A Journal of Disability Poetry

Volume 3     Issue 2     June 2009

Book Reviw Index

For the over two years of its existence Wordgathering has made a genuine effort to bring readers reviws of new books of poetry or poetry related books by writers with disabilities. It has also looked at poetry that focused on disability. In this issue those reviews continue with a look at an extremely important book, Deaf American Poetry, edited by poet John Lee Clark. Clark's just-released anthology takes on this history of Deaf poetry in the United States form its first stirrings to the present.

In addition to this featured review, Wordgathering is also providing readers to take a backward look at any of the books reviewed so far. Below are listed in alphabetical order of author/editor excerpts from all prior reviews. To read the complete review, simply click on the title of the book. One of the services that a small online publication like Wordgthering can provide is the opportunity for you to learn about new and exciting work of writers that you will not find by browsing the aisles fo the mega-bookstores. Take a look and support these poets by buying their work.

  • Sheila Black, How to be a Maquiladora. In How to be a Maquiladora Black departs from the subject of disability to reveal another side of her experience. This slim volume of poetry portrays life in the borderlands between her home of Las Cruces, New Mexico and the Mexican border. The book is published by Main Street Rag.

    House of Bone - In How to Be a Maquiladora. Sheila Black demonstrated her gift for using details to create images that evoke the life and environment of a specific locale. In House of Bone, her first major collection of poetry, Black paints with a much broader stroke. Not only does House of Bone, cover a much wider range of topics and experiences, but the particularities that she describe also seem to begrudginglyconceal the universal in the particular. This collection is also a much more personal book. While individual poems in Maquiladora, such as "Desert Life," remind the reader that the poet was no mere observer but a part of that environment about which she wrote, in House of Bone, Black's own experiences provide the grist for the poems.

  • C. E. Chaffin - Unexpected Light. C. E. Chaffin’s Unexpected Light is an increasing rarity among the books that Wordgathering reviews: it is truly a selected works. In recent years, the trend among books of poetry that relate to disability is to produce slim volumes of poems forming a narrative context from which all individual poems take meaning. Chaffin's volume bucks this trend. Though comfortably sized, at over 140 pages, Unexpected Light is not slim and readers can thank the author for forgoing the high gloss and allowing them to actually afford to buy and read the poems: poem per pound, it is a great deal.

  • Rebecca Foust - Dark Card. Foust's work is extremely important because in dealing with disabilities that are not primarily physical, their work sits on the edge of that thin blade between disability literature and illness narrative. Foust's descriptions in Dark Card of the disjuncture between reality and how it is presented, in phrases like "dance-and-shuffle routine," "parlor tricks," and "a swindle, a flimflam, a lie" also raise questions about the nature of art.

  • Ona Gritz - Left Standing . Left Standing is not a random collection of best poems, but a series of poems that, taken as a whole form a narrative. The title of the book comes from a poem by Linda Pastan and refers to the climax of the story, the death of the poet's father and her realization that she is now on her own in the world. Structurally the book is divided into two parts, the first half focusing on her mother's life, the second on her father's. The relationship among the members of the family and her relationship with each of her parents form the subjects of the poems.

  • Cynthia Leweicki-Wilson and Brenda Brueggemann - Disability and the Teaching of Writing. Putting forth their belief that "research and pedagogy go hand in hand, helping us to reimagine teaching and learning through the lens of disability," Lewiecki-Wilson and Brueggeman have assembled representative writings from virtually every scholar in the field of Disability Studies who has commented on the teaching writing. As befits teachers of writing , they have also laid out the book in three distinct sections. The first group of articles addresses issues of disability awareness in teacher training. The second, and probably most accessible for the average reader, is also the most unique. In it, teachers with disabilities discuss their experiences in the classroom - an area of discourse that Brueggemann, in particular, as championed. The third and largest section deals with the teaching of disabilities concepts.

  • Linda Cronin - Dream Bones. Even among poets who willingly claim the title of disability poet, very few actually produce a collection of poems whose major purpose is to portray disability. For that reason, if for no other, Linda Cronin’s collection, Dream Bones is an important one. It is the piling on of images such as this by which Dream Bones works. Cronin is not giving us polished jewels to be dazzled by, but scenarios , the accretion of which makes the unique circumstances of a woman with a disability – and by extension the lives of people with disabilities in general – impossible to ignore.

  • Therese Halsheid - Last Movements. While books such as Patricia Wellingham-Jones’ End Cycle have focused on the process of dementia from the point of view of a spouse and caregiver, Last Movements looks at it from the eyes of daughter, a viewpoint in which her own development as a teenager shadows her father's de-velopment. Halscheid opens her collection with a short prose piece, "My Father’s Sweater." This is an interesting and refreshing move for a single-author poetry book, and it accomplishes two things. The vignette itself lays the context for the poems that follow, and it allows the poet to give her work a bit of a different look by appearing to avoid the three section format poetry books inevitably fall into.

  • Basanta Kar - The Unfold Pinnacle. In his latest book of poetry, The Unfold Pinnacle, Basanta Kar focuses on disability in a larger context. The Unfold Pinnacle is written as much for educational as it is for literary purposes. The book is based upon the lives of poor women in rural India, many from villages whose people are facing extinction. Each poem is essentially a vignette drawn from the story of an actual woman's life, to which the author has added his own didactic voice. The poem is followed by a short note about the subject of the poem.

