A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature

Volume 12     Issue 4     December 2018

Responses to Jim Ferris' "Crip Poetry"

In 2004 Jim Ferris, wrote "The Enjambed Body: A Step Toward a Cripple Poetics". Published in the Georgia Review what may have been the first essay to argue that something called disability poetry not only existed but might merit theoretical description. That same year he published his hugely successful book The Hospital Poems which gave concrete expression to the ideas put forth in his essay. It was not until two years later, however, that Ferris distilled his ideas about what might constitute disability poetry into a de facto manifesto, "Crip Poetry, or How I Learned to Love the Limp." First published in On the Outskirts, a chapbook produced by the Inglis House Poetry Workshop, it was reprinted to a wider audience by Wordgathering in 2007. That was over a decade ago.

Since that time "Crip Poetry" has become a touchstone for many disabled poets, both those who were new and those who were trying to formulate their own ideas in a field that is rapidly expanding and becoming increasingly complex. In the Disability Poetics Symposium at the University of Pennsylvania this fall where Ferris was one of the featured readers, it was evident that much of the poetry read, discussed and theorized had morphed considerably from those characteristics set down in Ferris' 2006 essay.

To gain some idea of the influence of Ferris' essay on their development as poets and look at the way that their own work expanded upon, diverged from or took exception to "Crip Poetry" Wordgathering asked contemporary poets to respond to Ferris's essay.

Poet Avra Wing who runs NYWC Workshop at the Center for the Independence of the Disabled, NY (CIDNY) offered the following thoughts.


In his essay on crip poetry, Jim Ferris makes the case that we need to go far beyond expanding language about the body to include people with disabilities, to create new meanings of what a body is, what movement is, what perception is. The way we, as poets, can do this is to write from our truth without putting it in the context of some supposed standard of ability. Ferris states that disability poetry "finds value and strength within disability experience, not in spite of impairments but because of and through them." While it is something I am working towards, for those of us who became disabled later in life this may be harder to do. For us, becoming disabled is associated with loss—of what we no longer can do, and, often, of health, or of parts of our bodies. We must learn to grow into new identities. The path toward that, and, ultimately, perhaps, to celebrating our changed status, is not an easy one, and we may never get there. But I believe our experiences are also valid: there is no one narrative of disability. I think including our perspective can add to the genre. I hope I will have something to contribute by reflecting on the shift in my thinking about disability, by exploring how I see the world now that I must negotiate its lack of accessibility, and by recording the process of seeing myself in a new way and embracing who I have become.

Other than Wing's reply, each of the response that we received back were essays publishable in their own right. Taken together they form an important snapshot of the direction that disability poetry is heading.

Wordgathering invites further discussion of Jim Ferris' "Crip Poetry, or How I Learned to Love the Limp" and discussion of what constitutes disability poetry. Queries can be addressed to comments@wordgathering.com.


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