Friday, April 24, 2020

Neoteny: Poems by Emily K. Michael (Review)

Image:  A field of purple coneflowers shown close up.  Blurred, white flowers grow with the purple.  The title appears at the top in white letters, and the poet's name appears at the bottom in all caps. 

Note:  I received a copy of this book in order to review it.

I hail the commonplace: dewy and sharp.
-from "Mint"

Every piece in Neoteny encapsulates (yet elevates) the small, common moments that make up a life.  The snapshots of lyrical, tiny memories and observations hold perfect place with the subtle indicators of time and timelessness.  Instead of dismissing the heft of fruit, the sound of birdsong, and splashes of color in favor of once-in-a-lifetime hullabaloo, Emily K. Michael pulls you into the spaces along with her and invites you to experience them in lush detail.

We drove two hours to walk the old quarter—
traded thirty dollars for three hundred years.
Hollow houses, tiny plaques, costumed guides interrupted,
joyful crunches on studded gravel.
-from "Anniversary in St. Augustine"

These poems are a collective of sensual proximity.  The narrator of the poems is almost always in contact with her partner, friends, guide dog, or nature in various ways.   Connections are keenly portrayed.

Step out onto the lawn at dusk, dog leash 
loose like reins in your fingers.
Over the quiet jingle of collar,
cardinal voices cross the yard.
-from "Trading Threes"

There are poems about blindness in this slim volume, but there are also poems that don't mention it at all.  The poems that do address blindness sometimes also address abled folly and misconception, but they never fall into tirade.

You don't think about what we look like?

Not really.

She smiles: That must be so nice.
You're not hung up on it.
-from "Small Hours"

There is a quiet music to these poems, and they are woven together well.  This collection is definitely worth your time.
Biography:  Emily K. Michael is a blind poet, musician, and writing instructor from Jacksonville, FL. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Wordgathering, The Hopper, Artemis Journal, The Deaf Poets Society, Nine Mile Magazine, Compose Journal, The Fem, and more. Her manuscript Natural Compliance won Honorable Mention in The Hopper’s 2016 Prize for Young Poets. Emily is the poetry editor for Wordgathering, an open-access journal under the auspices of Syracuse University. Emily’s work centers on the themes of ecology, disability, feminism, and music. She develops grammar workshops for multilingual learners and participates in local writing festivals. She also curates the Blind Academy blog. Her first book Neoteny: Poems is out from Finishing Line Press.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Deaf Girl Reviews Music: Hidden Flowers by Su Zi

Momma liked flowers, and I grow zinnias in her memory. I also follow garden-related accounts on social media, so a post about a flower and its name was a fairly prosaic event: however, that particular flower is a controversial one, which caused me to pause, to investigate. That particular flower was called Kush, and the post depicting the purple blooms was not, as some might giggle a guess, a moment of acquisitional glee, but an illustration for a song about the flower. Any familiarity with Shakespeare will recall flowers as a muse, as a trope. It is not irony that this Kush flower is purple, and that Shakespeare wrote aplenty about purple flowers, but rather a direct expression of a classical understanding of the lyrical arts.

I showed the picture to a few people as a post about a flower: there were those who recognized Purple Kush’s species and smiled, there were those who were interested in a song with the flower as a topic; however, when I mentioned the name of the artist who wrote the song, everyone became blanched of blood. How curious. A controversial flower can gather benign response, but not if the lyricist is controversial too. Featuring his typically collaborative and atavistic recording style of call and response, the song “Kush” is written by Dr. Dre and features Akon, and the ever-lovable Snoop Dogg. Released as a single in 2010, the culture around this flower has changed much; however, what has not changed are social attitudes towards the music which is in homage to this flower, and here we err.  Following a structure of a chorus framing alternating soliloquy is a device often employed in Dr. Dre recordings, and it is a familiar framework for theatrical musicals. What is striking about this song, and Dr. Dre’s work overall, is the precision of meter he employs, the split-second strike of his beats.

