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?

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.

An Influential Poem For High School Students

It can be difficult for many of us to feel relaxed when reading poetry — because it’s not for everyone! Some struggle to read between the lines or envision exactly what a writer is trying to tell us through the written word. But even though some may not enjoy the poems we share, we still have the obligation to share them. That’s especially true for young kids and high school students whose minds are still developing. 

These are some of the most influential poems that every student should read at least once. The poem “Snow” by David Berman perfectly encapsulates the strange spontaneity of childhood — and all the bizarre things we do and say to make it interesting. It reads:

Walking through a field with my little brother Seth

I pointed to a place where kids had made angels in the snow. 

For some reason, I told him that a troop of angels

Had been shot and dissolved when they hit the ground.

He asked who had shot them and I said a farmer.

Then we were on the roof of the lake. 

The ice looked like a photograph of water.

Why he asked. Why did he shoot them.

I didn’t know where I was going with this.

They were on his property, I said.

When it’s snowing, the outdoors seem like a room.

Today I traded hellos with my neighbor. 

Our voices hung close in the new acoustics. 

A room with the walls blasted to shreds and falling.

We returned to our shoveling, working side by side in silence.

But why were they on his property, he asked.

When we talk to kids about poetry, we always must ask several questions: “What does this mean to you?” “What do you see?” “How did it make you feel?” Part of this exercise isn’t just about poetry. Instead, it’s about learning more about the students themselves. Many will use poems to explain their own feelings and experiences to those who are willing to listen (and, ironically, read in between the lines of life).

Writing About One Of Life’s Biggest Obstacles: Poverty

To say that the world has thrown us a curveball in the last twelve months is a huge understatement — and whereas all of us hope for the best in 2021, the year has certainly gotten off to a rocky start. Many of us are still out of work thanks to job cutbacks and layoffs due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has led many more to rethink their financial situations. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the written word has become all the more valuable.

You might not think that a person would choose to write about their own experiences with a Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy — but they do. That’s the sad state of the world we live in. Here are a few poems that explore this unfortunate topic.

This poem is aptly called “Bankruptcy” and was written by Kelvin Rush, who takes a somewhat comical and almost optimistic approach to what life threw his way:

My assets were sold

I was stripped naked and bare

They found all the gold

It was a callous affair

My home has now gone

My reputation in tatters

At least I’m still alive

That’s all that matters

They took all my money

My possessions, my debts

They’ll be no more legal action

No phone calls, no threats

In a year from now

I become debt free

Thank you to my creditors

For my Bankruptcy!

“Bankruptcy Hearing” by Dana Bisignani takes on a completely different tone: she writes about how the stigma of bankruptcy and financial distress can be crushing, follow you around forever, and make you feel like a child unfit to survive in the real world.

They have us corralled

in the basement of the courthouse.

One desk and a row of folding chairs—

just like first grade, our desks facing Teacher

in neat little rows.

        Upstairs,

wooden benches like pews and red

carpet reserved for those who’ve held out

the longest. No creditors have come to claim us

today. We’re small-time.

This guy from the graveyard shift

stares at his steel-toed boots, nervous hands

in his lap. None of us look each other

in the eye. We steal quick looks—how did you

get here. . .  

chemo bills, a gambling addiction,

a summer spent unemployed and too many

cash advances to pay the rent.

We examine the pipes that hang

from the ceiling, the scratched tiles on the floor,

the red glow of the exit sign at the end of the hall

so like our other failed escapes:

light of the TV at night,

glass of cheap Merlot beside a lamp,

a stop light on the way out of town.

The Best Election-Based Poetry For 2020

The election is right around the corner. Suffice it to say, many Americans are feeling anxious about the outcome of the election. The majority, in fact, call it very important whether they belong to the left or right side of the aisle. Poetry is about discerning the truth from complicated images and topics, though, which is why we’re partial to Medium’s Election 2020 collection of poems called “Resistance.”

Emma Briggs’s “Anticipation” sums up how we all feel right now. It encompasses the darkness we all see in the future, but remains optimistic in its message:

‘Like waiting for a biopsy.’

Indeed,

and I’m not even directly affected.

This last week

is not easy:

a daily escalation

of tension.

‘What if?’

Try not to slip

down the terror spiral.

Try not to trip out

on how it’s so wrong.

Focus on those

small signs of light

in this dismal tunnel.

Keep breathing,

stop reading

the comments.

Everything ends,

remember;

finally life

will cycle on

and around

as usual.

