Nine Mile Books Announces Propel Award in Crip and Disability Poetry

Nine Mile Books and Literary Magazine Announces
A Five-Year Poetry Series for Disabled Poets,
With Support from Propel

Nine Mile Magazine and Books is pleased to announce it has received a five-year $100,000 grant to underwrite publication of a series of poetry books by disabled poets. The press anticipates publishing and marketing three books per year, of which one will be chosen from open competition. This gift is the first of its size to focus on disabled poets.
The grant from Propel provides a commitment of $20,000 per year, plus another $10,000 challenge grant—meaning if matched, the potential commitment could reach $40,000 per year for publishing, editing, and marketing poetry books by disabled poets.
“We have never seen a commitment to disabled poets of this size,” Nine Mile publisher Stephen Kuusisto said. “It is truly unique, and the strength and scope of this initiative is unprecedented in its focus on these most marginalized of artists.”
Kuusisto is a nationally known poet, memoirist, and disability advocate, author of Planet of the Blind and several other books of poetry and memoirs. Blind himself, he is Director of Interdisciplinary Programs and Outreach for the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, and a University Professor.
The editing and administrative structure for the series will be different than for other books from Nine Mile. “Not only the authors but the editors will be themselves disabled,” Mr. Kuusisto said. “We intend to produce this series under the principle of ‘Nothing About Us Without Us.’” One of the books selected to be published each year by Nine Mile will be a recipient of the Propel Poetry Prize. That selection will be chosen via open competition. The series will be named the Propel Disability Poetry series.
“We are very grateful to Jeremy Mindich, co-founder of Propel, and his team, who made this grant possible,” said Nine Mile co-publisher Bob Herz. “It is a wonderfully generous and visionary commitment, at a level and with an understanding that will make a difference in the world of poetry.”
Propel is a philanthropic fund dedicated to building a world where everyone has a chance to thrive. “We are pleased to support the amplification of new voices through this partnership with Nine Mile Books and look forward to sharing the craft of these poets more broadly,” said Jeremy Mindich, co-founder of Propel. Propel’s focus also includes reimagining a democracy and economy that work for the many, investing in early-stage ventures and visionary leaders challenging the status quo and driving transformational change.
Nine Mile Books and Literary Magazine are produced by Nine Mile Art Corp, a tax exempt not for profit located in Syracuse, NY. It has been publishing the magazine and books on a regular basis since 2016. In 2019 it published an historic 380-page anthology issue of disabled poets, and has maintained a strong commitment to advancing poetry and training for poets with a disability.

Crip America

America with your history of eugenics.
With your hostility to the global charter on disability rights.
With your jails, stocked with psychiatric patients—worse than the Soviet Union. We are Gulag Los Angeles; Gulag Rikers Island; Gulag Five Points in Upstate New York.
America with your young Doctor Mengeles.
With your broken VA.
With your war on food stamps and infant nutrition.
With your terror of autism and lack of empathy for those who have it.
With your 80% unemployment rate for people with disabilities.
With your pity parties—inspiration porn—Billy was broken until we gave him a puppy.
With your sanctimonious low drivel disguised as empathy.
With your terror of reasonable accommodations.
With your NPR essays about fake disability fraud, which is derision
of the poor and elderly.
With your disa-phobia—I wouldn’t want one of them to sit next to me on a bus.
America when will you admit you have a hernia?
When will you admit you’re a lousy driver?
Admit you miss the days of those segregated schools, hospitals, residential facilities—just keep them out of sight.
When will you apologize for your ugly laws?
When will you make Ron Kovic’s book irrelevant?
America, you threatened Allen Ginsberg with lobotomy.
Ameica you medicated a generation of teenagers for bi-polar depression when all they were feeling was old fashioned fear.
When will you protect wheelchairs on airlines?
When will you admit you’re terrified of luck?

Learning From the Blind…

For years now I’ve been trying to convince people the world over that blindness is really nothing more than any other embodied thing like left handedness or shoe size. The obstacles to succeeding are many. The chief one is panic. People with sight imagine blindness to be a vast helplessness. As a guide dog traveler the number one question I’m asked by strangers—especially in airports—is: “will your dog protect you when you’re attacked?”

I’ll return to the dog in a moment. The question supposes vision loss renders one a walking victim. The assumption is sight is a defense mechanism. People devoured by bears are not saved by their vision nor are pedestrians who are struck by cars while texting, Seeing is not a guarantor of welfare.

Once on Fifth Avenue in New York City I asked two young men for directions to a nearby restaurant. I knew I was close. After telling me one of them said: “How can you go anywhere? I’d stay home if I was blind.” The other wanted to know if the dog does all the thinking for me.

Sighted people think seeing is more than believing they imagine it’s thought itself. When someone asks if the dog does my thinking they’re convinced that without sight I can’t possibly process the world. They think the blind live in a mineral blank. Not seeing is thought to be like living inside a stone.

In her excellent book “For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches From the World of the Blind.” Rosemary Mahoney writes: “The blind are no more or less otherworldly, stupid, evil, gloomy, pitiable or deceitful than the rest of us. It is only our ignorance that has cloaked them in these ridiculous garments.”

I agree but wish to add that there’s something in the ophthalmic connection to the spinal column that connects seeing to falsifiable ideas about self preservation which in turn stand at the root fear of the sighted. This becomes: “can’t see, can’t think”—moreover not seeing is the inability move safely, a physical hijacking.

Mahoney does a great job in her book of showing how real blind people successfully navigate the world using their other senses and critical thinking skills.

Americans fear blindness more than almost anything including hearing loss, heart disease and cancer.