As a hearing-impaired person, music is a love and an agony. Momma loved music, met my father through music, and music played always, especially Vivaldi. The barely-one-ear nature of my hearing ability has evolved into an increased sensitivity: a keenness for birdsong, for environmental acoustics untainted, a physical reaction of nausea to sloppy human noise. That there’s music that is still listenable is a personal joy. Our flower song is among those happy experiences, yet a moment’s lingering reveals the intricacies of this bloom. “Kush” has alternating chorus, one heavily affected, and one sung in human choral voices. The first chorus reads as “Hold up, wait a minute/let me put some Kush up in it”. A recognizable couplet that could be ordinary, except for the meter of the lines: the spondee set forth by “HOLD UP” shifts to the troche of “WAIT a MINute” resulting is an ordinary tetrameter for that line, except that the following line shifts meter—five beats, pentameter—and ends also with the spondee of “IN IT”. Anyone familiar with Shakespeare even distantly, or with classic literary poetry, will recognize the pentameter as an oft used meter; what is unusual is to find this beat in modern music.

What further challenges conventional listening is “Kush’s” second chorus, “inhale/exhale”, which is sung by male and female human voices. Sometime sung iambically – inHALE/exHALE – and sometimes with a shift to troche – IN/hale/EXhale—the accompaniment has a drum and piano tonality, creating a classically clean chord. Intricacies of meter are a marked aspect of Dr. Dre’s artistry, and this song is no exception. Also exceptional is the consistently collaborative nature of Dr. Dre’s work; this song lists a dozen writers. In an Instagram post from the first week of March for this year, Snoop Dogg described working with Dr. Dre as a form of martial arts, and the collaboration as “sorcery”. What is also consistent is Dr. Dre’s assiduous and elaborate tonal constructions—a weaving of blues-bending notes, multiple voices, slant rhyme in lyrical construction, and a sense that we are listening to a modern and pure opera.

There are those who might be petulant or divisive and insist that poetic meter has nothing to do with rap beats, who might not wear a t-shirt that proclaims "Rap, Poetry is thy Mother”, or who might venture that flowers are not an appropriate topic for either Shakespeare or Dr. Dre. Since hindsight attests to Shakespeare’s work as iconic of the English Renaissance, and since living artists are more iconoclastic than iconic while working, it is premature to put the hope of an artistic renaissance on Dr. Dre. What these damaged ears carry away is a joy, a pure pleasure at that exquisite precision, and a gratefulness to have heard it.
Jennifer's note:  Dr. Dre isn't disabled or neurodivergent.  This lyrical review (which may become a recurring column) is about mainstream culture from a crip POV.  
Su Zi is a poet/writer and artist/printmaker and edits, designs and constructs the eco-feminist poetry chapbook series Red Mare
Publications include poetry, essays, stories and reviews that date back to pre-cyber publishing, including when Exquisite Corpse was a vertical print publication, and a few editions of New American Writing. More recent publications include Red FezAlien Buddha and Thrice. A resident of the Ocala National Forest, with a dedicated commitment to providing a safe feeding respite for wild birds, and for a haphazard gardening practice that serves as a life model for all aspects of her work.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Interview with Graphic Designer Ronald Kerns

Image:  A head shot of a white man wearing square glasses and a purple polo shirt. He has short, black hair.

1. How did you become interested in graphic design?

When I was in school, I had never taken an art class at all. But, I was interested in all things "visual". I initially went to University for business (Northwood University in Midland, Michigan)... advertising/marketing. While there, the chairman of the department sat me down one day and asked me if I had ever considered art school. The explanation was, he was quite impressed with the high level of creativity in some of the class projects I had done. So, from there, I looked into art school, and after business school, continued my education at art school in Cincinnati.

2. What design awards have you won?  Have they helped your business?

I have won a few awards in the American Graphic Design Awards competition, which are sponsored by Graphic Design USA Magazine. Then, through my active involvement in the Dallas-Fort Worth American Marketing Association, I was awarded "Volunteer of the Year" for 2015/2016, for my work as the chapter's designer... in developing and designing much of the promotional/marketing materials.

