Thursday, September 13, 2018

Quick Sips - Uncanny #24 Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction! [September Poetry]

And now for the poetry from Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction! Now, in years past it has been flash fiction that rounded out the original offerings in the Destroy! issues. But, as Uncanny normally publishes a selection of excellent poetry, this special issue continues the tradition. Now, I find poetry some of the most difficult things to review, in part because they rely so much on what the reader brings to the piece. But I do find it valuable as a reader to approach poetry with a critical gaze, searching for meaning and seeking to understand and examine how I read and respond to poetry. And the selection here is amazing, moving from self and body outward into the universe, which can be beautiful and terrifying and freeing and confining and just, really, it’s a great celebration of speculative poetry that I’m going to do my best to review. So let’s get to it!

Art by Likhain

“core / debris / core” by R.B. Lemberg

This poem speaks to me of the pressure people face to hide their conditions and disabilities. And there’s so much to this piece that I feel captures the difficulties and the shame and the rawness that comes with having something that you can’t control and being treated like it’s something you’re doing purposefully. Pointedly. To get attention, perhaps, as if the things that deeply impact disabled people’s quality of life are things they are choosing to do, choosing to have, in order to reach for some magic extra...something that I guess is supposed to make life easy. Or, if not to get attention, then to upset people on purpose, as if that was a thing. And so the pressure is to make all disabilities invisible, because when they are visible people treat them like they exist only to be a spectacle. Only to be (most of the time) unpleasant and offensive. And the poem speaks with that voice at times, revealing how the call to cover up disability or difference is not about the dignity or comfort of the disabled people, but rather about the comfort of the able, and their wish to avoid their own feelings of revulsion, guilt, or empathy. And the narrator here recognizes that, that each aggression against them for their condition is about maintaining an illusion in which disability just doesn’t exist—an illusion only able people are ever, well, able to believe in and benefit from. And the narrator refuses to play along, in a powerful and final statement that shows the fragility of able people, that they would hurt so many just to avoid compassion and understanding. The language is beautiful without really avoiding talking about what the narrator deals with. It’s all described in lyric metaphor, with numerous intrusions by what I read as “helpful” and “well meaning” voices trying to “correct” them into thinking of themself and their condition as something dirty and to be hidden, to be ashamed of. That the narrator brushes them off is a great way to show the taking back of power, the refusal to think of themself as anything other than a full and glorious person. A wonderful read!

“All the Stars Above the Sea” by Sarah Gailey

To me, this poem tells the story of impending doom, of a host headed toward the Earth not really for humanity, but rather for something else, for creatures of the water who have perhaps been waiting for this moment. And the narrator of the piece is, to my reading, someone whose spouse has gone beneath the water to a research facility in the hope of finding a way to maybe save whatever of humanity can be saved. The piece then focuses on the narrator and their longing, and their sense of abandonment and loss because of this. It’s a longer work, the refrain a sort of count down as the stars get closer and closer and it becomes clearer and clearer that they aren’t stars, that they are an ending, and that the narrator, trapped and relatively alone, isn’t exactly coping well. And for me it shows the kind of push and pull that comes when you rely on someone for a good deal of your life, when you share something profound and then it just...goes. And not even in a way that you can really get closure with because the narrator doesn’t know what happened to their partner, where exactly he is or how he’s preparing to meet the end. Will he return or is he gone forever? It’s just not certain and that sense of having to wait, having to wait in uncertainty, is for me what really drive the poem towards its end, twisting with tension at every hope that shouldn’t be hoped, every vision that can’t be ignored. It’s a poem that for me is full of hurt, hurt because whatever happened, these two people were supposed to meet the end together. And it seems like they aren’t. And it’s just such a betrayal that the narrator doesn’t want to accept. That they don't want to face. Just like the stars drawing nearer or the shadows under the waves. Just like all the things that are too big to ignore that people still try to ignore. And it makes for a rather great read!

