Friday, April 01, 2016

How the AWP Disability Caucus Came to Town

On the urging of my husband, Jim, I decided to write this “essay” on disability, AWP, and the disability caucus. There have been rumors and misinformation flying left and right about disability, the caucus, and accessibility at AWP. There have been many posts and articles criticizing the caucus. There have been just as many articles and posts about the treatment of disabled writers at AWP from people who are very mad, yet refused to help with the caucus. There have also been things published that are factually incorrect.

I want to be clear. This article isn’t about shaming people; hence, no names will be referred to other than in positives ways and no links will be put up. It isn’t about putting down the choices of others, or the way others have chosen to deal with the issues of AWP and the world. This essay is absolutely not about trying to trump the many, many people who have come before me nor to belittle their work. Nor is this essay about my ego.

This essay is about the story of what happened, and the work that me and six or seven others did. If only to congratulate and remind myself. No need to join or even congratulate us, but I would like people to read before they continue to criticize, spread rumors, and protest.

If you want to skip the blather- scroll down to the “timeline.”

Before I continue. A bit about me. I am passionate activist and poet. I live in NYC with my husband, one son, and four animals. I have been an “outsider” poet all my life. My father is a ‘famous’ critic, so I grew up with literature, but my entry into the poetry world has been slow. I was writing for 10 years before my first book, and twenty before any recognition.

I am the author of three books of poetry, co-editor of Beauty is a Verb, and independent scholar/biographer of the poet Larry Eigner. I have no institutional backing. I do not have an academic job. I am able to support my work through SSDI and my husband’s teaching salary – neither of which are large. I was a NYC high school teacher for 4 years, but unable to deal with the prejudice, so I left. I adjunct and enjoy it. But, due to the fact that I have cerebral palsy and a speech impediment, I’ve found navigating the New York job market nearly impossible. In short, I equate myself to Sylvia Plath. I am a writer/housewife. All the work I have done with AWP has been solely funded my own household and initiative.

Here is my story:

Last year, I was invited to do a disability panel for Poetry magazine by my friend Don Share. I do not like AWP and have to fund my own trips, so I didn’t really want to do it. However, I have a good friend from Winona and desperately wanted to experience Minneapolis, so I packed up my 10 year old son and off we went.

The morning of the panel, my cell phone rang. I got the call that one of my best friends had died of a brain tumor. She moved to Russian previously and we had lost touch. Needless to say, this was all not fun… a lot happened next… but I will skip ahead.

Jeffrey and I were in the book fair, and we met two wonderful disabled writers:  Leslye Orr and Katie. They said to me, why doesn’t AWP have a disability caucus? I said, “What is a caucus?” Also, after the panel, a wonderful writer named Kelly Davio approached me. She told me that she knew someone on the AWP staff. I believe this was Christian Tersi. She had asked the person to come I and watch the end of the panel. This person was interested.

I went home and emailed my “true partner in crime,” Sheila Black, and said “What is a caucus?” She didn’t really know either, but we decided that if other minorities had one… hell, even elementary school teachers had one, we needed one too. We turned to our friend ‘Facebook” for help.

Meanwhile, our third, Michael Northen, was way ahead of the game. Early on, he began working on the Disability Consortium Table and a reading for AWP. He had a successful fundraiser to make this happen.

Here is the next chain of events:

I cannot find the original post, but just days after AWP 2015, I got to work, with Sheila’s urging. I put a post on Facebook to build a caucus.

On April 14, 2015 I posted a Facebook message asking for 30 regular attendees to sign a petition for a disability caucus.

On April 15, I had collected about 20 signatures; the first on my list was Lynn Melnick of Vida. There were a number of trans writers on the list and the list was primarily able-bodied people.

Later that day, Meg Day approached me via email and expressed interest in helping form the caucus.

By April 27, 2015 Meg, Sheila, and I had exchanged 30 emails. Meg had drafted the caucus proposal to AWP. This added up (already) to numerous unpaid hours.
On April 15, 2015 I started a Facebook group for writers with disabilities.

By May, we three, with Meg doing most of the paperwork, had submitted the caucus to AWP. So, the recent article that the caucus was put together AFTER the outcry simply isn’t true.

