to write about addictive things. I honestly did not even notice that was a ‘theme’ of mine until Grace brought it up during workshop. I tend to write about the darker areas of human thought and interaction. I suppose I find it fascinating to experience on paper, in hopes that I will never have to live it in the flesh.

 

Jules

 

That First Bite

That first bite of a apple. Its crisp, juicy, and crunchy. You cringe a little if you’re eating it in a silent room because you know people can hear you, and face it they’re probably annoyed by the sound too. That crunch, that crack…how can we portray those distinct sounds in our writing? Anyone can blatantly write something like, “She took a bite out of her red delicious apple.” But as a reader, what does that sound like? The readers aren’t there to experience that sound of the bite, as a writer, our jobs are to take them through the experience, treat the reader as if they were there in that moment, stimulate their senses.

This brings me to my point of word choice. Whether your poem is long, short, or in between, every word has a purpose. Each word in poetry takes its reader through the meaning of the piece. Word choice may also be important to help create rhythm or set the tone of the piece. Poetry possesses such compact form, and with that being said, word choice affects that form. Going back to the image of the first bite of an apple, there is a difference when one may write, “She bit the apple and it made a noise and the apples juice dripped down her chin.” Compared to, “The loud crack of the apples skin hitting her teeth caused the room to fall into a hush as the juice dribbled down her chin.” The word choice in the first sentence does not evoke much sensory stimulation compared to the second sentence, it tells a mini story, almost as if the reader was there as it happened.

I know as a writer I personally struggle with word choice. But one technique I found to be helpful was just writing down whatever I wanted to say, no matter if it made sense or not, and then rereading it and editing it as much as possible to cut down or add necessary words. Word choice is tricky, but as long as you strive to take your reader on a journey, you have succeeded.

Abstract Meaning

After being asked to think of what readers should glean from reading our work, I began to think that I am one of those obnoxious writers who wants my readers to pull apart my work, and find all the hidden nuances that I hid within the words. I’m comfortable with eccentric format and strange phrases as long as they mean something.

This seems to be a tragic flaw, not just in my writing, but in reading. I thought I read for pleasure until I began to think how frustrated I get when someone says “Why does the poem have to mean something?” My frustration stems from the writing process itself. In poetry, every word must mean something; there is no where to hide on the page. It makes perfect sense that a poet would take time to choose the word or phrase that means something to the poem. And yet, there are poems that are too abstract to begin to understand. e.e. cummings is one of those poets that cause me to make grand assumptions when searching for meaning (which I search for in the capitilized words). I think it shortens my ability as a writer to not be able to simply appreciate poems that are based solely on sound, image, or experimental techniques. It’s something that I’m working to understand, and maybe one day enjoy.