Petra Kuppers and Neil Marcus


One of the literary events of the summer in the disabilities community is the scheduled release of Cripple Poetics: A Love Story. Big guns of the disabilities literary community including poets Stephen Kuusisto and Laura Hershey, drama theorist Ann Fox and Lennard Davis, the unofficial father of disability studies have already lined up to support the book. The book itself is a collage of poetry, emails, instant messages and a miscellany of communications punctuated by photography from Lisa Steichmann, from which emerges a reciprocally developing love story and crip poetics. Notwithstanding the predictable American hype comparing the correspondence of Marcus and Kuppers to the Brownings or Abelard and Heloise, Cripple Poetics may indeed prove an important spawning ground in the development of the concept of a disabilities literature. Below, Wordgathering offers "At the Gynecologist’s" a poem excerpted from the upcoming book, together with questions and answers by the authors about their work.
                                                                                                   The Editors


At the Gynecologist’s

There are qualities in the material world that are seldom experienced; only necessity makes them apparent…d drake


Who are we but Atoms
Partly visible. Partly invisible.
Particles of love
Radiating poetry. Art. Philosophy.
I see myself through you and around you
As the world turns
You hold me in and about you
My curves fold on you
We meet turning into
We touch
Our Matter

You might not want children because
issues in his family
gene dance
she said, our chirpy gynecologist,
looking straight at me, slant at my lover
instruments out

What can be seen
What can be talked about
What is love
What is form
What is dance

Love him, but not children like him?
White coat atoms settle into their dance:
dream plane, wish bone, Galton’s galvanized knowledge
eugenic technology that flies off our bodies’ awkward edges
erasure of the spastic tender
touch, deliberate, the vaginal membrane

The air in this place is heavy…like water
We glide and float
outer space
For our otter bodies
You and I twirl in this ether of darkness and light.

The gynecologist motions him to come closer,
to look upon the universe
cervix’s eye into the inner coil
behold this scene
biological biopsy punches its hole into the donut of infinity:
Schroedinger’s cat is alive inside me
black box theatre


I do, in part, rely on the kindness of strangers
Often it hurts me for people to be generous
I need to be clear on what care is.
You go first.
No. after you.
Crash. An accident.
Wasn’t that how the bomb was discovered…by accident ?

we go to the hot springs
and are greeted at the entry gate by an older man with scruffy hair and long beard
he tells us we are the adventurous sort
because we travel with two wheelchairs and no ‘helper’
he says his name is Basil, which means kingly.
He says I remind him of steven hawkings
Whom he admires tremendously.
I look away and roll my eyes.
I forgive him anyway.
The king and I.
Hot springs all over the world are connected volcanically.

Petra asks the nurse in the drs office how it is to be working on Christmas eve.
Its awful. I hate you she says.
                                                                                               I hate you

Just kidding she says. Im really ok.
No matter
                                                                      No matter

* * * 

How do different forms of embodiment leave traces in writing?
How do typographic differences shape your reception of the text and its personae?
What are traces of the electronic/traces of the physical?

Our written and spoken languages are different. Petra writes with a dancer’s attention to movement and musicality: she enjoys the touch of her fingers on her keyboard. She is a non-native English speaker. Her German mother-tongue and her Welsh accent leave traces in her writings.
For Neil, writing and speaking is laborious, time-consuming, tiring. Neil writes direct and short, with grammatical and spelling differences that allow him to short-cut language conventions and present his expression. He also needs to move in order to speak: his whole body is convulsively involved in the production of sound. He dances in order to speak.
Taking on the embodiment of an artist a dancer a space traveler, a poet creates new landscapes for disabled people to occupy.
Pain, more specifically, physical pain, is very much a taboo subject. Not a subject that is well understood or talked about publicly. Addressing it can be very helpful to vast numbers of people. Love is not  separate from our physical ‘frailties’ and aches. Must be addressed.

Is touch a function in language?
Is pain unrepresentable in language?   
Is love in words?

Touching a keyboard, touching skin, touching sounds: both poets’ form of embodiment makes them aware of touch. This heightened awareness to the tenderness and costs of touching emerges in the poetry. Pain is the theme of many poems here, and pain also creates blank spaces or time-outs in this narrative. Pain, love: what these words mean is unclear, and Cripple Poetics improvises in the swath of these grand words.

Touch is a very necessary and overlooked part of much of our lives. Presented in language it can quickly become a reality. Writing about how disabled people desire touch is again breaking another taboo.

Mobility: who moves, how, when, where, to what effect?
How does distance shape desire?

Many poems in this collection speak about mobility, movement, and about the many different ways we can conceive of travel: in one’s ear, in one’s mind, in one’s body, in another body, across time and space. And yet, many poems also speak about immobility, about physical solitude and rest. Different communication strategies, from traditional poems to Internet Relay Chat, from essayistic meditations to chatty emails, chart how mobility can happen. All of the pages in this book were part of the many hundred emails the poets wrote to each other in their courtship.

What does water signify throughout the collection? What about seeds, about disabled country, dance, etc?
Fluidity, emergence, the formation of disability culture and the impossible task of imaging ‘disabled country,’ the tension between individual voice and a political movement – these are themes in Cripple Poetics, and they are visited in many different forms.

More general questions:

What is disability culture?
Disability culture is a movement shaped by people who want to take pride in their differences, see both political and aesthetic potential in human diversity, and want to change the world. We see Cripple Poetics as a part of this movement, and we want to show non-disabled and disabled people how rich our lives are, not in spite of our disabilities, but with and through them.

Can poetry be political?
We think poetry is a great medium to express what cannot yet be thought and spoken of in the language of the everyday. To publish our poetry is for us a political act: disabled people’s loves, their sexuality, their embodiment, their enjoyment of their differences are all still silenced or invisible in our culture. Cripple Poetics offers an alternative vision of rich disabled lives, without invading our privacy.

‘Cripple’ has been a very loaded word. I think poets do a great job liberating its oppressive  connotations. Freeing it makes ‘cripple’ lead and soar.