8 Disabled Poets to Add to Your Poetry Month TBR
It’s National Poetry Month! I adore this time of year every April when I discover so many new-to-me poets. And there’s something for everyone — spoken word, dramatic poetry, sonnets, prose poetry — really whatever you can imagine. Sometimes, readers might feel intimidated by the idea of reading capital “P” poetry, but poetry doesn’t have to be daunting! There’s a whole world of poetry lovers here to welcome anyone who wants to just sit and enjoy this beautiful corner of the literary world. Don’t worry about “reading poetry incorrectly” (whatever that means). We’re just happy that you’re here!
As a disabled person, I especially love to see disabled, chronically ill, d/Deaf, and neurodivergent writers using poetry to express their creativity and ingenuity, celebrating our cultures and communities. Disabled poets also use poetry to mourn the experience of ableism and violence inflicted on our communities and discuss the unique experiences of disabled people who live at the intersection of many different identities.
To inspire your TBR, I’ve collected a wide range of different poetry collections for you. There’s narrative poetry, poetry written by a Deaf poet using sign language in his poems, and several poets whose work is informed by their experiences as disabled queer people of color. So what are we waiting for? Let’s jump right in!
Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability edited by Sheila Black, Jennifer Bartlett, and Michael Northen
If you’re looking for more disabled poets to include in your reading life, the anthology Beauty Is a Verb is a great place to start. Co-editors Sheila Black, Jennifer Bartlett, and Michael Northen have collected a wide range of disabled poets to include in this collection, giving readers a lot of different options. Whatever your taste in poetry, you are sure to find something you like in these pages.
The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus
Raymond Antrobus is an awarding-winning Deaf poet from the UK. In his collection, The Perseverance, the speaker is contemplating how grief intersects with the silence of his experience as a Deaf person. The whole collection centers around these ideas, examining the assumptions of hearing people about Deaf people’s experiences of the world, including moments of grief and loss. In the audio edition of the collection, Antrobus performs his poems, including descriptions and asides about what inspired his poetry and the themes he returns to again and again.
More Than Organs by Kay Ulanday Barrett
More Than Organs centers around the experience of living in a trans, queer, brown, disabled body. Barrett describes how living at these intersections of identity changes the way they see the world. The poems are filled with tension, anger, and the grief of losing other marginalized folks from one’s commuting, which results in living in a perpetual state of mourning. After its release in 2020, More Than Organs was named a Barbara Gittings Stonewall Honor Book in Literature.
The Girl Aquarium by Jen Campbell
When I think of some of my favorite contemporary poets, Jen Campbell always jumps to the top of my list. Campbell writes about themes around queerness, disability, and disfigurement, often intersecting these aspects of her identity with her love of fairy tales. Campbell’s word choice is perfection, and like all great poetry, when her poems are read aloud, they gain a new life. Her readings of her work are stunning. Her latest collection, Please Do Not Touch This Exhibit, comes out later this year.
SLINGSHOT by Cyrée Jarelle Johnson
Cyrée Jarelle Johnson examines ideas around Black queerness and gender-nonconformity, the feeling of always being pushed to the margins. Their approach also includes ideas around disability and how that intersects with their other identities. There’s a push and pull, a give and take to Johnson’s ideas as we follow the speaker through isolation, loneliness, and — eventually — hope.
Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky
Ilya Kaminsky is a hard of hearing poet who was born in the former Soviet Union, and his background deeply informs his poetry. Deaf Republic is a long-form narrative poetry collection. The story begins during a protest when soldiers shoot a Deaf boy named Petya. After the rest of the protestors hear the gunshot, they realize they can’t hear anything else. They have all gone deaf. They begin using sign language to coordinate their resistance to the soldiers who occupy their country.
Veil and Burn by Laurie Clements Lambeth
Laurie Clements Lambeth uses her experience with chronic pain and illness to inform her poetry about Otherness. She examines bodies of all different kinds — humans, animals, and even monsters — turning her ideas over and over. Much of her word choice stems from heightened awareness of the physical sensations that all bodies experience. She uses insightful language to describe chronic pain and more pleasant sensations, celebrating the physical form in such a unique way.
Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis
Robin Coste Lewis experienced a traumatic brain injury that caused permanent brain damage. Her doctors put her on a sort of brain rest, telling her she could only read and write one line per day. She persevered and slowly regained her ability to write the words that been swimming around in her mind for so long. Her debut poetry collection, Voyage of the Sable Venus, received critical acclaim and won the National Book Award for poetry. It delves into ideas around race and the construction of self, peering into the stereotypes that become entangled in Black Americans’ identities.
Poetry Month is such a wonderful time to celebrate poets and the incredible work they put out into the world. For even more poetry recommendations, check out “8 More Affrilachian Poetry Collections for Your TBR” and “20 of the Best Poetry Magazines You Need to Read”.