Disability is often perceived as deviance from some encoded norm; I know this as a disabled person who is regularly referred to as “weird.” Perhaps some people mean my large hair or loud clothing, but many are employing a euphemism to refer to my purple wheelchair or stumbling gait. Dear reader, I have used a disabled “I” so soon so you might know that this series is committed to the disability rights mantra “Nothing about us without us!” even as the “I” and “us” and “you” in this series are unstable (literally … you should see the scabs on my legs).
Bodies, like poems, always mean what they ceaselessly say: that even if they could speak — and they can — we would not understand them. — Craig Dworkin, “The Stutter of Form”
Jane Joritz-Nakagawa: Jennifer, I’d like to start by discussing the anthology you co-edited, Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. In the preface you explain that a purpose of the anthology was to present non-mainstream views of disability while offering a considerable range of stylistic diversity in poetry by disabled poets, mostly poets with a visible disability. Since the anthology was a collaboration I wanted to ask you what you learned through the process — what benefits did you receive and what hurtles did you need to overcome? What did you learn both from the process of collaboration and from the project as a whole? Also, how would you evaluate the result — do you feel you achieved your aims? What reactions have you received from readers who identify as disabled and from others who don’t? (This is a bunch of questions that we could discuss either separately or all together, depending on how you wish to answer them!)
I’m back, with apologies for the long absence. The bad news is that I had to take a month break from these Commentaries due to a minor but temporarily disabling health issue, that pretty much knocked me out of commission, for anything but the day job. The good news is that I’m healed, my “tenure”here has been extended, and I'll be posting these Commentaries through November.
Last fall, on my trip across the country (mostly by rail) to visit the park spaces designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, I worked in a visit to one of the poets most readily associated with American space (though not urban space), Gary Snyder, at his residence high above the Yuba River, Kitkitdizze. I have yet to document that conversation (we spoke, amongst other things, of Gary’s experience bivouacking in Central Park in the late ’forties, while awaiting his seaman’s papers), which will happen, when I get around to it, on the Olmsted blog. After I left Gary, I stopped just on the other side of the Yuba River, to check out something called the Independence Trail. It turns out that the trail — occupying the site of old, abandoned hydraulic miner’s ditch — was built in answer to a request to, “Please find me a level wilderness trail where I can reach out and touch the wildflowers from my wheel chair.” It is a mostly level trail, shaded by oak and pine, that contours the slope of the undeniably wild Yuba River valley, with views to the river below. At the time, I did not know that this trail, the “First Wheelchair Accessible Wilderness Trail in America,” had been created by one John Olmsted, a distant relative of Frederick Law. J. Olmsted worked to save hundreds of acres in what is now the South Yuba River State Park, as well as what is now Jug Handle State Nature Reserve on the Pacific Coast in Mendocino County, Goat Mountain in the Coastal Range, and the Yuba Powerhouse Ranch. He wanted to create a “Cross California Ecological Trail.” Walking his Independence Trail helped me realize, yet again, how limited my conception of wilderness can be.