Then came the scandals. I am not going to dwell on those because, frankly, most people were following those versus the work we did for the caucus.

A primary complaint was that there were no disability specific panels accepted to AWP 2016, with the exception of the caucus.

Later, turned out this wasn’t completely true. The truth was more complex. There were actually a few panels based on trauma and illness and other panels with disabled writers on them.

Also, I was hesitant about signing the petition because it insisted retroactively that a disability panel be accepted, and personally, I did not agree with that. But, I am thrilled the petition got out there and helped.

On  August 1st, I reached out to Christian Teresi via facebook.  (Also, messaged David Fenza who did not reply). This started a 12 page correspondence about accessibility at AWP. I pressed hard on issues of getting a disabled activist on the Board, in the subcommittees, and accessibility issues. Meanwhile, Sandra Beasley, who lives in DC, and Sarah Katz, who works for AWP, were also working on these issues.

On August 3, 2015, Christian approached Sheila, Meg, and I regarding all the negative media attention that AWP had received. This (again) began a 20 plus email exchange. I posed question based on what I had read of other’s experiences, my own experience at Bronycon. and Meg and Sheila’s suggestions. Some of these were:

1. Is there a possibility of getting a person at registration to help people with disabilities so that we don't have to wait in line?

2. Is there a possibility that the person people connect with via email can ask as a liaison for folks if hotels give them trouble?

3. Is there a possibility that the language on the website can reflect the MLA language?

4. Is there a possibility that AWP can apologize for past inaccessibility issues?

5, is there a possibility that it be a REQUIREMENT that panelist bring print outs to panels? I don't even think that this should be in accessibility, but in general rules...

6. Could AWP consider using CART?

Because it is email, I cannot post the answers without CT permission. If he gives it, I will.

This led to a 2-hour telephone conference with Christian and others at AWP. Hopefully, I’m getting my point across. This was a lot of work and time. All along the way, we asked people to post complains, suggestions, and be involved. Many complained. Few helped.

But now we had a caucus and we needed to get organized. We quickly learned that Meg won a grant and was leaving for Australia. Over the next few months, Meg put countless hours into making bylaws, building a website, forming twitter, and Facebook pages and so on. Meanwhile, Sandra Beasley, Sarah Katz, Jillian Weisse, Michael Northen, Kelly Davio, and Ellen McGrath Smith all were working steadily on preparing for the caucus. Jim Ferris agreed to be nominated for president. I kept reaching out to people to address specific issues.

Through countless emails and hours, as a group, we were able to

1.     Build a caucus with a website, bylaws, a Board and social media.
2.     Get AWP to put more benches in the convention.
3.      Put a disability activist on the 2017 selection sub-committee.
4.      Meet numerous writers through social media.
5.     Make AWP very much aware of the issues of disabled writers.
6.     And agree to only list accessible sites on the off-site schedule (although this didn’t pan out as we intended).

Now, that I write this. I feel we haven’t accomplished as much and as vast as we set out to do. Although, just having the attention of the Directors, forming a caucus where there was none, and getting an activist on the subcommittee was a lot. Next year, it will be an even bigger splash.

What I mainly would like to point out is that I do not deserve to be put down or attacked. I, and many others, did hours and hours of work. We asked many to help. Many declined. We still went ahead. The work surely isn’t done. These are just baby steps. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Wonderful Review of Autobiography

Thank you to Ona Gritz for the wonderful review of "Autobiography" in the new issue of Wordgathering

Monday, August 25, 2014

St Mark's Poetry Project Workshop

I am teaching a workshop this Fall at St. Mark's Poetry Project.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014
7:00 pm
Tuesday, 7-9 pm: 10 sessions begin September 30
Every poet has a body which they write through and with. In this workshop we will focus on how individual impairment and the somatic experience affect poetics. We will read, discuss, and write poems based on the work of Robert Duncan, Larry Eigner, Robert Grenier, Norma Cole, CA Conrad, Bernadette Mayer, and Ellen McGrath Smith. Everyone will get a free copy of Beauty is a Verb; The New Poetry of Disability.
Jennifer Bartlett is author of Derivative of the Moving Image and (a) lullaby without any music. She is co-editor of Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. Individual poems are forthcoming in Aufgabe and Poetry. She is the biographer of Larry Eigner.
This workshop will be held at Abrons Art Center (466 Grand St. at Pitt St.).

