Tuesday, March 31, 2009


In addition to 'regular' so-called blogging, I'll be doing a poem a day for National Poetry Month. The way I've decide to do this is to write a poem based off, in the styles of others. I will include the name of the poet who I am imitating.

A Mother’s Work

The mother rushes off to work clutching her coffee.
It spills into her suit sleeve.

At home, the second daughter curls in bed with a fever.
She has nearly a stranger to take care of her.

The mother travels toward the pulsating city,
In her business clothes, she looks so pretty.

As the bus flies through the tunnel
she leaves behind her most domestic funnel

Into the island of six figure salaries and
Women who count their calories.

Perhaps she is lonely for the life she misses well.
She might one day tell the boss to go to hell.

For now, she is satisfied to live her complicated life
Despite the daily grind of strife.

in the tradition of Deborah Garrison

Monday, March 30, 2009


Coming attractions: I am hoping to soon get up reviews of Nathaniel Tarn's new book and the Belladonna Elder series on Emma Bee Bernstein. Stay tuned.

I have been reading Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors. While somewhat academic, I find this collection utterly soothing. What is particularly interesting to me is the concept that illness is deserved, that cancer is the fault of the patient, brought on by unhealthy living. It reminds me of how some new-ageish people predict that disability is 'punishment' for 'bad kharma.' Yesterday, we went to a brunch with my ill friend's family and friends. This was absolutely comforting.

But, I am still having those dreams where my 'car' is out of control. Last night, I was driving through Albuquerque along the arroyos in the pitch dark. Jim was next to me and I kept trying to wake  him up. He kept sleeping.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


It seems not kosher to write about this on a poetics/disability blog, but I am a writer. I write.

I have had a friend in the hospital for two weeks. He is seriously ill, although improving slightly. This friend has been in and out of my life for twenty years. Someone who I consider in my inner-most circle, almost family. This event has left me guilty, distraught, obsessed, angry. 

In my short life, I have lost four people intensely close to me -- a sister (her age 17), a boyfriend (his age 21), a stepmother (her age 35), and my dear grandfather (age 80). My corresponding ages were 18, 22, 30, and 35. Way too much grief for a young person. I am practiced at grieving.

I am convinced that I never grieved my sister fully, despite writing numerous poems based on her and getting a tattoo with her name. Despite the fact that there are at least four children floating throughout the world named after her. My sister's death was the worse case senerio; she was happy and loved by everyone. Her death, although by illness, was sudden. She changed many, many lives and I am just now, 15 years later, beginning to process the change her death caused in so many; not only profound changes in her parents and siblings, but her grandmother, her own friends, my friends, even the entire generation of children who never met Aunt Emma. 

My anger with my friend now comes from the amount of isolation I feel. I feel like, where are the people who I thought loved me? At the moment, I feel so uncared about. This is because when I mention what I'm going through to person after person; collegues, even relatives and close friends, they quickly change the subject. So, I am in a bind. I want to be quiet, I want to draw into myself, take to my bed, but I know this is not healthy. Yet, when I 'reach out' I don't get a great response either. 

I know how hard it is for people. I know when illness is brought up that people don't know what to say. They feel uncomfortable. Getting sick is something people don't want to think about. But, I wish people would. I wish people could deal and it makes me angry that they don't. This is the fundamental reason that society cannot deal with people with disabilities, of course. 
I wish schools would teach this stuff. Perhaps Kubler-Ross's 'Of Death and Dying' should be required reading. How can we live, if we don't know how to deal with illness? 

Friday, March 27, 2009

*Wheelchair Bound

I wanted to add a note here. On my statcounter, I have been finding hits regarding the word wheelchair bound. To add another time, there is no circumstance in which wheelchair bound should be used. The correct term is a person who uses a wheelchair. A person who cannot walk, uses a wheelchair for her own needs, just like a person would use crutches, a walker, a boyfriend's arm, a cane (for blind people). We don't call blind people 'cane bound' do we? Of course, 'bound' implies that the person is tied up or completely controlled by their chair. Believe it or not, most people do not use their chairs at home THAT much. They don't go to the bathroom in them, they probably don't watch TV in them, they certainly don't sleep in them and they don't have sex in them, unless they are kinky.

