What Is Disability Literature?

Disability literature is the category of writing that includes all short stories, poems, or novels written by or about disabilities. Many liberal arts colleges offer classes devoted to understanding the struggles of disabled people through the written word, and we thought we’d explore some of the poems we deem most important to this difficult facet of history. Here are a few of our favorite poems about disability.

“I Won’t Break” was written by Michael Morrell and is a testament to understanding the feelings often experienced by a disabled person who feels different from everyone else. These are individuals who have lived their lives from a wheelchair or on SSDI income, often being looked down upon for no reason at all — or at the very least no reason that’s their fault. 

INSTRUCTIONS FOR HUGGING THE DWARF GOODBYE AT THE WRITER’S CONFERENCE

The first one is always most awkward, hesitant,

a one sneaker in the store lace-up to see if it fits,

a try it on in the mall dressing room squeeze.

You will not break me, my shirt should read.

Slap a shipping sticker on me. Non-fragile.

No glass enclosed. Handle with carelessness.

Like toothpaste, laundry, salad dressing and

potato chip bags, I could come with directions.

For best results squeeze from the bottom, tumble dry,

shake well before using, grab both ends and pull apart.

And don’t forget that shampoo mantra, repeat if desired.

I need a good marketing agency. Yes, smaller than

expected, he’s our concentrated formula,

use less and wash the same amount of loads.

Environmentally-friendly packaging.

New and Different look.

“It’s For Life” was written by Barbara Crooker, a mother whose son was on the spectrum. This is a poem that says a lot with only a few words. It’s a great read for people who don’t understand the struggles of the disabled or their most cherished loved ones, for whom the disability can be just as big of a weight on their shoulders.

My autistic son listens to the oldies,

digs that old time rock ‘n roll rhythm & blues.

My husband says it’s like our teen years

are hanging out in his room, coming from the radio—

When the night is dark, and the land is far

and the moon is the only light you see—…

What misfired neurons cause him to shake

and fidget his fingers before his eyes,

call out in class when the teacher’s talking,

be out of synch with everyone else?

Up on the roof it’s peaceful

as can be, and there the world below

can’t bother me. When we’re gone, what then?

What slot will he fit into like a quarter

slipping in a jukebox for three plays,

slow songs you could dance to all night long?

Our Favorite Poem For A “Hopeful” Vibe

We’re had a rough year. Maybe a loved one passed away. Maybe we closed a business. Maybe we’re still fending off the long-term effects of COVID-19. No matter what we’re dealing with, sooner or later there comes a time when we must move on toward the next stage of life. Right now, we could all use a little lifting up by our bootstraps. This is our favorite poetic masterpiece for when we’re feeling down and need a little hope or inspiration. It’s called “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou.

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Our Favorite Poems Written By Seniors

The end of life can be a scary period of transition for many men and women. Many of their closest friends and family have died, drifted apart, or been sent away to live the rest of their lives in the unfamiliar environment that is the typical American care facility. Many such facilities try to inspire new residents to explore their feelings through the written word — especially poetry. It can be a way to talk about fear or let out the new feelings…but also a way of finding new friends who like to listen!

One Atria Tanglewood resident who was born in Germany in 1925 wrote a poem on “Being Sad.” And she would know a lot about the subject. She never enjoyed much social security until it was actually time to collect, because she grew up in Nazi Germany. She escaped to England by the time she was thirteen years old. At that point, she lost her family members — and support system. But she always stayed positive despite these adverse conditions. Here’s “Being Sad” in its entirety:

There are times when we feel sad

Not even knowing what brought on the bad

We must shake it away

Bring happy thoughts to stay

There is so much to be grateful for

So much to enjoy – happiness right at the door

There is sunshine – birds singing – blue sky

Then we ask ourselves – feel sad? Why?

Get rid of sad thoughts – bring on the smile

That will make you feel great for more than a mile

So, keep going – enjoy being you

And that will really be true!

The following poem is called “Reminiscing” and was written by resident Paul — who, at 98 years old, has a number of beautiful words to sum up the pangs of nostalgia we experience so often in life, especially when we begin to see the end. But knowing it’s there doesn’t slow everyone down. Here’s the poem:

I have a secret buried deep down inside…

And nobody knows it but me.

My life flowed like a river…so deep and so wide…

And nobody knows it but me.

