The Poetry Coalition, an alliance of more than 25 independent poetry organizations across the United States, will devote March through July 2022 to exploring the theme “The future lives in our bodies: Poetry & Disability Justice” in a series of programs in eleven cities that will reach an anticipated audience of more than 300,000 individuals nationwide.
Poetry Coalition members aim to demonstrate how poetry can inspire questions in their communities about disability justice and spark increased engagement with this important theme. Member organizations are committed to offering programming that is accessible and that includes disabled, neurodivergent, and d/Deaf poets and those of diverse racial, ethnic, and gender identities, backgrounds, and communities.
This will be the sixth year Poetry Coalition members have come together to offer programming on a shared theme. Members presented events and publications on the theme “It is burning./ It is dreaming./ It is waking up: Poetry & Environmental Justice” in March 2021; “I am deliberate/ and afraid/ of nothing: Poetry & Protest” in March 2020; “What Is It, Then, Between Us?: Poetry & Democracy” in March 2019; and “Where My Dreaming and My Loving Live: Poetry & the Body” in March 2018.
All organizations and others interested are invited to create programs on this theme in 2022 and share their efforts using the hashtags #DisabilityJustice and #PoetryCoalition
Resources on Disability Justice:
Accessibility in the Arts: A Promise and a Practice
HEARD: The Revolution Must Be Accessible (ASL with English voice-over)
HEARD: The Revolution Must Be Accessible (English)
HEARD: La Revolución Debe Ser Accesible (Español)
HEARD: The Revolution Must Be Accessible (Text-Only)
Sins Invalid: 10 Principles of Disability Justice
Sins Invalid: Access Suggestions for a Public Event
The Academy of American Poets, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting American poets at all stages of their careers and to fostering the appreciation of contemporary poetry, republished Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s “Femme Futures” in Poem-a-Day alongside a special digital anthology of work by disabled and d/Deaf poets curated by Piepzna-Samarasinha.
The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and the National Student Poets Program in New York City, New York will provide training for the Class of 2021 around incorporating disability justice into their community service work throughout the rest of their year as youth poetry ambassadors. The organization will also provide financial support to Disabled professors who teach Disabled students to discuss and share best practices for doing this important work while maintaining it as a safe space. Steve Kuusisto will be the first of these presenters, which will ultimately lead to workshops with Disabled youth, once the poets are prepared to do so as able-bodied individuals entering Disabled safe spaces.
Disability justice work honors, imagines, and fights for a future that is viable for us all. What does this future look like, and what role does literature and writing play in its arrival? Situated in ongoing efforts to standardize accessibility practices, this spring the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in New York City, New York published a series of conversations in their digital magazine, The Margins, to discuss these questions with writers and activists. In the summer, they will offer a virtual workshop for disabled, queer, trans, and BIPOC poets, creating a space to translate these questions into their own creative practices.
Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, California presented two virtual programs dedicated to “The Future Lives in Our Bodies: Poetry & Disability Justice.” On Thursday, March 17, Beyond Baroque partnered with the Los Angeles Spoonie Collective to lead and curate a virtual panel discussion with Los Angeles community & arts organizations and disability justice advocates from Tierra del Sol, DSTL Arts, and the Disability Community Resource Center. The panel focused on the importance of personal storytelling through poetry/spoken word, zine- making, and the arts; on collectively envisioning a liberated future for disabled/chronically ill/mad/neurodivergent folks; and on identifying avenues of healing through narrative medicine and storytelling during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A second virtual program featured a virtual poetry reading and open mic with authors Kyle Johnson, Joshua Corwin, and the 2021-2022 L.A. youth poet laureate, Jessica Kim.
On March 30, CantoMundo, a national organization, presented “Right here in our bodies: Latinx Poetry & Disability Justice,” a virtual reading and conversation with Sheryl Luna, Jasminne Mendez, ire'ne lara silva, and Urayoán Noel. This event was co-hosted by the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University. The evening of readings and conversation showcased four CantoMundo poets whose work takes part in the literary tradition of and forges new pathways within Latinx disability justice. How have Latinx writers illuminated the ways that the future and the past—the traumas, technologies, and transformative knowledge—live on in our bodies? What new forms of language are Latinx poets creating that shape and decolonize prevailing concepts of disability, justice, and embodiment itself?
Cave Canem in New York City, New York and Zoeglossia, a national literary organization seeking to pioneer a new, inclusive space for poets with disabilities, hosted a discussion on how poets of color work within and without that framework, including readings from Raymond Antrobus, Khadijah Queen, and L. Lamar Wilson. The virtual panel was presented as part of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference & Bookfair on March 26. Adapted from Patty Berne’s “Disability Justice—A Working Draft,” a disability justice framework understands that: all bodies are unique and essential; all bodies have strengths and needs that must be met; we are powerful, not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them; and all bodies are confined by ability, race, gender, sexuality, class, nation-state, religion, and more, and we cannot separate them. Disability justice holds a vision born out of collective struggle, drawing upon legacies of cultural and spiritual resistance.
