Disability Poetics

Michael Davidson

in The Oxford Handbook of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195398779
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Disability Poetics

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  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)
  • Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)


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This article presents an overview of disability poetics that addresses not only poets associated with the movement but also a wide range of poets not typically associated with their disabilities. It argues that disability poetics does not describe a movement or an aesthetic so much as a spectrum of positions around embodiment—from poets like Eigner who seldom referred to his neurological condition to self-consciously “crip” poets for whom poetry is an arm (or leg) of the disability rights movement. It also describes the degree to which poetry is constituted by and within ideas of embodiment, from the “oral” tradition to the foot metric to the most recent versions of stand-up (or sit-down) performance. The twin terms resonate loudly in the U.S. context where ideas of embodiment have been synonymous with antinomian positions of self-reliance and independence, and for which dependence and communality are deemed threatening or, in the worst case, un-American. A disability poetics, while forged within the liberating ethos of the Independent Living movement, creates a site where the putative normalcy of bodies, sensations, and agency can be understood differently. If this has been poetry's ancient heritage, it is also disability's utopian horizon.

Keywords: disabled poets; American poetry; modern poetry; embodiment

Article.  9355 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (20th Century onwards) ; Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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