Yesterday’s dreams seem to linger and linger

Of when I was young, barefoot and free…

Yet I look back and sigh…but the years still speed by…

And nobody knows it but me.

My mind travels back thru days sweet and sublime…

And nobody knows it but me.

I pause and reflect thru space and thru time…

And nobody knows it but me.

I dream now and then and recall once again

All the promises that were destined to be…

They’re still on my mind…all those memories left behind…

And nobody knows it but me.

I’ve gone thru the dusk of my twilight years…

And nobody knows it but me.

I reminisce time and again without fright…without fear…

And nobody knows it but me.

Grateful for living my life until now…

When the best things in life were free…

My deep secret then…is to live over and over again

At Atria …where nothing ever seems to grow old.

What Poems Should I Read My Kids?

Kids have more imaginative minds than we give them credit for — and believe it or not, sometimes they have an easier time interpreting complex imagery than even we do. For that reason, there’s really no “bad” poem to read your kids. Maybe put down Edgar Allen Poe for a few minutes before bed, but in general your best judgement will usually do the trick. That said, here are one or two of our very favorites.

“The Crocodile” was written by Lewis Carroll, a poet who lived from 1832-1898 — and proof that oldies can still be goodies. This strange poem provides a gentle aura to creatures that are usually terrifying.

How doth the little crocodile

     Improve his shining tail,

And pour the waters of the Nile

     On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,

     How neatly spreads his claws,

And welcomes little fishes in,

     With gently smiling jaws!

Here are a couple stanzas from Edward Hirsch’s “Fall,” a poem about seasonal change. We strongly recommend sharing this one over a mug of hot chocolate on a cool autumn day. Hirsch’s ability to set the mood of fall is exemplary by nearly any measure of the written word.

Fall, falling, fallen. That’s the way the season 

Changes its tense in the long-haired maples 

That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves 

Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition 

With the final remaining cardinals) and then 

Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last 

Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground. 

At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees 

In a season of odd, dusky congruences—a scarlet tanager

And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever 

Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun 

Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance, 

A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud 

Blamelessly filling the space with purples.

Poetry Inspired By California Lawyers

When you hear the word “lawyer,” you probably don’t immediately think of creative writing, poetry, or liberal arts education grants and programs. But believe it or not, writing is a pastime that anyone can love to experience. Then again, others stick to reading (or avoiding). Poetry is a worldwide phenomenon that has been around since the beginning of recorded history, and for good reason.

Some Socal Injury Lawyers were inspired to form California Lawyers for the Arts (CLA) back in the 70s, but the organization has grown a lot in the almost 50 years since then. When the CLA hit its 40th anniversary, it published a collection of poems by its most popular poets. Here are our favorites!

The following excerpt is called “Tender Arrivals” and was written by Amiri Baraka. This delightful poem is one calling out to be interpreted in the classroom by children or young adults who have no idea what she’s talking about.

Where ever something breathes

Heart beating the rise and fall

Of mountains, the waves upon the sky

Of seas, the terror is our ignorance, that’s

Why it is named after our home, earth

Where art is locked between

Gone and Destination

The destiny of some other where and feeling

The ape knew this, when his old lady pulled him up

Off the ground. Was he grateful, ask him he’s still sitting up there

Watching the sky’s adventures, leaving two holes for his own. Oh sing

Gigantic burp past the insects, swifter than the ugly Stanleys on the ground

Catching monkey meat for Hyenagators, absolute boss of what does not

Arrive in time to say anything. We hear that eating, that doo dooing, that

Burping, we had a nigro mayor used to burp like poison zapalote

Waddled into the cave of his lust. We got a Spring Jasper now, if

you don’t like that

woid, what about courtesan, dreamed out his own replacement sprawled

Across the velvet cash register of belching and farting, his knick names when they

let him be played with.

Lucille Clifton wrote “won’t you celebrate with me,” taking liberties with punctuation (or the lack thereof). This short masterwork presents simplistic questions that demand complex answers about life, race, gender, and the reality in which we live — which isn’t always an easy one to survive. Here’s the full poem:

won’t you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

Our Favorite Poems About Nature

The natural world is an oft-explored concept in poetry — although not as much as it once was when we were still exploring the New World. But there have been bursts of new nature poems published in the last few decades as the extent of the danger of man-made climate change has become more apparent. Many writers feel close to nature and find that speaking to what they know comes easier when exploring. 

