Michael Northen


The Disability Literature Consortium emerged when writer Sean Mahoney, who co-edited the anthology series Something on Our Minds and has MS himself, made an interesting observation while attending the 2015AWP conference in Minneapolis. Among the hundreds of books sellers and presses hawking their wares, Bellevue Literary Review was the only publisher of disability literature represented and there was no one booth or table dedicated to disability literature in general. Upon returning from the conference Mahoney contacted the editors of small literary magazines that focused on disability writing – Gail Wilmott (Kaleidoscope), Chris Kuell (Breath and Shadow), Lori Brozek (Pentimento), and Michael Northen (Wordgathering) – and asked if they would be interested in working together to secure a booth at the 2016 AWP conference in Los Angeles. They were. Under the title Disability Literature Consortium, this group set up a booth where those who have an interest in disability literature will be able to stop and not only find out information about the publishers' journals but buy new writing from various authors with disabilities. Conference attendees who have just heard a panel or reading related to disability literature were able to head to a place to explore work that might have excited their interest.

Now in its fourth year, the Dis Lit Consortium will be present again at the 2019 AWP Conference in Portland, Oregon from March 27-30. This year the consortium will be able to help give attention to disability writing by hosting a reading by some of the writers whose books will be available at the booth.

Poster in light blue listing the names of the seven readers mentioned below.

The reading will take place on March 28 from 6-9 PM in the Downtown Courtyard Marriott. Writers reading their work will include Susanne Antonetta, Kay Ulanday Barrett, Jennifer Bartlett, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Cade Leebron, Raymond Luczak and Dora Raymaker. The Pearl Room of the hotel is an accessible venue and the event will be ASL-interpreted.

In preparation for this important event Wordgathering offers a foretaste of some of the poetry that participants who attend may be hearing from those who will be reading.

Jennifer Bartlett

Activism: A Found Poem

I understand that it is difficult to be in your body.
I can't imagine how much more difficult
that makes things for you. I do not, however,
understand why you think that everyone should slow down
or rearrange their events to accommodate you.

Events cannot move at your pace,
and something put together in a changing situation
by a handful of paid workers and volunteers
will not always be able to accommodate your needs;
you are the one lacking understanding here.

There are many events which are fully planned in advance
and are predictable that you can participate in.
Maybe you should choose not to join in actions
in which this is not the case rather than expect
people to have the time, energy and resources to cater to your needs
under unplanned and unpredictable circumstances.

I don't discount your experience and I don't not empathize
However, it is not fine that you should complain
about these people or their actions because
they weren't able to accommodate your special needs.

* * *

Jeannine Hall Gailley

The Little Mermaid Warns You, You May Have Already Become Forgotten

Your once-silken voice will desert you, your legs
will make every step on land a torture.
There will come a time when you miss
the seaweed and seals, your old ways,
your old body. Now fit for neither land
nor sea, your sacrifice long in the past now.
Comb your hair, which keeps growing,
though you've lost your prince.
You know the time is coming
where you'll pay the price
for your short time in the sun.
You sit outside the doors of the castle,
and no one recognizes you as cursed,
or as former mermaid or magical creature at all.
You are just another broken human now.
If they looked closely, maybe they'd see
the sea foam in your eyes. But probably
they'll swish past you on sturdy strong feet without notice.

* * *

Raymond Luczak

Mortal Sin

hearing people
our superiors
had decreed
sign language was a sin
for us deaf people
learning to speak
how silly was that
anything forbidden
becomes even more desired
like nothing else
hands coded with language
was the stuff of our darkest dreams
lit by a flaming torch
there at the tunnels end
we spend our waking moments
aching to feel the gloves of signing
fit our hands perfectly
language alone could keep
us warm in that winter
of misinformation & politicks
all this we never know upfront
until we try on each sign
for the first time
so when gramps morrison sat
in front of the iron inn tavern
on aurora street he fingerspelled
to anyone who wanted to learn
mom forced me not to look
whenever we passed
but oh such sweet stolen glances
his movements were mysterious
as those dreams that bobbed
like apples on the water
impossible to catch with our teeth
always taunting me
but no matter
there he was
a torch in the tunnel
more powerful than any
biblical proclamation
amplified on any microphone
or on any tv screen
sitting there
not acting anything special
he was both moses & jesus
the sky above st michaels
began showing fractures
traces of lightning
double exposed
my first time realizing
how one could worship
a language not theirs
i was suddenly a prisoner
given the key to outside
no more purgatory

* * *

Cade Leebron

T2 Hypersensitivity

There are walls inside the brain I have learned to not go behind. Something
blooming in my spine. The doctor told me it'll stay steady like that. The flower

holds. Live in the moment I learned. Instead of other stuff I see the swing
of D—'s new girlfriend's ponytail as he follows her through a crowd we are

part of. He's going in some other direction and I am behind a wall of his
desire. I am in the past. If you crumple a flower it does come back, I swear.

Not so easy like the teachers and the doctors tried to tell us. Nothing holds
at a level of steady damage. We relapse and remit. The petals come and

go. Behind the wall in my head D— is holding me down and I know that,
I know that. I call it luck when I see him walking in the other direction.

There's a wall in his head that keeps him from turning back to see what I have
grown up into. Everything I built while he thought I was safely under his hands.

* * *

Dora Raymaker

The Vital Impetus of Location

i crawl the infinitude of nows.
i am the strange navigator
the way in
entranced by dancing

                                                                       (see me rearrange spacetime because it isn't really there?)
                                                     i transit age and embers;
                                   snake bites tail round to kindling
it's all about finding your way

stating your coordinates.
Drawing a line in the sand.
Making an X on the spot.
Dropping anchor and mapping the edges of the informationverse.

ha ha, ah, sorry, no, that is a human thing, those
definings of boundaries that you put on me so then i spew–one more
navigation in my collection.
i, STRANGE NAVIGATOR, am not a human thing
despite the beliefs you put on me like conductors' uniforms
i will never be.
i am not your compass because there is no east or west.

i am your dream of flight
that gave you stars
that gave you wings

i am the distance between mountaintops and histories;
my feet straddle all of the thens that ever were                                                                       (but none of those yet to be)
           (for i am bound too, in my own way. immortal. amoral. bodiless and connected to a body too far from human to
                                                     translate. yet bound by the same physics as you–we just navigate it differently.)

i settle at the prow of your ship
place my fingers inside your skull
map your curiosity
and spin 'round the chaos attractor until it takes form.

* * *

Susanne Antonetta

from The Moon Bird Thinks of the Moon Only


A young girl pushes her face at a scrap of window
watching the moon. Licks her long hair:
no one’s looking. She dreams of a strange lone bird.

Not quite sunup. A hand
holds her at the shoulder, No breakfast, says the voice behind the hand.
A short hall, a bit in
the mouth, spatula of conducting gel, a needle.


The bird for her part squats on the gray plains
trying to understand
the pallor and the dead bowls of moon.

The mares and montes, rock,
ice of the poles burning beneath her.

There is just one
of her, two wings with which to know herself: this is difficult.

All of the event readers will have their books available for sale at the reading. It will also be an opportunity to meet other writers with disabilities, to learn about the Disability Literature Consortium, and to find out about literary journals that seeks work by disabled writers for publication.


Michael Northen is the editor of Wordgathering and an editor with Jennifer Bartlett and Sheila Black of the anthology Beauty is a Verb: the New Poetry of Disability. He is also an editor of the recent anthology of disabiity short fiction, The Right Way to Be Crippled and Naked (Cinco Puntos Press).