Not long ago while traveling with the US State Department I spoke with blind children in Kazakstan. We were in a segregated school for the blind. I said what you’d expect, that the blind can achieve their dreams, that there’s nothing we can’t do in today’s world. Afterwards I wept. One boy’s mother said to me, “how will my son ever get out of this school? People are afraid to be near him.”

The sighted need to pay attention. The blind don’t live inside rocks and we think just as well as anyone else. It’s amazing to still be saying this in the 21st century.

Back to the dog. She follows my instructions. Her job is to evaluate whether my commands are safe. She has a capacity for what the guide dog schools call “intelligent disobedience” which means she won’t step into harm’s way. I look after her, she looks after me. Which gets me to my final point. Blindness is never solitude in the frightful way the sighted imagine. We have friends canine and human. We live successfully in the world. If you shake my hand you won’t go blind. If you talk to me you might learn a few things.

Notebook, April 18, 2022

Landscape with Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens emerges from behind my house—
A new shrub in the grey, half dead forest
“Was that always there?” asks my wife
“No,” I say, “something’s awry”
“Rum ti tum, ti tum tum tum” says the bush


Stop kidding around
We’re too old fashioned for that
We’re poets
In the age of inspiration meets grief
The new pornography
Stop kidding around


The leaves whisper
Wallace Stevens at the organ
Cathedral waggles


Mithridates he died old


Unplanned and even the exquisite flowers
But not the Wallace Stevens bush


I went to the lutier’s house
Where Segovia shopped—
Where a thin light
Lit the instruments
And hinted of music to come


Renga renga renga
Ghost of Basho
Backing up


I like the Swedish word for funeral
As it means to be be-grieved
“Funeral” is a word of uncertain origin


I’m happy to sell you a spray
From the Stevens shrub
A hydrangea that talks endlessly
Of its unseen flowers

At the Edges- Notebook

sometimes my ears were bitter
when the birds had flown away

cold sphinx on the bookshelf
blind kid thinking about

the speed
of the moon—

of dead silence

he’d so much time
on his hands

cherry trees
glints of sunshine

which he saw
at the edges


butterfly wings–fluttering
under the spell
of every life
that is born


resting tired eyes
on piano keys


there “were” good afternoons
the Great Caruso and Helen Keller—

the tenor guiding her fingers
across his throat as he sang
As with so many things
The fierce beauties…


snow journey
humming on a train
a stranger tells me
the moon is full


To sit in public writing while blind
Is an art project—“look at him
What’s he doing? Why, he’s
Writing! What a miracle!
A blind man pens a note!
Who’s he writing to?
Another blind person of course…”

Meanwhile he scribbles
Recalling Amichai’s line
About building a ship
And a harbor
In the same instant
Yes and he drops some tears
Which will dry slowly

Notebook, April 14, 2022

When the Old Times Call

Walking this morning
I thought of my
Great grandfather
Who sawed boards
For coffins
In the far north…

He looked at trees
In varied ways…


A Short Story

Night confession is hard and long
Watching the exhaust
From the car in front of you
Mile after mile…


For the simple reason
That many may think otherwise
I listen to my blind eyeballs


Hawks get rowdy with each other in the woods
But misery has a shrewder voice

Moon setting
in the autumn morning, dips
like a vessel
Glides like a sail through heaven


Immanence and impermanence–my brothers
I think hard about you
Two crickets outside Water falls on my wrist
When I wash a cup


In short: every ritual should astonish human arrangements


Dear Blue: I wasn’t really a blind child at all, but one of the ghosts who rang Strindberg’s doorbell


I like Beethoven’s last string quartets
I like broken windows in abandoned country houses
I like crows on telephone wires
And Boolean Algebra and rain in winter

What If Higher Education Imagined Disability as Being Valuable in Our Economy?

Disability has meant for me a life of painful encounters. From childhood right up until yesterday (today will have to wait) people in authority have told me that my blindness is a problem—my efforts to get a Ph.D. in literature were crushed by faculty at the University of Iowa who didn’t like my requests for additional time to read books; my presence in public school pre-ADA was a relentless horror show; life as a faculty member in American universities has meant a nearly continuous struggle for the most basic accommodations as if groveling and beseeching administrators and fellow faculty to help me gain access is appropriate and to be expected. If you’re disabled in the world of higher education and you want dignity you should go somewhere else. And of course there is nowhere else. There’s no utopian place for disability in this society.

Like a farmer who looks for signs that autumn seeds are coming up in spring I look for progress. Corporations and businesses in these United States are starting to imagine disability as not only important, but lucrative, which is to say there’s some hope. Hope is essential of we’re ever going to reduce the shameful unemployment rates of disabled people in this country and abroad. Joblessness in the disability community still hovers around 70%. I suspect the figure might be microscopically lower when we consider the disabled workers who hide their disabilities in the workplace. I know of a professor right now who is hiding her disability so she can get tenure. Ableism is ugly, monolithic, cruel, and yes, soul crushing. But there’s hope.

The Disability Employment First Planning Tool created by a consortium of advocacy organizations and which is designed to help businesses take active steps toward hiring employees with disabilities is one such sign of hope. Organizations like OurAbility in New York are using AI to help applicants and employers connect.

But much more needs to be done. In particular colleges and universities need to take up disability employment as a focus area. Let’s “lose” the 1970’s model of grudging accommodations for disabled students and promote disability “maker’s spaces” entrepreneurship, and yes, the advantages of our rapidly changing technologies.

I for one would like to see the university where I currently teach (Syracuse) develop a disability and entrepreneurship program. It would be lead by the disabled following the model of “nothing about us without us”—that wonderful slogan for the disability rights movement; the disabled should be in charge. There is currently no program in the US at any college or university that supports and promotes disability leadership and entrepreneurship.

Hope. Spring seeds perhaps?