The term wheelchair bound is still, somehow, making the rounds. The New York Times still feels free to use it, although yesterday, they wrote an article on the Mexican drug wars and the tag was 'Blunt talk on drugs.' BLUNT! So, who knows what they have been smoking. I was also shocked to use someone use the term at United Cerebral Palsy last week! But, the entire culture has to be re-educated. The primary public has no idea about the power and intimacy of language. That is perhaps why the word invalid floated around for so long -- in/valid.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The poet as prophet

As usual, I'm dealing with the unraveling of my own consciousness. Where does poetry fit into my life? What about academia? Activism? Religion? These questions led me to look back at Naked Heart, William Everson's book of interviews and essays edited by my father, Lee Bartlett. I am just going to quote a few passages. The first of which is an excerpt from Nathanial Tarn in an interview with Bartlett and Everson. This was conducted at Kingfisher Flat in 1986 (the year that I was 16).

Tarn: Of course, Erza Pound had this same kind of regard for the poet, and it seems to me that one of the primary reasons he was so tragically disappointed in life was that his vision really was beginning to encounter the wall of silence he had not wanted to perceive before. So, my question here would be rather brutal. Do you think that the coming generations are going to have all that elevated notion of the poet? My sense of what younger poets are doing today does not imply that prophetic idea of the poet at all.

Bartlett: I'd agree with that. Certainly I think Michael Palmer would deny a prophetic vocation, as would a poet coming out of Iowa's MFA Program.

Everson: Poetry goes through changes from primitivism to decadence: we happen to be in a decadent period right now. However, mythic possibilities will always be there.

I would like to invite poets to revisit this discussion. I realize that calling the poet (i.e. oneself) is problematic. It stinks of idealism. Still, I think it's an important question. I read somewhere a few days ago about poets being 'forced' to take jobs outside of academia, but when did poets become so tied into academia to begin with?

I would define the poet as prophet in, perhaps, more benign terms: one who writes out of pure desperation. Twenty years later after Tarn and Bartlett made this assessment, I have to say that I believe there is hope in the pure poet. If I had to name names, I might name Andrea Baker, Reb Livingston, Kate Greenstreet, Jill Essbaum, Lisa Jarnot, and Maryrose Larkin. Poets who have virtually nothing to gain (or lose by writing). I would also think back to Nathaniel himself, who, all these years later is purely dedicated to the venture. Also, Fanny Howe, who I think most closely approaches the tradition of our dear monk, Bill.

Turning at an academic for a moment, I'd like to quote Marjorie Perloff from Belladonna's new Elder series book 'Emma Bee Bernstein.'

In an interview with Emma and Nona Willis Aronowitz, Perloff questions,

'There are too many artists, too many poets. Sometimes, I think if I hear about another poet, I'll shoot myself, even though I'm the one who writes on poetry. What does this glut of so-called poets and artists do for society? I'd be much happier if the women in question became social workers or teachers or medical workers...... Seriously, whatever happened to improving society? If someone really has a vocation, she will make her art no matter what......At best, they're going to end up teaching at art schools, and the process just perpetuates itself. And there are a lot of things this society needs. We need good elementary school teachers....Nobody wants to do that now - it's considered declasse' - but that's what we need."

However harsh Perloff's words, I know she knows the issue is not without complexities. Some poets have been our country's best advocates: Ginsberg, Rukeyser, Levertov. The two vocations, advocacy and poetry are not at all mutually exclusive. And yet, is the poet hiding behind her academic job in order to build the fortress for her other vocation?

Everson states, 'Find the archetype of what you are, and then if you are a poet, you'd better not compromise what you can't be.'

I think academia and poetry have become so tied in the culture that these are questions every young - and not so young - poet has to face.

Friday, March 13, 2009


I went to Paris last month. I didn't write about it because I couldn't find the lyricism. In short, I had no idea what to say. I was so completely happy and overwhelmed. I was so over taken with what I saw an inherent beauty and civility. I was afraid to write too, in that any observation I might make, might be an incorrect one. But, here's what I saw.

I felt most comfortable in the museums, simply because that is where I feel most comfortable anywhere. The first night we went to the Orsay. I was surprised when I tried to pay that the woman kept pointing to me say, 'No, No.' O, le handicap. It seems 'le handicap' and their helpers don't pay to get into museums, and I didn't. Any of them. For wrong or right, I took full advantage of this and didn't pay to get into much. It seems le handicap (and pregnant women) strangely also go to the front of the line in the grocery store. What kind of country would think of such practical practices? How about France? When I noted to a drunk guy in line buying beer that this would never happen in America, he noted, 'America sucks.' In New York, of course, it's every person for themselves and people will push you out of the way!