Sherrye Richardson asks “How Broken Are We?” in another practical poem. How many of us can relate to the idea that we as Americans are living in a fractured, broken society struggling to recover from its differences — even as we’ve struggled for hundreds of years?

Misery master

Destroyer of dreams, killer

Of hope and teller of lies

Surrender

Recover

Give more, go hard

Lay down, stay down

Choices, decisions react

Going forward

Some days nothing matters

Others down and blue

Reach to find

The stolen soul

Not quite defeated

Rise up America

Gail Walter shared “We Shall Not Be Moved” in order to showcase how the past can tell the story of the present and future:

“Tomorrow the invasion begins in earnest, and it is an invasion with all the implied violence. It is the feeling of flat on the ground, face in the gravel, something heavy in the middle of the back so that the stomach has nowhere to go. It is a posture of death. It is a posture that cannot sustain life. Parts of the dying earth fill my mouth so that I cannot breathe and cannot speak.”
Read the rest here.

The Most Disturbing Poems You’ve Never Read

We’re not here to discuss Edgar Allen Poe or any other popular poet you know and love. The most disturbing topics for poetry are fact and not fiction. If you’re faint of heart, then please leave now. These are adult topics. If you have children, we urge you to discuss subjects like bullying, sexual abuse, and harassment — most of which are much more commonly experienced in junior high or high school with people they know rather than people they don’t. 

One such case of sexual abuse occurred in an Idaho school where three high school football players allegedly sexually assaulted a special needs individual who eventually sent a poem called the World is not used to people like me to Buzzfeed.

It reads:

The Worlds not used to people like me

They still have Hitler within their hearts they

Think that being different is a sign of

Weak and bullying can get them far

But what society doesn’t know is that a kicked

in hanger can bruise and penetrate the heart

It leaves you walking on a stub because

Of the burden put on you by the people

That you thought you once loved

The Worlds not use to people like me

Like Alex, it likes to pound you to

The ground and lock the door

For your opportunities and leave you

Helpless with a sound

Why lord why does this happen to us send

Us to earth to be sent to the back

Of the bus

The assaulted teen and his sexual abuse lawyer were responsible for sending the poem to be read by others who had experienced similar circumstances, and urge others to speak out when it happens to them.

You can find additional poems on similar topics like The Script, That Look, or Years Have Past at Into the Light. Anonymous author Abigail shared a poem called Gaps, which reads:

Gaps in the graphics,

Always knew they were there,

But stuff I saw made me

More reluctant to share

It was fresh, it was new,

Never been there before,

And the scary specifics

Made me feel like a whore

I know if I trust You

I’ll come out the other side,

With more freedom than ever,

Nothing to prove, lose, or hide.

Gaps in the graphics,

Want them to stay as they are

Then once and forever,

That ship can sail afar.

How would you interpret the poem? At first glance, it could have nothing to do with sexual assault. The narrator is, at its deepest meaning, discussing the subject of trust thematically. How long does it take to trust someone enough to feel “freedom” on the open waters of life? Ultimately, the poem seems to address the darker realities of some relationships that don’t work even when we might like them to. While Gaps is subtle in subject content, we can infer deeper meaning from the author’s other poems that can be viewed on the same site.

The Best New Coronavirus-Inspired Poems You’ve Never Heard Before

The coronavirus pandemic has led our world down a dark road — and the United States in particular has made innumerable mistakes in tackling this problem. Thankfully, this year’s National Poetry Month put everything into perspective. Writers shared their coronavirus-inspired poetry to shed light on the struggles of everyday people around the country. Some end with tears, while others end with giggles. 

My Corona was written by Sally Morgan:

The coronavirus looks like a dog toy

or a child’s Koosh ball

with its primary color

and fanciful shape.

How can something so whimsical

be so insidious?

It hasn’t infected me, mind you,

but it has changed me —

morphed into an

odd, complex chimera.

I’ve grown antennae that detect

a six foot field around me.

I’ve developed a fly’s eyes

to see danger on surfaces.

Like a squirrel, I bury food

in nooks and crannies

for a distant time.

I don a carapace

to venture out —

which I shed like a

snakeskin

on return to my door.

I am Lady Macbeth at the sink.

The future keeps receding.

Certainty has collapsed.

Sometimes I am like

the bear,

lumbering out of hibernation —

but mostly, I am like

the ground hog,

waiting

still waiting

to see her

Shadow.