Indigenous Nations’ Poets (In-Na-Po) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin partnered with Abalone Mountain Press in Phoenix, Arizona to create an Indigeneity and Disability Justice Zine. Indigenous writers and artists addressed the questions, “What does disability look like in Indigenous communities?” The zine, which was released in both print and digital versions in April 2022, is available on both organizations’ websites. Contributors will take part in a virtual launch.
Kundiman, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to nurturing generations of writers and readers of Asian American literature, presented a free virtual workshop, their annual Postcard Project, and weekly quotes on their social media featuring disability justice writers and activists. The workshop, "Poetics of Disability Justice," led by writers and activists Em Dial and Laurel Chen, centered Disabled experiences and was open to all writers of color, with a priority towards Disabled, mad, crip, sick, and/or ill folks. Throughout the month of March, Kundiman Fellows and the community were also invited to participate in a Postcard Poem Project, involving writing and mailing postcard poems focused on the disability justice theme. Weekly curated quotes from disability justice literature were featured on the Kundiman website and social media.
Lambda Literary in New York City, New York, and Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin partnered to host a virtual poetry reading and conversation on Sunday, March 13. This pre-recorded program featured readings by Meg Day, Cyrée Jarelle Johnson, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, and Travis Chi Wing Lau, who also hosted and moderated. The readings were followed by a discussion among presenting artists on the topic of Poetry & Disability Justice. A chapbook with poems by each participant was designed and printed by pitymilk press, and made available by mail to all who tuned in live to the event.
Image description: A textured white background with crimson and dark maroon layers. Text reads: “Disability Justice; Reading & Discussion; March 13, 6 P.M. E.T.” There are four author photos, including Cyrée Jarelle Johnson, Meg Day, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, and Travis Wing Chi Lau. Cyrée’s photo is of a black trans person in a multicolored leopard print shirt and a hat smiling at the camera. He has short locs and light brown skin. Leah’s photo is of a middle aged mixed race Sri Lankan, Irish and Romani nonbinary femme, diagonally, in front of a wild river with lots of rocks. Leah has violet, brown and silver curly hair, sand colored skin and red lipstick (Stila Stay All Day lipstick in Beso, a.k.a. “the lipstick A.O.C. wears.”) Their clothes are mostly not visible except for a blue denim vest. You can see their sleeve of tattoos, including cosmos flowers, a motherwort plant and letters in Tamil. They are smiling with bashful pride and satisfaction. Meg’s photo is a side profile of a white person with short, blonde hair wearing a blue button-up shirt. Travis’s photo is of an Asian person softly smiling into the camera in grayscale. The Lambda Literary and Woodland Pattern Book Center logos are in the upper corner.
On March 29, Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Latino Studies, in collaboration with The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland co-presented “Atlas: Skin/Bone/Blood – Bodymaps in Brown and Black,” a virtual poetry reading and panel discussion that featured Diannely Antigua, Jimena Lucero, Aurora Levins Morales, and Naomi Ortíz. The event was convened and moderated by heidi andrea restrepo rhodes.
Image description: A series of multicolored, metallic polygons.
Mass Poetry in Boston, Massachusetts explored the important topic of disability justice by reassessing organizational policies and programming practices to ensure all their spaces—from office to classroom, from live events to Zoom readings—are inclusive. They published an electronic folio curated by and featuring disabled poets as part of the “Hard Work of Hope” poetry series. On May 17 at 7:00 p.m. EDT, Mass Poetry will host a multimedia performance at GrubStreet’s Center for Creative Writing, spotlighting disabled poets, artists, activists, and performers. This event includes creative calls for action, encouraging attendees to join the fight in making the future inclusive and accessible for all. To register for this event, please RSVP here.
O, Miami in Miami, Florida collaborated with educator for the visually impaired, Ashlee Partin, to present, “Brl Odes,” a project that created public placards featuring poems by Miamians translated into braille. Each poem, selected for how it features nonvisual sensory experiences, was displayed on the placards in both print and Unified English Braille Code. The placards were placed in the Miami Lighthouse Academy for the Blind and in public parks in Miami-Dade County. By using the voices of the community and transcribing their words into braille, the project invites the public to learn more about the braille code and engage with the concept of access, inclusion, and universal design in their neighborhood.