“How to Fix a Dancer When it Breaks” by Genevieve DeGuzman

Revisiting idea of relationships, betrayal, and longing, this poem I feel introduces a dancer and I’m guessing partner, though it’s possible it could be manager or parent or similar. Whatever the case, the dancer has an injury, a problem with their spine, probably from dancing, from the strain that put on the body. And there are some injuries like that that the body doesn’t exactly heal from. That are career ending for dancers, leading to the language of the title—that the dancer is broken. And for me the piece really shows how the dancer is reduced to that role and nothing else, all of their value tucked into their ability to perform. To be flawless in the ways that people expect dancers to be flawless. To hide the pain that they might be living with, and certainly never to acknowledge that they have been injured, that they are now at a much greater risk of hurting themself more because of it. And the piece does get into that, into how they are getting injections into their spine in order to try and stay dancing. And there is this grace and beauty to the way it is described, cut some with the medical side of things, with the rather visceral truth of what’s going on. And surrounding this is the feeling for me that it is a dance itself, a performance. And that the narrator is aware of this and does it for many reasons. Because they want to dance. Because they are being pressured into it. And so much of this piece comes back to the title for me, to the way that the dancer isn’t really being treated like a person. They are an It, a dancer, a toy. And when they break, when their body stops being able to do the things that they are valued for, they have to risk more, and endure more, because the dance is all that matters. And for that, for me, it’s a bit of a creepy and rending read, because it focuses on the way that this person is trapped here, silent, their voice both present in the narrator and silent as they are “fixed.” But it is also a beautifully complex piece and one very much worth spending some time with!

“Ctenophore Soul” by Rita Chen

This poem seems to me to describe difference and a sense of the alien on Earth. At least, the evocation of ctenophora in the title brings to mind animals that look very strange indeed to most people, because of their combs and fragile details. And that sense of strangeness, of something seeming like maybe it doesn’t belong, is part of what I get out of this poem, that it might be tracing a way of taking that perceived strangeness and embracing it. Because, as odd as people might find the ctenphore, there is also such a beauty to them. And by tying that to something like a soul, I feel that the poem is pointing to the ways that some people are formed in a way that almost seems like a mistake. That is born around injury and the blurring of lines. Where, some people might think, something has gone wrong. Only here the emphasis is that this isn’t wrong. It might not be standard, but what results is not ugly, but rather different, and luminous, and strong in its own ways. These souls, held in pain and damage and yet still growing to compensate, to find different ways to shine, end up so much different than “normal.” They end up new and unique in ways that might allow them to experience the world in a singular way, and to perhaps be prepared for the strangeness that they might find in the world. To be able to experience the sight of a ctenophore and be able to feel a kinship and an understanding. And maybe to be able to connect to other ways of thinking and being as well, that could bridge even the distance between stars. So yeah, it’s a rather fabulous piece, made up of mostly short lines, that forms its own structure, its own beauty, and its own impact. Another great read!

“the body argonautica” by Robin M. Eames

This poem has such a sensual feeling for me, very evocative of color, texture, feeling. It follows a sort of consumption that for me seems to walk hand in hand with damage. There are numerous instances of collision, of bruning, or devastation that is followed immediately by soothing, by care, by touch and kiss. It’s a poem that as I read it sort of blurs the borders between bodies—that of self and flesh becoming one with planet and further still, with universe, with infinity. For me, at least, it speaks to a connection, a way of rising beyond just one physicality in order to participate in another level of being. There’s something mythical to the poem for me, as well, a way of bringing the celestial down to earth while rising those on the earth up into the divine. And all the while I love the movement of the piece, the fluctuations that it captures. Tectonic shifts and impacts and waves and everything is just so alive, and so vibrant. And, ultimately, I think what I like about the poem and its links to perhaps the Argonauts as mentioned in the title is that it captures this feeling of going and returning. It’s a quest, a journey, an adventure. And yet for all that so much of it is reaching outward, it ends on a very intimate moment that for me brings things back to two people and their beautiful bodies, and the distance between them closed. It’s full of longing and sensation and it’s just one hell of a read and a great way to close out the first half of the issue’s poetry!


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