Friends. (Oppen said something like, the poem that ends as it should, “ok,” the poem of the world. Tonight for me, it’s the post that begins as it should, “friends.”) I’ve meant to share with you a portfolio by one of my vis po students from this spring. She rides a badass wheelchair and her work is images of and round and beyond her condition, Friedreich’s Ataxia, a truly shitty degenerative neuro-muscular disorder.
I don’t mean to be sentimental here. That’s cheap to those who live with a disability. From here it seems, there are some who live with such visible cruelties, I’m using Marlise’s so apt word here, and others who bear cruelties invisible to all until they flame out horrible, and some who have the bad luck to be lucky till they’re not, and then they know not what the fuck to do.
Even all that considered though. This young woman has moved me no small measure with her guts and her mischievous gleam. So, here are, with her permission and a bit of anonymizing, some words and images of hers.
“One of my passions, my goals, and perhaps my purposes, is to help arts by and/or about the physically-disabled population to gain at least culturally standard recognition. This course has made me see visual poetry as a wonderful and effective forum to achieve this.
“In creating my pieces, I was most inspired by our course text Nox, by Anne Carson. She delivers poignant messages about grief through photocopies of memorabilia about or featuring her late brother, while still leaving the concepts of familial love and loss open-ended and undefined.
“Being physically disabled myself, I often think of myself and my as audience members, just insignificant observers of my disease’s progression, effects, and affects. This ‘outsider’ perspective is what I interpret as Carson’s purpose and message behind Nox, and it’s what I have striven to elicit for disability in this project.
“I’ve explored the photocopy technique, implementing forms of handwritten pieces and material objects. Attempting to play with my method of choice in new ways, I photocopied in the ‘negative’ setting a couple of times to convey the stark labels put in visibly-disabled people, Another way I twisted the work via the photocopier was selection of reflective objects to photocopy.
“The first artifact displays the title of my disorder, Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA), through a bag that has one transparent side and one opaque, turquoise side. I chose this to hold the piece because I knew the photocopier because I knew the photocopier would reflect off the bag, and the resulting glare I wanted to evoke the unapologetic cruelty of my handicap.
“Also, I thought the bright turquoise backing worked as representation of the crippling sadness or unashamed joy underlying nearly every part of disabled life. The writing is done in charcoal, and then smudged, translated to be the destruction of effort. Where I placed the artifact in the photocopier cut off the top fails-at-drawing-a-straight-line of th F, leaving a single, straggling line reminiscent of lives cut short by means of physical disability, including mine. Finally, I inserted the page into its sleeve upside-down to distance and simultaneously inconvenience the viewer, like disability effects everyone involved in the victim’s life.
“As a visual element, I will steer the viewer’s attention to the cover art. There I have my prescription-medication bottles, showcasing the nameplate-labels. Not only do I associate paid-for treatment with disability, but I see this photocopy of personal and yet widely recognizable objects as the prime subject to introduce this portfolio, too. It compartmentalizes disability, and also starts the project’s accessible journey of disabled interpretation.”
POSTSCRIPT. The cellophane technique I’ve been playing with BTW is thanks to Marlise, who on a handwritten poem assignment took my encouragement to view her handwriting as differently beautiful and handed this in –
– but because the charcoal was bleary handed it in, considerately, in a plastic bag, which gave me an idea, so when I scanned it I scanned it in said plastic, with all those unanticipable opacities –
Whoever says teaching creative writing sucks from their creative work needs to check what they’re teaching.