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Academy of American Poets

Than you to the Academy of American Poets for publishing my poem from Autobiography/Anti-Autobiography.The Sun Rears...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Press Release for Autobiography/ Anti-Autoobiography

* Autobiography is a very original text for a number of reasons. Although there are many wonderful disability activists writing today, few of these have cerebral palsy and fewer are writing poetry. The primary method for "telling ones life" is memoir. 

Autobiography/Anti-Autobiography directly confronts an abliest culture, not theoretically but through direct example of a so-called "impaired" woman as she moves through the landscape of motherhood, marriage, romance, work, and sexuality. 

Neither completely narrative nor experimental "Autobiography" is a mix of a "story" of an alternate body told through both form and content.

In the tradition of Larry Eigner (a poet with severe cerebral palsy associated with Black Mountain and Olson's Projective Verse)  Bartlett creates a new form and grammar that reflects what it would mean to write through a body with cerebral palsy. She writes:  

a movement spastic
                        and unwieldy

is its own lyric and
the able-bodied are 

She confronts her oppressors:  

To be crippled means to be institutionalized, infantilized, unemployed, outcast, feared, marginalized, fetishized, desexualized, stared at, excluded, silenced, aborted, sterilized, stuck, discounted, teased, voiceless, disrespected, raped, isolated, undereducated, made into a metaphor or an example. To be crippled means to be referred to as retard, cute, helpless, lame, bound, stupid, drunk, idiot, a burden on society, in/valid. To be crippled means to be discounted as a commodity or regarded as mere commodity.

The second half of the collection is Anti-Autobiography. This part of the collection explores, not our differences, but our commonalities. Anti-Autobiography means to tell a story that can be told by anyone.  Bartlett's particular story is one of a friend passing away from HIV/AIDS, another addicted to sex, and her own challenges with motherhood, an open marriage, nature, and books.Although these are particulars, the common link is suffering, happiness, and the overall getting through life. As Robert Grenier writes his preface to the book:

What is ‘my lot’ ?  What’s in ‘a lot’ ?  AND

Into which each has been ‘thrown’—but then, how/what to say to/of it(including love poems, if it comes to that, for some other mortal/human) . . . is articulated here admirably, beginning to end !
It is nearly impossible for me not to give books away, however, because I am "in charge" of distribution, I have to be strict with myself. I am able to send potential educators a PDF. However, if you are interested in teaching it, please also buy a hard copy. Also, think of requiring your students to buy a copy, All "proceeds" will go to a second printing, and to fund my Larry Eigner biography (since I have a publisher but no institutional backing.)

I also want to make the book ACCESSIBLE TO ALL. If anyone has ideas of how to make this work, let me know.

Friday, June 20, 2014

New Book: Autobiography/Anti-Autobiograpy


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Next Big Thing: On (a) lullaby without any music

What is the working title of the book?

It is the same as it is now, but the parenthesis and absence of capitol letters arrived later.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The [Husband] poems where directly influenced by a sonnet that Lisa Jarnot wrote for her husband Thomas Evans (published in Night Scenes). The idea for the Field Guides came from experiencing the natural environment in Hood River, Oregon, and my dilettantish interest in the form of a 'field guide.' The final section came from the day I smoked marajuana with my 78 year old grandmother and a visit to the children's museum in San Francisco that had an archival room full of bones and dead things.

What genre does your book fall under? 


What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

My life is a Noah Baumbach film, utterly. And so is this book. It's Margot at the Wedding, with slightly less drama. Slightly.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Love and birds.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

 My entire life.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Lisa Jarnot, Andrea Baker, my husband Jim Stewart, my kid Jeffrey Stewart, my dad, my Aunt Cathy, my mother-in-law, my mother, my grandmother, my two pet (wild) Cardinals, Mount Adams, Maryrose Larkin, COAS bookstore in Los Cruces, Jim Campbell, a young Japanese boy I loved named Kenzo, Emma Bee Bernstein, Eric Bartlett Chappelle, Lewis and Clark, my car Susie and Powells bookstore.