One of our favorites is a simple poem by Katherine Riegel called “What I Would Like To Grow In My Garden.”

Peonies, heavy and pink as ’80s bridesmaid dresses

and scented just the same. Sweet pea,

because I like clashing smells and the car

I drove in college was named that: a pea-green

Datsun with a tendency to backfire.

Sugar snap peas, which I might as well

call memory bites for how they taste like

being fourteen and still mourning the horse farm

I had been uprooted from at ten.

Also: sage, mint, and thyme—the clocks

of summer—and watermelon and blue lobelia.

Lavender for the bees and because I hate

all fake lavender smells. Tomatoes to cut

and place on toasted bread for BLTs, with or without

the b and the l. I’d like, too, to plant

the sweet alyssum that smells like honey and peace,

and for it to bloom even when it’s hot,

and also lilies, so I have something left

to look at when the rabbits come.

They always come. They are

always hungry. And I think I am done

protecting one sweet thing from another.
Riegel’s work is a testament to simplistic writing — while it doesn’t always work the way we expect, it can evoke truly beautiful emotions when it does. In only a few lines, she reminds us of what it is like to nibble on fresh vegetables, smell colorful flowers, or watch cuddly animals try to invade the sanctity of the backyard garden.

The Different Types Of Poetry

Poetry is a form of written art developed by humans almost since the first word was written down and recorded. Needless to say, we’ve refined the artform into many different styles using many different literary devices. While we usually focus on finding new and interesting writers for our readers, today we’ve decided to go a different route: we’re going to explore the many different kinds of poetry.

Rhymed Poetry. This is obviously one of the most classic and commonly used forms of poetry — and of course this style can be used in conjunction with or to complement other popular styles. It’s not unusual to see the end of each line or every other line rhyme inside an epic, sonnet, or ode, for example. Finding words that rhyme was once a skill all its own, but there are many websites devoted to helping writers find rhyming words through complex algorithms — making the style easier to try than ever before.

Epic. We prefer to avoid sharing epics on our website because they’re simply too long to post. These poems are long, narrative works of art. They often explore legendary characters or mythological stories. Common themes in poetic epics are adventure, going on a journey or quest, or performing an almost god-like feat. 

Narrative. Speaking of narrative poetry, these poems tell a story. They can be short or long, but they veer toward longer length. One of the most popular narrative poems is “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Narrative poems are different from other stories because of the tendency to use metaphorical imagery and other literary devices to get the point across.

Haiku. The Japanese Haiku is a beloved type of poetry with only three lines going back and forth from five syllables to seven, and then back to five. Because of their ultra-short length, they can be an easy assignment for young students — because they won’t take much time to complete and force the writer to say a lot with only a little.

Limerick. These short poems consist of five lines that rhyme in the form “AABBA” (i.e. the first, second, and fifth lines follow one rhyme, while the third and fourth follow another). Limericks are great assignments for young children. They’re not as long as traditional poems and not as short as the traditional haiku.

Ballad. This type of poetry generally flows like music from stanza to stanza, with quatrains that follow rhyming schemes. John Keats was a popular writer of ballads. 

Ode. These poems, which originated in Greece, generally give a shout-out to a historical figure, dead or alive. An ode is meant to be sung. They usually glorify the subject, which might not be a figure at all. The subject might be an event, object, or even an abstract concept. It’s all up to the writer’s imagination. These are challenging assignments usually given to liberal arts college students.

Our Favorite Poems About Murder

Human history is rife with bloodshed, either through war or murder. Poets have explored every facet of this penchant for violence: why we do it, how we do it, and the cost of doing it for each successive generation. And even as we explore the reasons and mechanisms behind our own self-destructiveness, it continues to haunt us. Here is one of our favorite murder poems. Yuck.

His Soul is Torn in Response to A Ragged Soul was written by Bryan Florence to explore the feelings of a jury member when faced with the soul-crushing responsibility of deciding on another person’s fate when that person stands accused of committing a murder. Here’s the poem:

His soul is torn, taken in his youth.

I am not excusing him for killing his spouse with a hammer

His soul was lost long ago

When he was a child, merely four.

This does not enter into my conscious thoughts.

Should it though?

No.

We are here to decide on his fate.

He has already killed one,

and is suspected of murdering two who are missing.

Who could believe these were all coincidences?

Not me.

He turned and looked into my eyes once.

I felt the jury box melt.