  • Petra Kuppers and Neil Marcus - Cripple Poetics: A Love Story. Petra Kuppers and Neil Marcus' Cripple Poetics: A Love Story is not your mother's poetry. Well, yes it is, but with many permutations and shape-shifts that give it a modern text that still retains the feel of a good old-fashioned love story. Besides, it is fun.The blurb on the book's back cover describes it as comparable in spirit to the literary correspondence of Heloise and Abelard or the Brownings and, in so far as it deals with literary writings between two poets, that is true. Even more than love, the real subject of the book is communication.

  • Ellen LaFleche - Estella with One Lung. Ellen LaFleche's slim chapbook Estella, With One Lung is quite simply put - a jewel. First books of poetry tend to go in one of two directions. Either they are composed of individually well wrought poems whose connection with each other are tenuous, or they constitute an interesting but prosaic narrative. In Estella LaFleche has managed to put it all together. The book portrays some of the salient experiences in the lives of Estella Beauregard and her husband Bert, from Estella's chemotherapy treatment until her death. LaFleche skillfully avoids sentimentality, moralizing, didacticism and attempts at inspiration, the Bermuda quadrangle of disability poetry. As a result, her poems are real and we believe her.

  • Laurie Clements Lambeth - Veil and Burn. From the opening lines of Veil and Burn readers know they are in for something special and not the usual first book of poems. Laurie Clements Lambeth has given us a book of poetry about disability that is at once both searing and sensuous. This in itself may not seem surprising coming from a poet who is the book review editor for the Disability Studies Quarterly, but what one does not necessarily expect is the deftness of the organizational structure.

  • Tom Lombardo (ed) - Aftershocks: The Poetry for Recovery from Life-Shattering Events. As the cover announces, the anthology’s poetry is drawn from 115 poets and 15 countries, Some, like Donald Hall, William Stafford and Rita Dove are known to anyone who reads poetry. Others, such as Therése Halscheid, Liesl Jobson and Patricia Wellingham-Jones have been published in Wordgathering and other literary journals of disability. Many, though, are fresh faces, known only to readers of small literary magazines. The poems in After Shocks are organized by the "life shattering events" to which they seem to speak. These include such events as the death of a spouse, war, bigotry, abuse, and divorce.

  • Gary Presley - Seven Wheelchairs: A Life Beyond Polio . Many quality narratives have been published including those by Nancy Mairs, Anne Finger, Kenny Fries, Lucy Grealy, Stephen Kuusisto, John Hockenberry, Eli Claire, Floyd Skloot, and Simi Linton. To these, Gary Presley’s Seven Wheelchairs: A Life Beyond Polio (2008) needs to be added. Like a good story teller, Presley begins the first page of his narrative with the pivotal moment in his life, a polio inoculation that went awry.

  • David and Daniel Simpson - Audio Chapbook. Perhaps the most surprising thing about David and Daniel Simpson's Audio Chapbook is that it has not appeared earlier. Both Dave and Dan are musicians with successful performances in concerts and in theater, not to mention poetry readings. And both are blind. The best way to experience Audio Chapbook may be simply to pop it into the car's CD player on the way to work or, if stuck in bed for the day, to ask the CNA to turn it on for you, then just lean back and enjoy it.

  • Marilyn Brandt Smith (ed) - Behind Our Eyes. Behind Our Eyes, edited by Marilyn Brandt Smith, had its genesis when Sanford Rosenthal urged the National Writers Union to support a workshop for disabled writers.While some of its contributors, such as poet Nancy Scott and photographer Heather Kirk have made appearances in national publications like Kaleidoscope, few readers are likely to recognize the writers whose names appear in the table of contents. The anthology is one which truly tries to provide a forum for new voices. At almost two hundred pages, it definitely gets good marks for the sheer quantity of material offered.

  • Megan Webster – Bipolar Express, which draws upon the poet’s experiences as a mother with a bipolar son, rewards more than one reading. The dedication "For Elgan, and all who swing from pole to pole, and for the relatives and friends who care for them" makes clear the book’s focus. Bipolar Express is divided into three parts, each of which is grounded by a representative poem designating that section.

  • Patricia Wellingham-Jones - End Cycle. Readers of Patricia Wellingham-Jones' Don't Turn Away will be familiar with her ability to weave individual poems, complete in themselves, into a text that tells a much larger story. Don't Turn Away chronicled her experience of breast cancer from the discovery of the initial lump through a mastectomy and into readjustment and reaffirmation. End-Cycle, Wellingham-Jones' latest book, tackles an equally difficult subject, her husband Roy's journey into dementia and eventual death. As with Don't Turn Away, End-Cycle is not just a collection of poems, it is a fully formed story with problem, climax and denouement.

  • Kathi Wolfe - Helen Keller Takes the Stage. In writing Helen Takes the Stage: The Helen Keller Poems, Kathi Wolfe takes on two major problems that might be labeled a political problem and an aesthetic problem. The political problem is how to extricate Keller from the aura of sainthood. The aesthetic challenge is how to give voice to Helen Keller, a woman who was blind and deaf.

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