I tagged:

Sheila Fiona Black, Maryrose Larkin, Andrea Baker, and Kate Greenstreet

Thursday, February 07, 2013

A Rubberband is an Unlikely Instrument

Stranger things have happened, but not really.

My neighbor, colleague and one of my dearest friends, Andrea Baker, is the subject of the documentary A Rubberband is an Unlikely Instrument. The documentary, made by Matt Boyd, is a quiet meditation of Andrea's marriage (now ended) to the talented musician Walter Baker.  This piece of cinema reflects the vision of a wonderful filmmaker, who studied with Jem Cohen.  The film has been recently discussed/reviewed in Filmmaker and Variety and The Village Voice. People who do not know cinema might review it as "tedious" but those who love Anges Varda and others, will adore it for it's beauty.

One crucial thing that the reviewerd are not mentioning is Andrea's work as a poet. Andrea and I met through poetry shortly before she was chosen by Claudia Rankine for the Poetry Society Chapbook Fellowship. She has essays pertaining to marriage Here and poetics Here. Her visual poetry appears in the Current Omni-Verse and her second collection will be published in 2013 by OmniDawn Press.

I hope those interested in the film take the time to look at Andrea's work. Like the film, like Andrea, her work is a great lyric.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Far From The Tree

I have been obsessively reading (and reading about) Andrew Solomon's new book Far From the Tree. I discovered the book last week when I read a review of it in the New Yorker that rubbed me the wrong way. Solomon's book focuses on parenting and the idea of horizontal parenting, meaning parenting a child with an identity different from yours. The 900 pages of the book include chapters about Deafness, severe disability, "dwarfism", Prodigies, Trangender children, and children who turn out to be criminals.

Although the book is about parenting, it bleeds into the disability rights movement, What is disappointing about the book is that it spreads the message of Simi Lipton, Lennard Davis, Jim Ferris, Rosemarie Garland, myself, Sheila Black and many others. However, it clearly takes someone sexier with more clout to get our message across which has been largely ignored for 30 years. This is not to say that I don't love the book and am very proud of Solomon. It's only to say that we deserve air-time too! All too often is the message of disability only attended to when the more or less abled or parents are doing the speaking...and this is frustrating.

Despite this, Solomon is caring and he truly seems to get it or get most of it. He follows through on the ideas the disability is a social construction, that typical exists (but not normal). He asks the reader to look at the children as their parents do - as valid human beings, no matter how severe their impairment. He has the ideas and language down pretty well.

He does mess up (just my luck) when discussing cerebral palsy. CP is included in the "very disabled" section and he just doesn't give enough of a description for the lay reader to understand what CP is and how it varies. He follows the life of Alix, a young women with CP, but he spends most of his time describing Alix's abled helpers rather than her. He describes Alix's physical state, but says nothing about her intellectual state. To me this is scary because people with CP are so often misjudged in their brilliance. For example, all kinds of misinformation about Larry Eigner has been written so that even I was surprised at his intellectual capabilities (i.e. how many people to you know who have read Stein, Wittenstein. Pound, and pretty much everything else.) By omitting discussion of Alix's intellectual life, Solomon is doing a disservice to all people with CP who remain under judged.

He also does the disservice of quoting transgender people but not people with disabilities. This IS a book about parenting, so not as to include children's voices would be a stylistic choice, but including the voice of one group and not another reads as ableism.

The parents in this book are to be lauded the most. In a perfect world, there would be no ableism (or at least people would know what that is!!! for crying outloud!) but these are peole who were clearly ableist and through raising a child with a disability, have expanded their view of humanity and understanding. They have been brave enough to keep their children and fight for them, and what we should do for ANY child -- accept them for who they are, not who we want. And the parents, many of whom were potential uber-parenting New York rich people, openly confess to thinking they wanted a designer baby and ended up with a child with Downs or Autism and had their lives, their attitudes changed completely. Solomon doesn't dwell on parents who rejected their children, but they have had a voice for too long. It's time to have people who are disabled or raise disabled children to have a voice.