On March 5, the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University, in collaboration with the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability, presented Krip-Hop Nation, an event featuring Toni Hickman, Keith Jones, Leroy F. Moore Jr., DJ Quad, and Wheelchair Sports Camp. Krip-Hop Nation is a worldwide association of artists with disabilities. Founded in 2007 by Leroy F. Moore Jr. in Berkeley, California, the Movement campaigns for equality for people with disabilities worldwide with concerts, tours, workshops and much more.
Image description: Five poets in different environments: two men together, each dressed in black with wide smiles; a woman with long unbraided hair looks over her shoulder; a man in a blue LA Dodgers’ jersey with a thick brown goatee and the words DJ Quad on the wall behind him; and a person wearing multiple rings, a black fedora, and fake fur in front of a red velvet curtain.
The Poetry Foundation in Chicago, Illinois presented “To Turn The World Around”: For Audre Lorde and Pat Parker, a poetry reading and moderated discussion with Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Indira Allegra, and Mecca Jamilah Sullivan. The event honored the legacies of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker and their relationship as a form of access intimacy. How can we recuperate their disabled poetics within the intersectional contexts of their Blackness, queerness, and feminism?
On May 25 at 8 p.m. ET, the Poetry Project in New York City, New York, in collaboration with Unrestricted Interest, will present a celebration of Hannah Emerson's debut collection of poems, The Kissing of Kissing. Emerson, a nonspeaking autistic poet, will be joined by Chris Martin and Farnoosh Fathi, two poets who will read her work in chorus, and Tyler Rai, a movement-based artist who will collaborate with Hannah on choreography to accompany the reading. A conversation about art-making practices will follow the performances.
Through its Poems on Wheels program, the Poetry Society of America in New York City, New York printed and distributed 30,000 copies of a poem by Larry Eigner to Meals on Wheels clients in New York, Baltimore, San Antonio, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon. This project honors an important disabled artist while also serving a large and often neglected reading community. Born with cerebral palsy, Eigner became a leading American poet, publishing more than 40 books over a period of four decades. Poems on Wheels, a partnership with Meals on Wheels chapters around the country, delivers poems along with nourishing meals to seniors who are homebound due to illness, age, or disability.
Split This Rock in Washington, D.C., will uplift this year’s theme by presenting a special collection of poems in The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database, hosting a virtual panel discussion on disability justice in the literary arts world, and publishing a series of poems. The virtual panel discussion will include ASL interpretation and CART service. Other accommodations may be requested in advance. Poems published in the The Quarry will be accompanied by audio of the poem and, as appropriate, image descriptions.
The University of Arizona Poetry Center presented a new poem by Khadijah Queen, “Late Diagnosis Starting with a Tweet,” in a variety of formats: an ASL interpretation, a CART-captioned animation, and braille and large print broadsides. They also unveiled Voca, their audiovisual archive of nearly 1,000 recordings of poets from 1963 to today, newly redesigned with a focus on accessibility and captioning. With Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funding, the redesigned Voca archive is the largest freely accessible fully-captioned audiovisual poetry archive. Learn more at voca.arizona.edu.
Urban Word and the National Youth Poet Laureate Program in New York City, New York have presented original poems by the National Youth Poet Laureate Finalists to address disability justice, with lines that will be featured on original artwork/collage by Mer Young. These Youth Poets Laureate will also perform these poems at the National Youth Poet Laureate Commencement at the Kennedy Center on May 20.
Throughout March, the Wick Poetry Center in Kent, Ohio hosted a series of community workshops and discussions centered on the poetry of Peter Cook, an internationally-renowned Deaf performing artist whose work incorporates American Sign Language, pantomime, storytelling, acting, and movement. Cook’s poetry and efforts with the Flying Words Project explore the intersection of poetry and disability justice and expand ideas about what poetry is and who it belongs to. Participants anywhere will be able to contribute video or text to an interactive online community poem entitled “Open Window: Poetry & Disability Justice.” This monthlong creative conversation culminated with an in-person performance and workshop by Peter Cook and the Flying Words Project on the Kent State University campus on April 7 and 8.
As part of their monthly Under 21 Open Mic series, Youth Speaks in San Francisco, California will dedicate its Friday, May 13 show to disability justice. The event will center young Bay Area writers and performers and feature a local champion for disability justice. This event is open to all participants age 21 and under. The featured poets are Minerva Kamra and Em Dial. Minverva is a 2022 Teen Poetry Slam Champion and member of the SPOKES Youth Advisory Board. Em Dial is a queer, triracial, chronically ill creative born and raised in the Bay Area of California, currently living in Toronto, Ontario. Em's resume is long and includes being a 2022 Kundiman Fellow and member of the Green Room Writing Collective, a recipient of the 2020 RBC/PEN Canada New Voices Award, and the 2019 Mary C. Mohr Poetry Award. The event will be live streamed on YouTube.