Wendy French admires an anthology of work by deaf and disabled poets

Stairs and Whispers
Deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back
Edited by Sandra Allad, Khairani Barokka and Daniel Sluman
Nine Arches press 
ISBN 9781911027195   

The poem knows how to enter a room 
                               [“Audience” by Sandra Alland]

And the varied, sensitive but well controlled and intelligent in this collection certainly know how to enter a person’s psyche. Dannie Abse once said that he wanted to enter a poem and come out of it feeling differently; and this collection of poems from deaf and disabled poets do that to reader. There wasn’t one poem in the book that made me wonder why it has been included in this fine collection. None of the writers in this anthology feel sorry for themselves but they are ready to stand up and show the world what it is like to be partially hearing or to have a disability. All manners of disability are represented here including full or partial hearing loss, mental illness, blindness, other physical disabilities, illness and chronic pain.

In between poems there are paragraphs from different writers who identify what it is like for them personally to have a disability and what they perceive it is like for others to see them.

Cathy Bryant writes: ‘Disability informs my poetry because it is part of who I am and how I live my life and perceive the world and how the world sees me. For example, when an article on writing suggests “going for a walk and observing nature,” they assume that the reader can see and walk’.

In “Ms Bryant is Dangerously Delusional from Statements said or written about me and/or my partner Keir” written by Catherine Bryant, the reader enters the world of someone whose life and control of the everyday is taken over by the professionals. I found it a very upsetting poem to read but it is one worthwhile to dwell on as it made me question my own thoughts and sensibilities. That is why it should be read and considered. It is an honest and brave poem.

If she can write a letter then she’s not that disabled. 
In spite of all her disabilities she was able to visit Heptonstall Graveyard – to visit a grave.
You seldom see the curtains open. 

The main body of the book is divided into sections: Bodies, Rules, Maps, Dreams and Legends.

In the section on Dreams, Lisa Kelly provides two fine examples of how poems can be read on different levels to inform, teach, and stand as good poetry without waving a political flag in the face of the reader. In “Hearing Loss” the last three lines:

…as I bang
my head against a brick wall, and hit
upon it was not ‘b’ but ‘d’. Damn!

Kelly writes of her work: ‘Ellen McGrath Smith’s essay in “Beauty is a Verb”, “Hearing a Pear: The Poetry Reading on a New Frequency”, helped me approach my mishearing as something that can generate creativity, word tag and word play being a crucial part of how I compose.’ I warm to this idea of creative play which is surely what writing is about but Kelly has turned her disability into an advantage. The ability to do this is a small compensation for the loss of haring in one ear.

This book is far more than a slim collection of poems. It is an anthology of poetry, essays, photos and valuable links to on-line videos and audio recordings. The book shows us another world of literature that needs further exploring. It is an exceptional piece of work for the poems are well-crafted, informative, intelligent, heart-rendering, angry, happy and sad. It is a remarkable collection written by known and less-known voices but all voices certainly deserve to be heard. Congratulations to the editors and Nine Arches Press for taking on this fine work and bringing it to the attention of us all.

Watching the swelling, I carry my joints
upright, to my side, lift them above
my heart as I edge down concrete stairs.   
                                               [“Structure”, Eleanor Ward]

Wendy French’s latest collection is Thinks Itself A Hawk – poems from UCH Macmillan Cancer Centre (Hippocrates press 2016 ISBN 978-0-957-2571-7-7)