In May of 2013, my poem, “What Not to Say to Me Now That I Am Crippled,” was published in the anthology Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets, from Texture Press, edited by Lynn Levin and Valerie Fox.
The poem was first published in the December 2012 issue of Wordgathering.
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Review from Amazon.com:
(Contributors names below in bold are Bucks County (PA) Poets Laureate.)
“Valerie Fox and Lynn Levin’s Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets offers fourteen classroom- and workshop-tested writing prompts that will appeal to both beginning and experienced poets. Among the book’s inspiring and unusual ideas are the Fibonacci poem, advice-column poem, and spirit-of-names poem.
“The book lends itself to academic courses as well as poetry workshops in less formal settings, such as adult-ed, community-based, and “coffee-shop” classes. Individuals will find the book to be a helpful companion to their independent practice of poetry. In addition to the prompts, scores of sample poems by a variety of poets are included.
“Contributors include Marie Kane, Lewis Warsh, Christopher Bursk, Peter Wood, Leonard Gontarek, Corie Feiner, John Timpane, Dawn Manning, Hayden Saunier, Joanna Fuhrman, and many others. The book includes witty illustrations by Don Riggs.”
Lynn asked me to write a poem for the book using the prompt for The Rules Poem. Part of the prompt reads:
The rules poem is a type of list poem that offers a collection of dos and don’ts or a set of directions. . . . Write your rules in the imperative mood.”*
*Fox, Valerie and Lynn Levin. Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets. Norman, OK: Texture, 2013. 24.
How could I not love the challenge of writing a Rules Poem? My family’s nickname for me was “El Ordelero.” Plus, I taught High School English for twenty-eight years – my life was giving directions. I relished dictates, orders, edicts – and rules for anything.
The Rules Poem I wrote concerns Multiple Sclerosis, with which I was diagnosed with in 1991, and the things people SHOULD NOT say to me now that I am crippled. I use the word ‘crippled’ and not ‘handicapped’ or ‘physically challenged’ in the title because I want what follows to be real and hard-hitting from the onset. The poem was not difficult to write; I had a mountain of material.
I did wrestle with what to include and exclude, the form (couplets, at first), how to phrase the rules, and how extreme my ‘rules’ should be. Even though I find using rhyme difficult, I challenged myself to use the long ‘i’ rhyme in the opening of the first line of each couplet, and words that rhyme with ‘would’ in the opening of the second line of each.
However, the poem’s length using couplets was too long for the page size of the printed book, so Lynn and Valerie asked me to alter the line length; I changed the lines to tercets. As a result, some of the “would” rhyme is buried or changed, but the rhyme for the long ‘i’ sound remains in the first line of each stanza, and a few others.
Regarding the wry tone in this Rules Poem:
I understand that people often don’t know what to say to a person using a cane, walker, or scooter – or who has any handicap. I appreciate those who don’t talk down to me, and who are willing to help me navigate the world that is decidedly not favorable to the handicapped, although accessibility and understanding are blessedly more prevalent now.
Here’s the poem:
What Not to Say to Me Now That I Am Crippled
Try not to tell me to take your time when holding the door; if I could lag
behind by choice, I would (sluggishness is not an option with MS)
and I do appreciate that my sometimes
blind left eye discerns your kind face ignoring my conspicuous left foot
drop, and that do good is your mantra, but refrain from suggesting
that my walking will improve
if I comply with these cures: having a hysterectomy, or its opposite—
pregnancy, enduring the repeated sting of honeybees, or the
sipping of Aloe Vera juice at a bank-account-emptying spa
at Versailles—any of which ought to turn my question mark spine into
an exclamation point. Should I ask for a bathroom never, ever tell
me that I can wait. And for the life of me,
when I relate recent successes, don’t cry out “Good for you!” (as if I
were five and had just learned how to tie my shoes) — when I walk,
stand, or stay awake (“Good for you!”) —
or drive my car to physical therapy (“Good for you!”) — or shower by
myself (“Good for you!”) — publish a book of poetry, (“Good
for you!”) drop nothing that day (“Good for you!”) — and when
you spy me on my motorized scooter, don’t saunter by and claim
sotto voce to my husband, “I need that more than she does,”
nor should you whisper that your mother, father, sibling,
neighbor died of MS, then tell me that I look Fantastic! Delightful!
Splendid! Your flood of words insists that I am a marvel; my
doctors say I am doing well, considering.
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