Here are a couple stanzas from A Viral Composition written by Renata Starbird:

It all seems so simple, yet wonderfully cunning

that we should be haunted by creatures so stunning.

Not a prokaryote nor is it eukaryotic,

some close to home, others much more exotic.

As we go ’round the globe in our planes, trains, and cars,

as we chop down the trees to make room for our yards,

as we drill deep into earth and pave roads in the mountains,

viral dark matters inch closer by thousands.

These poems elicit our emotions about the new world in which we live through a novel lens — and we should all strive to take a second glance and reevaluate. Looking for more? A quick look online will feed your appetite.

Why Do Poets Write About Self-Inflicted Pain?

Pain in poetry is nothing new. Many people will tell you that the core characteristic inherent in all writers is injury, self-inflicted or not. Physical or emotional. Writers write because they want to explore those feelings that we generally do not discuss openly in society. It’s their way of providing hope for everyone else who feels lost or like people generally don’t understand their hopes, desires, emotions, etc. 

Why do they do this? Because life isn’t just about what happens out in the open. It’s about what happens behind closed doors — or, in the case of writers exploring personal injury through poetry, that which happens within the mind, a sack of fat and fluid that holds our deepest, darkest thoughts. That’s why so many people have a passion for poetry! It uses imagery and metaphor to tell a story that normal prose cannot. 

Interestingly, many professional poets have explored self-inflicted pain both personally and thematically. Fans of poetry or novice writers have done their best to explore this topic online, through non-official contests, like this one. PouncingXXkitten said, “I want to hear your best poems about self-inflicted pain.”

Dozens of entries were collected, not for a tangible prize or recognition, but instead for personal fulfillment. Titles were as dark as you’d expect: “Razor Blade Obsession,” “This is Humanity,” “Re-Chained,” “Gorgeous Eyes Shine Suicide,” and “Permanent Memories” were all ranked near the top.

Of course, the real turmoil was explored in the stanzas themselves.

This was Gorgeous Eyes Shine Suicide:

“Tears run down my face and arm

Carrying pain and carrying harm

Some are red and some are clear

Filled with sadness, filled with fear.

Flowers bloom upon my skin

Bold, bright and red; the colour of sin

The dark poppies on the white of flesh

How could anybody ever guess?

The only way to release my pain

But the freedom is always followed by shame

I never want anyone to see me like this

That why I hide the scars that cover my wrists

Because who could love a girl like me?

To my stone cold heart there is no key

No-one can know my secret of desire

The need, the thirst, that painful fire

One look at my scars and they’re filled with disgust,

No-one can know my true feeling of lust

I’m a cutter addicted to the high that it brings

I crave blood and pain more than anything

I know how it feels to be so shut out

You just want help, but no-one hears your shout.”

This isn’t just a piece about the fears of growing up in a judgmental society with few hopes and dreams to live for — it’s a piece that reminds all of us that we should treat everyone with love and respect because we never know what’s going on beneath the surface. Is this narrator living through a nightmare as bad as she believes? Maybe. But maybe not. 

If you are struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please seek professional help and support

Free Writing: The Life of A Basketball

Today’s writing is done by my good friend Nick. I gave him the prompt to write a poem about the life of something that is important to you. Not surprisingly, he decided to choose basketball.

From Nick:

Every day, I go to the park to play basketball with my friends and my brother, so the sport holds a truly special place in my heart. If you like basketball, I hope that my poem will inspire some feelings for you, maybe even some tears. I put my heart and soul into this poem, so I really hope that it turns out to be a SLAM DUNK!

Shooter, driver, dribbler,
Throw me against the board and make it quiver.

Call me the rock and give me away,
Go on defense, and get me back anyway.

I touch everyone that comes in contact with me,
Because of physics, I fall with gravity.

Throw me in the hoop and I will feel joy,
Doesn’t matter if you’re a man, girl, or boy.

I might just be a ball, but you know what they say:
If you love to ball, then ball is your whole day.

You might just think I’m an inanimate object,
But when ball is life, I’m your greatest project.

If that poem made you feel like playing some basketball, then you’re not alone. All I can think about now is going to the nearest park and shooting some hoops with the boys/girls. Please don’t forget that poetry is here for us to talk about what we love, and for nothing else. Don’t care about what others people say about your poetry: if you love it, that’s all that matters. I like to think of myself as an athlete just as much as I am a poet, so I thought I would give you a little insight as to what life would be like as a basketball. If you want some more basketball content, please watch this video: