The Black River Chapbook Competition: Deadline May 31, 2012

About the Prize

Dear Friends,

This is just a friendly reminder that the deadline for the Spring 2012 Black River Chapbook Competition is approaching.

The Black River Chapbook Competition is a semi-annual prize from Black Lawrence Press for a chapbook of short stories or poems. Entries should be between 16 and 36 pages in length. The winner will receive $500 and publication. Previous winners of The Black River Chapbook Competition include Helen Marie Casey, Frank Montesonti, D. E. Fredd, Sandra Kolankiewicz, Tina Egnoski, T. J. Beitelman, David Rigsbee, Lisa Fay Coutley, Amelia Martens, Charlotte Pence, Russel Swensen, and Nick McRae.

How to Enter

Please follow this link for information on how to submit your manuscript for The Black River Chapbook Competition.

The deadline for submissions is May 31. That’s this Thursday!

We look forward to reading your work!

Black Lawrence Publishing • 326 Bigham Street • Pittsburgh • PA • 15211

The Barefoot Review seeking submissions

Jamie Sue, from The Barefoot Review, made contact and asked us to share the following post. Happy to do so…

What is it?

The Barefoot Review is a new publication. We welcome submissions of poetry or short prose from people who have or have had physical difficulties in their lives, from cancer to seizures, Alzheimer’s to Lupus. It is also for caretakers, families, significant others and friends to write about their experiences and relationship to the person.

What’s the Purpose?

Writing can be a tremendous source of healing and allow difficult feelings and ideas to be expressed. Unfortunately, every piece submitted can’t be published, however every piece is important. The process of writing, verbalizing feelings that may be subconscious or unexpressed is more important than the acknowledgment of publication.

We hope sharing this work online will help people facing similar difficulties find inspiration in the words of others.

What’s in a Name?

The Barefoot Review is named to evoke several meanings: baring your soul and expressing naked feelings. Bare feet ground you, give you balance, and connect you to the Earth. The review is here from a desire to help others.

Where is it?

The review is here, there and everywhere —

Please be sure to read the submissions guidelines before sending us your work.

Question, compliment or complaint?

When Bob Marley Saved My Life

Photo description: black and white photo of a smiling Bob Marley.  He’s standing outside and almost appears to be leaning on a guitar, the neck of which he’s holding in his right hand.

First let me say that anyone who has known discrimination also knows that going forward is steep. You have, after all, been told you don’t belong and worse, you’ve been instructed to get the hell out of town. As a blind person I’ve been in that spot throughout my life. Grade school teachers, high school principals, college professors, graduate school instructors–even a college president–have told me that because of my visual impairment I should go away. Perhaps the worst moment was in 1985 when I was enrolled in the Ph.D. program in English at the University of Iowa and two senior faculty along with the department chair told me I didn’t fit, that my need for extra time to complete assignments was ridiculous, and that I was a whiner.

This is a familiar story among people with disabilities. Even today (over 20 years after the passage if the ADA) only one in four college students with a disability will graduate. The unemployment rate for pwds is still estimated at 70%.

If you’re blind you can’t wait tables, drive a cab, or do most of the available jobs that are perfectly honorable. In 1985 all I could imagine was reading and writing vs. nothing. Nothing would mean living on Social Security Disability checks and moving in with my parents. If i embraced Nothing it would be an admission of failure so great that I would have to retire from my life, live as a kind of back room invalid, a prospect that terrified me since my mother was an alcoholic and slept all day with the shades drawn– would that be my life?

As it happened, I did move home and lived for quite some time in my parents’ basement. I had a beat up typewriter, an exercise bike, and a tape machine and that’s when I began listening to Bob Marley in earnest. I’d been gently listening to Bob ever since his first US album “Catch a Fire” appeared in 1973 but now I was soaking in his rare and utterly astonishing combination of rage and redemption, a combination you will not customarily find in the arts–a combo like milk and iodine. In poetry very few possess this–Yeats comes to mind and Nazim Hikmet, and Neruda. In popular music almost no one has Marley’s quality of the sword in the cloud–the rage is just rage or the milk is just syrup.

In my basement with the volume up I began working. Bob Marley’s voice and lyrics moved through me and I felt a half weightless sense of a pending disembodiment and then the authentic tears of deep deep discrimination salted with hope came to me. I could go on and on about the songs, the lyrics stitched from sublime wing shadows of the soul that fans the body, but it’s enough to say that Bob Marley remains for me the most authentic voice of “becoming” that I have ever heard.

Previously published on Steve’s other blog, Planet of the Blind


Professor Stephen Kuusisto, blind since birth, is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir Planet of the Blind, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. He has also published “Only Bread, Only Light“, a collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press. As director of the Renee Crown University Honors Program and a University Professor at Syracuse University, Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy.


Disability and Poetry, Part 145

Thanks to Chris B whose blog, Through Alien Eyes, is a thoughtful and lovely place for disability reflections. He heard me speak recently on disability and poetry at The Ohio State University and has written a kindly analysis of my presentation.

When I am In New York City with my guide dog the happiness of the city is mine. Swiss tourists want to tell me about their Labradors at home. Doormen call out as we walk by. It’s a different city for us, communal, improbably humane even at moments ecstatic. This must go into the living poem of physical difference.

So too the damages and the ugliness. What I like to call the mercenary labeling of ableism. People with disabilities experience the crackling, unspoken diminishing glares of strangers. Until they are spoken. Then the day tilts like a bad amusement park ride. This must also go into the living poem of physical dog, Nira

What the guide dog schools won’t tell you, or by turns, tell you imperfectly, is that guide dog teams will encounter public incomprehension and outright discrimination as they walk around. In my case this discovery came 18 years agoin New York City when I tried to get into a cab and the driver began screaming expletives. Despite this I got into the car. His language and mine became an instant study in art for all the ingredients of creativity were present: tension, incomprehension, passion, and spontaneity.

Sitting stern as a tree in the backseat, I told him that the law permits guide dogs for the blind in all taxis–in fact guide dogs are allowed everywhere. Hell, I even had an ID card from the school with my picture and the dog’s picture and all the appropriate legalese. But the driver, my driver, did not believe in the bravery or happiness of others. He began revving his engine and revving up his shouting.

What can you do? My driver hated me and my dog and was refusing to budge. I was reciting the law. Oh the godforsaken wilderness of human rage. When you have a disability every moment of discrimination evokes all the others: you’re again the boy who was told he couldn’t play with others, couldn’t go to school with them, sat alone in a room. This must also go into the living poem of physical difference.

Then again, the shy, unanticipated joy: in Central Park a man says to me, “You can’t tell, but I am the statue of liberty.” “Me too,” I say.

Previously published on Steve’s other blog, Planet of the Blind


Professor Stephen Kuusisto, blind since birth, is the author of “Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir “Planet of the Blind”, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. He has also published “Only Bread, Only Light“, a collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press. As director of the Renee Crown University Honors Program and a University Professor at Syracuse University, Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy.

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

April is National Poetry Month

Someone wrote me asking why (I have) not been talking about poetry lately. I think the answer is complicated for its not correct to say that we don’t think about poetry like a caffeinated clock maker reciting Rilke as he works. We think about poetry with every little gear and pin. Daylight disappears and the windows grow dark and we’re still thinking about poetry. We even write poems though we’re less on display than we might be in other seasons. Why are we so introverted when it comes to the drums and snakes of the imagination?

Sometimes we are affected by a freshet of humility. We’re like the 100 year old monk who we met at a Finnish monastery. We were side by side in the sauna. I said to him: “Do you smell strawberries?” He told me that the smell was from his sweat, that he’d been eating only strawberries for about two weeks.

Have you ever sat with a 100 year old man who was entirely happy?

You see, sometimes poetry asks us to admit we know nothing at all. Try to write about that. Do it with happiness.

Are you happy enough?

Have you given away the proper things in this life?

I promise you that I’m looking always for the answers. I look with my skin. I walk around in the near meadow. I smile at light as it moves over the frozen earth like any blind man. I am lighter by the minute.

And you?


Professor Stephen Kuusisto, blind since birth, is the author of “Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir “Planet of the Blind”, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. He has also published “Only Bread, Only Light“, a collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press. As director of the Renee Crown University Honors Program and a University Professor at Syracuse University, Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy.

Post originally published on Planet of the Blind

“Creative Writing and Disability Studies: Liminal Epistemologies”

–“Life is a hospital where every patient is obsessed by the desire of changing beds.”
–Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen


What can we learn from poetry about the body and the culture of bodies? Is what we see in a poem merely a figurative illustration of extrinsic historical or political truths or can a poem create a new and unforeseen nexus of identity and consciousness? As scholars concerned with the social construction of disability identity we know instinctively that the answer to the question is determined by our own rhetorical stance toward figuration. A poet is Aristotelian if she’s aiming to look beyond history for the subject of her poem. A poet is essentially Platonic if she is working in the service of verisimilitude. These categories aside we know that Ezra Pound was echoing Aristotle when he said that the poet is “the antennae of the race”. The Aristotelian imagination probes in the unknown space ahead and reports back to the great segmented worm of culture.The poet Richard Wilbur writes: “The mind is like some bat/ Beating about in caverns all alone/ Trying by a kind of senseless wit/ Not to conclude against a wall of stone.” Poetry is instinctive, far-seeing in its peculiar interiority, re-constructing the world that surrounds it. This vision of poetry holds that figurative language is exploratory, (neo)constructionist, progressive, lyrically alive.


Again Baudelaire: “It always seems to me that I should be happy anywhere but where I am, and this question of moving is one that I am eternally discussing with my soul.” One can say that lyric poetry in general is concerned with moving as an operation that defies analysis. The soul is always the totem of irresolvable and competing desires. In poetry the soul is a synonym for the reliquary; it is a place. We position the furniture of our suffering in the soul’s room. But the lyric insists there is life outside the hospital–life beyond the ward. Notice that lyric poetry concerns itself with containment. One can add adjectives that work well with suppression: abject containment, unaware containment, irrational containment—disability studies scholars will recognize this impressionistic terrain as inherently akin to the historic figurative language of disability—the lyric concerns itself with the conditions of individual abjection and is always therefore a fit medium for exploring disability awareness. The modernist Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo wrote the following lyric in the 1930’s as Italy was descending into Fascism:

And Suddenly It’s Evening

Each of us is alone
At the center of the earth,
Pierced by a ray of sunlight,
And suddenly it’s evening.

I don’t know of any more beautiful cris de couer from the Age of Existentialism. My feeling is that lyric discord, rendered almost always in figurative darkness represents the creation of what the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung referred to as “individuation” a state where the conscious and unconscious modes of thought are brought into harmony. The condition of the mind in such poems is fearful, repressed, circumscribed, and lost. The lyric mindscape is blindness whether the poet behind the poem is literally blind or not. The lyric occasion does not represent blindness. It merely works from the epistemological and psychic locus of blindness. I do not mean figurative blindness but the very real step-by-step navigation of the unknown. The urgencies of perception are necessarily reckoned with care.


Claiming disability (Simi Linton’s term) is to claim the lyric. In turn the lyric is the mode of poetry that best resists the falsifications of narrative imprinting. If people with disabilities have been exiled by history, by the architectures of cities and the policies of the state, then the lyric and ironic form of awareness is central to locating a more vital language. The exile that belongs to oneself,/the interior exile…(Richard Howard) We claim disability by lyric impulse. And by lyric impulse we rearrange the terms of awareness. The lyric mode is concerned with momentum rather than certainty. This is the gnomon of lyric consciousness: darkness can be navigated. The claiming of disability is the successful transition from static language into the language of momentum. But of particular importance in this instance is the brevity of the lyric impulse. The urgency of short forms reflects the self-awareness of blocked paths and closed systems of language. The lyric reinvents the psychic occasion of that human urgency much as a formal design in prosody will force a poet to achieve new effects in verse. Igor Stravinsky put it this way: “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution. We are in a hurry. We must tell the truth about the catastrophe that is human consciousness. And like Emily Dickinson who feared the loss of her eyesight we will tell the truth but “tell it slant”—the lyric writer may not have a sufficiency of time.


Poetry about the body looks beyond the constraints of physicality. The lyric is in this manner a metaphysical pursuit. William Blake’s sick rose is the mandala of consciousness:

O rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

The body is not our own. In lyric time the body is faced with the urgencies of the Elizabethan memento mori. This self-awareness we describe in terms of the body is equivalent to what disability advocates refer to as the condition of being “temporarily abled” but it’s useful to understand this condition as a crucial circumstance of imaginative and spiritual consciousness.
One thinks of T.S. Eliot’s narrator in “Gerontian”: “I an old man,/A dull head among windy spaces.” How should consciousness proceed in the company of the failing body? This has always been the lyric occasion. In her booklength poem an Atlas of the Difficult World Adrienne Rich writes:

I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.


Lyric consciousness is “stripped” consciousness. The word is menacing because the world is invariably opposed to youth, sexual freedom, multi-racial identities, disabilities, the poor…
In Adrienne Rich’s poem momentum and the deciphering of language are equivalent. The lyric occasion demands a larger future because it is the epistemological equivalent of the alphabet—
a new alphabet, one acquired in transition or in pain. Emily Dickinson thinks of this epistemological circumstance as an equation:

I reason, earth is short,
And angu
ish absolute,
And many
But what of that?
I reason, we could die:
The best vitality
Cannot excel decay;
But what of that?
I reason that in heaven
Somehow, it will be even,
Some new equation given;
But what of that?

The lyric intelligence is Emersonian, ”transcendental” and concerned with instinctual knowing. Lyric poetry is not inherently opposed to materialism or the body—but neither is it concerned with the body as the figurative representative of spiritual or divine perfection. The broken body is as good as the one without blemish. But what of that? In this view the body is not a vehicle of transcendence. The lyric is akin to Emerson’s “other half” of man—the mind beyond the body’s confining narrative preoccupations with the establishment of a representational self.


As it became a component of English departments the discipline of creative writing began to be understood as the teaching of craft. But the signature work of contemporary poetry has been concerned with the narrative constraints of identity politics and the languages of social enforcement. Poets as diverse as W.S. Merwin, Gregory Orr, Adrienne Rich, Olga Broumas, Primus St. John, Patricia Goedicke and hundreds of others have turned the lyric impulse toward the (re)visioning of social and intellectual freedom. It seems right that in “claiming disability” the work of poets should occupy more than passing interest to the emerging field of disability studies.
In turn the crucial question is “What can (re)visioning suggest in disability terms?”


Walt Whitman is the progenitor of the “disability memoir.” His discovery of lyric prose, first as a hospice nurse, and then as a man experiencing paralysis represents the creation of a wholly conscious rendering of altered physicality in prose. Whitman begins his reminiscence in a wholly new mode. This is not the metaphorized body of the strapping, ideologically constructed man of robust, democratic labor:

Specimen Days

Down in the Woods, July 2d, 1882. — If I do it at all I must delay no
longer. Incongruous and full of skips and jumps as is that huddle of
diary-jottings, war-memoranda of 1862-'65, Nature-notes of 1877-'81, with
Western and Canadian observations afterwards, all bundled up and tied by a big
string, the resolution and indeed mandate comes to me this day, this hour, —
(and what a day! what an hour just passing! the luxury of riant grass and
blowing breeze, with all the shows of sun and sky and perfect temperature, never
before so filling me body and soul) — to go home, untie the bundle, reel out
diary-scraps and memoranda, just as they are, large or small, one after another,
into print-pages. (Whitman 689)

This is the lyric Whitman, the disabled poet working to shape and re-shape his memories as well as his present circumstances. He does so with fragments, jottings, things untied, things untidy, nature notes, bureaucratic memoranda… He is announcing his intention to create a “lyric collage” –and by announcing that this is for the printed page he is also announcing that this is a work of art, one created out of a new urgency.
Here is Whitman again, writing of his increasing paralysis and its effect on his ways of living:

Quit work at Washington, and moved to Camden, New Jersey — where I have lived since, receiving many buffets and some precious caresses — and now write these lines. Since then, (1874-'91) a long stretch of illness, or half-illness, with occasional lulls. During these latter, have revised and printed over all my books — Bro't out "November Boughs" — and at intervals leisurely and exploringly travel'd to the Prairie States, the Rocky Mountains, Canada, to New York, to my birthplace in Long Island, and to Boston. But physical disability and the war-paralysis above alluded to have settled upon me more and more, the last year or so. Am now (1891) domicil'd, and have been for some years, in this little old cottage and lot in Mickle Street, Camden, with a house-keeper and man nurse. Bodily I am completely disabled, but still write for publication. I keep generally buoyant spirits, write often as there comes any lull in physical sufferings, get in the sun and down to the river whenever I can, retain fair appetite, assimilation and digestion, sensibilities acute as ever, the strength and volition of my right arm good, eyesight dimming, but brain normal, and retain my heart's and soul's unmitigated faith not only in their own original literary plans, but in the essential bulk of American humanity east and west, north and south, city and country, through thick and thin, to the last. Nor must I forget, in conclusion, a special, prayerful, thankful God's blessing to my dear firm friends and personal helpers, men and women, home and foreign, old and young."

In lyric terms this prose is necessary to assure the poet’s survival. Gregory Orr’s useful polarities of lyric incitement come to mind: Whitman is experiencing “extremities of subjectivity” as well as the “outer circumstances [of] poverty, suffering, pain, illness, violence, or loss of a loved one.” As Orr points out: “This survival begins when we "translate" our crisis into language–where we give it symbolic expression as an unfolding drama of self and the forces that assail it” –see Orr's insightful book "Poetry of Survival" the most elegant analysis of crisis recast as fragmentary immanence.


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Disability On Theory Road

–after Pentti Saarikoski


In the morning on Theory Road

Ableists and doctrineaire landscapers accosted me

Told me I was sily wanting to go places like everyone else

A little higher up under my apple tree a fawn and her twins nosed fallen fruit

Malice, dressed as a bureaucrat told me to give up

His forehead wavy, eyes quite specific, didn't much like the blind he said

I climbed the steps to the dance floor

Late summer clouds calling me

To dance with them but I lay down on my back

& listened as if my life depended 

Poem From Washington Upon Hearing the President Praise the War

Maybe men and women need to be quiet for part of the day

Like Orphic birds asleep on the tombs in Italy—

Tuck your head, sleep in the sidelong avian mysteries,

Sleep like the fritillaries in the cemetery grass.

Yes we need less talk. Our country is sick with talk.

We ought to be quiet—put down the telephones—

To inquire of the numberless dead

With the offertory of our minds alone,

No tongues, no tongues at all.