Review: Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back

Posted on November 16, 2017


Review by Lianne Herbert

At long last! There’s a D/deaf and disabled anthology that represents us UK folks! Yes there is the American Beauty is a Verb disability focused anthology (which I have yet to read) but aren’t things a bit different across the pond?

I have dipped in and out of poetry throughout my relatively young life and I have never been able to fully identify or connect emotionally with the text. It’s only in recent years that alternatives to the ‘norm’ have been published.

The title Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back creates and air of mystery (for those with an open mind.) The word ‘whispers’ to me suggests that we are eavesdropping on the featured poets thoughts and points of views. For this we must be thankful that the poets have allowed themselves to be exposed publicly for potential ridicule and criticism. Non-disabled people can be very judgemental.

As I am deaf myself this review will be slightly subjective. (Forgive me!) This is because I am experiencing this anthology from my own personal deaf perspective!

There are six main sections to the anthology on different themes. The first being the introduction which showcases the editors talents and viewpoints on disability. This introduction is then followed by Bodies; Rules; Maps; Dreams and Legends sections in which various poets are featured. Some names you see featured in more than one section which demonstrates their diverse talents.

For each of these differing sections I found some poems very vivid and sometimes nauseating as I felt unprepared for the images that were being conjured up! Others were more obscure and made you concentrate harder to discover it’s true meaning. Whilst others felt like you were having a private conversation with the poet or given access on their most private innermost thoughts.

Varying emotions are displayed in this anthology from how society views the poets and interactions with others that have had a lasting impact.

Some essays are included too as are Vispo (Visual Poetry), online videos and voice recordings.

As a reader, listener or observer to the various medium forms for this anthology depending on your own personal experiences you will relate to each work on varying degrees.

The deaf poet I felt who’s one to watch was Raymond Antrobus as I felt like it was a heartfelt conversation between us two on the topic of deafness. I found Raymond’s word very powerful and moving as I could relate to a lot of the experiences and frustrations deafness can put one through.

Another poet I felt moved by was the online video ‘Stare’ by the spoken word artist Miss Jacqui. I could feel her emotions permeating through the video of how a stranger made her feel.

After the six sections have been concluded there are ‘Descriptive Text of Photos and Vispo’; ‘Content Notes’; some D/deaf and Disabled terminology definitions; ‘Biographies and Notes’; ‘Thank Yous’ and a list of the supporters for the anthology.

These further sections can help to clear any confusions that you may have had on the core messages a poem was conveying.

Overall, I was thrilled to have experienced this anthology as it opened my eyes to other disabilities I am not familiar with. Go and buy the anthology to immerse yourself in it. That’s only if you haven’t already!

It took me a while to realise that the Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back anthology featured both Lisa Kelly and Raymond Antrobus who have edited Magma 69, The Deaf Issue!

If the standard of the D/deaf poems in the anthology are anything to go by then we are in for a treat in this particular issue! Oh and my first published poem is featured in this too!

The launch is on Friday 17th November 2017 at the London Review Bookshop from 7 til 9 pm to which unfortunately the tickets have sold out for.

A great line-up of hearing and D/deaf poets will be there including Sophie Woolley presenting her article The Fake Interpreter and BSL poets Donna Williams and Ksenia Balabina.

There will be BSL interpreters and captions provided.

The BSL film-poem What Lies Beneath is what Lisa and Raymond commissioned in the magazine for the ‘Inspired Piece.’

It is a response by D/deaf poet Alison Smith in a collaboration with filmmaker Sandra Alland to the legendary D/deaf poet, Dorothy Miles and the lines from Dot’s poem ‘Defiance’:

If I were I

I would not say those pleasant things I say:

I would not smile and nod my head

When you say No!

Click here to view it.

Following the launch, on the 6th December 2017 there will be a Poetry Library for BSL film-poems and a panel debate on D/deaf poetics with co-editors Lisa Kelly and Raymond Antrobus, Donna Williams, Alison Smith and Ksenia Balabina. This will be held at the Southbank Centre. Click here for tickets.

Lisa Kelly had this to say about the cover:

‘The lovely surprise is we have two versions – green and pink. This is a first for Magma but we (myself and Raymond) wanted to express the diversity of experience of what it is to be D/deaf, have hearing loss and just one colour didn’t seem enough. Our artist Nina Thomas aims to capture something of her experience of hearing loss in her work and we felt her photograph is perfect for the cover of Magma 69.’

Here’s to the future of D/deaf and Disabled poetry. May it be given the well deserved recognition and studied by the future generations to come!

Further information and Links:

Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back

  • Click here for the title’s homepage on the Nine Arches Press website.
  • Click here for the anthology’s own blog space.
  • To buy a paperback copy on the Nine Arches Press website click here.
  • To buy a eBook version of the anthology click here.

Magma 69, The Deaf Issue

  • Click here for some featured poems and articles in the The Deaf Issue. Plus how to purchase this particular issue and others.

Lianne Herbert is a deaf professional writer who can be followed on Twitter here. Lianne is also on a Copywriting course to enhance her freelance prospects. She is currently involved with the West Yorkshire Playhouse on a Playwright course.

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Posted in: lianne herbert