I knew he wanted to kill me.

I felt dead.

If he could do that with a look, what could he do with a hammer?

I find it easy to cast my vote to keep him in prison for the rest of his life.

Imagining what a woman went through as he killed her with a hammer.

Pounding her head with at least forty two blows.

I never want him out.

When the verdict is read he turns and gives me a stare of pure hate.

I am terrified.

I had never met anyone soulless before.

Poems about murder all share a particular morbidity, but Florence’s short work manages to evoke feelings we don’t often think about or perceive. Juries are usually formed of mostly anonymous individuals who work behind closed doors. What do we know about how they feel when they convict a person for murder?

Exploring Debt Through Poetry

Debt and bankruptcy are among the biggest problems faced by American citizens — and their government — today, and those problems will likely be carried with us well into the future. It seems like they’re only getting worse with each new president. Poets have explored the notion of “debt” from a figurative standpoint forever. Here are a couple of our favorites.

The following poet by Paul Laurence Dunbar explores the concept of “debt” and the lack of debt settlement or relief in life. You might interpret to mean the “debts” that accrue one on top of another through bad decisions each day, i.e. the things we regret by the time we go to the grave. Or you might interpret it more literally as a commentary on American materialism and going into debt because we like to buy and buy and buy.

This is the debt I pay

Just for one riotous day,

Years of regret and grief,

Sorrow without relief.

Pay it I will to the end —

Until the grave, my friend,

Gives me a true release —

Gives me the clasp of peace.

Slight was the thing I bought,

Small was the debt I thought,

Poor was the loan at best —

God! but the interest!

This next poem is called “College’ll Wait” by Mark Stellinga — and it was added only this year! It explores debt from a different standpoint. The poem suggests that each of us has a debt to pay because we have a duty to society. College can “wait” because military service and making the world a safer, better place to live is more important. Here’s an excerpt:

She’d be doin’ absolutely everything she could to stop me from enlisting in 

the Army after school.

Trouble was…Dad and Grandpa both had proudly served, and plans ignoring their decisions didn’t feel too cool. 

Pointing at the photographs of my and my Dad’s father, all decked out in uniform, I argued with her, “Mom… 

Lots of other guys I know are joining up this summer, an’ I’d feel like a coward tellin’ Dad and Grandpa Tom…

“Given all the conflicts overseas…that I’m not going!   Plus – having missed the scholarship we all were sure I’d get –

College ’ll wait…and seein’ as Dad has yet to find a job…I don’t wanna add another dime of fam’ly debt.”

“Get in the car,” Mother barked…“it’s best you see – up close – the facet of – 

a conflict -that may help you to decide. 

We’re going to tour Walter Reed, and…by the time we leave…I’m sure you’ll feel the lucky ones are actually – those who died!”

At the end of the poem, the narrator realizes that what his mother showed him only made his desire to serve his country stronger. He’d now seen first-hand what others had sacrificed. It was important that those sacrifices be seen as a debt handed down to each future generation — and paid back one day at a time.

Valentine’s Day Poetry

Now that the holiday is past, we can start to reflect! Valentine’s Day means a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, it’s a special day where we get to show others how much we care. For others, it’s a special day to wallow in self-despair, doubt, and wonder if we’ll ever really find someone to love and who loves us back.

For many, the idea of Valentine’s Day is a joke all by itself — because why shouldn’t you share how much you love someone routinely, every day, all year long instead of just using one day as sort of an exclamation point on love?

No matter your personal beliefs, you can write a poem. And thankfully, others have already done the work for us. Here are a couple of our favorites.

Lord Byron wrote “She Walks in Beauty.” It’s a perfect way for a man to envision loving and cherishing a woman (or vice versa, if you change pronouns). Here it is:

She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

Thus mellowed to that tender light

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,

Had half impaired the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,

Or softly lightens o’er her face;

Where thoughts serenely sweet express,

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love is innocent!

Another writer named John Clare describes his feelings of “First Love,” which we mostly likely all remember. Here’s a short excerpt:

I ne’er was struck before that hour

With love so sudden and so sweet,

Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower

And stole my heart away complete.

My face turned pale as deadly pale,

My legs refused to walk away,

And when she looked, what could I ail?

My life and all seemed turned to clay.

And then my blood rushed to my face

And took my eyesight quite away,

The trees and bushes round the place

Seemed midnight at noonday.

I could not see a single thing,