I needed to do a little more research, so I asked my friend Tracey, who lives in Paris, if she had had much experience with 'le handicap' in the grocery store. She said that she did. Once she was asked to move behind a mother with an son with a disability. To me, it's mere practicality. How long should a child with a disability have to wait in line? How long should their mother? And who wants to wait behind any child at all? The other strange thing was that no one stared at me! I couldn't get over it. In Czech-Republic, the stare quotient was 100%. In New York, everywhere I go, people stare at me about 50%. In Berkley, it's a little less. Actually, everyone in Berkley is handicapped or weird. In Paris, I think two people stared at me the entire trip.

The 'free' museums are still a bit of a mystery, though. I also noticed that the Louvre lets in people who are unemployed for free. The conclusion I came to is that art is so important, all should have access to it. This also might account for the well-behaved 3 year olds sitting and drawing. 

Tomorrow, how architecture can make you believe in God.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Brian Lehrer

Today ended up being a huge day. Through a course of events, I ended up getting in touch with a producer of my favorite radio show, Brian Lehrer on WNYC. I pointed out that, while the show is excellent about diversity, they rarely, if ever, included shows on people with disabilities. I sent them a list possible topics. Today, the show took one of my ideas and did a program on Obama's promise to people with disabilities. You can listen as a pod-cast here.  

Monday, March 09, 2009

Happy Birthday MOM!

My Favorite Catholics, For My Mother

Roxann Foley, Emma Bartlett, Marisa and Danny Kelly, Thomas Merton, Bill Everson, Pope John Paul, Carolyn Kennedy, Alex Kelly, Jeffrey Stewart, Mary Fabili, Fanny Howe, Jack Kerouac (probably lasped), Michael Foley, Andy Warhol (most favorite!), Andy Warhol's mother (Julia Warhola), Father Mychal Judge, Vassar Miller, Dante.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

13 Favorite Things About My Mother, More to come

1. She always answers the phone and listens no matter how busy or cranky she is.
2. She loves my son completely, is patient with him, and dotes on him.
3. She made me look at the Metropolitian Museum of Art in an entirely new way.
4. She loves comedies.
5. She gets along well with children.
6. She worries about me.
7. When she visits (or I visit her) she waits on me hand and foot!
8. She understands my husband.
9. She buys all my son's new clothes.
10. She is a good Catholic.
11. She is in theology school.
12. She does my taxes and calls them a 'work of art.'
13. She is dedicated to her family.

Things you can read

In the current issue of Brooklyn Rail a review of Susan Bee's recent show at the A.I.R. Gallery. Looking at Charles Bernstein's images of the Amory Show, we are very unhappy that we didn't make the trip.

Meanwhile, if you would like to check on the promises that Obama has made to people with disabilities go to my favorite (current) website Politifact. Here's a hint. He actually hasn't done anything. But, I'm not giving up hope yet. 

Saturday, March 07, 2009

I find myself, lately, starting sentences with, 'As an activist...' I now realize that I am actually an activist. 

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

My 20 favorite things about my father

1. He loves his cats.
2. He can quote most of Eliot's 'Wasteland' and when I'm mad at my child he tells me 'why did you get married if you didn't want children?'
3. He says, 'You are the best poem I have ever written.'
4. He is an intellectual who loves sports and bad television.
5. He babysits a dog on Thursdays and takes it very seriously.
6. He makes excellent burritos and salads.
7. When I ask him for coffee money he gives me $60.
8. He believes in omens, signs, and conspiracy theories.
9. He says, 'We speak in a kind of shorthand you and I.'
10. He is a great collage artist.
11. He introduced me to Liz Phair and Antony.
12. Jennifer's book and Nathaniel's book.
13. He taught me to say 'Indian' not 'Native American.'
14. He is good to AF.
15. He says,' Well, you saved money on your airline ticket, so now you have more money for books!'
16. When Andy Warhol died and I cried hysterically, he surprised me with a can of Campbell's soup.
17. When I tell him poets are mean to me, he gets it.
18. He owns all the Smiths 12 inches, even though Thomas inherits them, not me.
19. He says, 'Well, Emily Post believes 'bad boys' grow up and rule the world. So, don't worry about Jeff.
20. He met Seamus Heaney at McDonalds.

And, Finally

Today is Dad's birthday! What age? Your secret is safe with me! Email birthday messages to saintlizstreet@hotmail.com  They will be passed on. I promise!

The New Baby in Our House

Photos from Peaches and Bats House Reading Photographer, Vicki Pollack