3. You mentioned in another interview that the memoir Pretending to be Normal and the show Parenthood helped you find your way to an autism diagnosis.  What other media has impacted your life in a profound way?

Other media? John Elder Robison's book Look me in the Eye, was very eyeopening, as much of what he experienced growing up undiagnosed, I did as well. One often overlooked movie that had an autistic character was Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. The main character, played by Ewan McGregor, was autistic. I caught on to him being autistic... even before he mentioned it in the movie.

4. Have you ever encountered neurotypical bigotry/ableism in your profession?  If so, how did you handle it?

That's a tough one to answer. I was diagnosed at 46 in 2014. Later that year, I did land a part-time/temp role with a company, and that went quite well. But, my first full-time/regular job wasn't until 2018. And, that has been going incredibly well. That being said, from 2013-2018, I was without a full-time regular job, and yet I was applying and interviewing constantly. I am sure being autistic was a huge barrier. Looking back at previous jobs, however, I can recall having great difficulties with communication and interaction with co-workers and such. Those difficulties have diminished now... primarily because I now KNOW I am autistic, and thus much more self-aware... and able to make the needed adjustments.

5. When did you join Toastmasters?  How has it helped you?

I started visiting Toastmasters in 2015... but, when we made the move from Dallas to rural/remote northern Arkansas, I found a club here. So, in 2016 is when I joined. And, I was active with them for two years, until I got my job at a job at a university in a nearby town. Because of the job, I had to end Toastmasters... since the meetings were held during the day. Toastmasters helped tremendously with my communication and speaking skills. Gave me that much more "practice" to get up and speak... and develop confidence in doing so. I would highly recommend it for anyone.

6. What is the biggest challenge in running your own business?

For me, and what I do, the biggest challenge of running my business, which is a design firm, has been the task of going out and getting clients. That's such a "people" and "relationship building" kind of role... that I have great difficulty with. So, I built my clientele the hard and slow way... strictly through word of mouth and referrals. Now that I have a regular/day job, and I run my business "on the side", it's been easier... since my business isn't my main source of income.

7. Has claiming your autism as part of your brand changed anything for you in your career?

I almost always identify myself as an #ActuallyAutistic award-winning graphic designer. "Branding" myself that way... has been helpful. First, clients know up front what to expect. Plus, much of my business lately has been working with non-profit organizations... who serve the autistic and disability community. They love it when they find me, and can employ the skills of an autistic designer for their communication needs. So, it has been a plus. Just recently, even though I live in Arkansas, I designed a logo for a newly formed non-profit in Honolulu. And, I have multiple projects scheduled to do for them well into 2020.

8. What (do you feel) is the best project you've ever completed and why do you think it's the best?

Best project? Wow... that's almost like asking me who my favorite child is! Perhaps my favorite is the 2015 Annual Report for Abilities Network, a Baltimore-based non-profit organization. It was 32 pages, and I worked with them for several months. The marketing director at the time was fabulous to work with, too. Which, of course, helped. Projects like that are rarely designed/produced by ONE person. Annual reports are typically created by a team of designers at the very best design firms. So, pulling off the highly-acclaimed project... was certainly a huge accomplishment.

9. What is the best advice someone ever gave you?

Best advice? All during art school... the one thing I heard the most was "Keep it simple". Don't overdesign. Don't overthink. And, that's how I design... even today. Very clean and simple, unless, of course, the client/project calls for a different approach.

10. Where do you see your business and/or yourself ten years from now?

Ten years from now? Hard to say. Ten years ago I would have never guessed I'd be living in rural/remote north Arkansas... and working for a major university system. As for my business... I am just now starting to branch out into public speaking/presenting at conferences and events about diversity & inclusion, being autistic (especially as someone who was diagnosed "later in life"), workplace issues, and what "best practices" have worked best for me. And, other related topics. Over the past two years... I have stepped back from my business a bit... due to the demands of my full-time role... but, will definitely continue it. So, I am not sure what that will look like that far into the future.

Biography:  Ron Kerns is an autistic, award-winning graphic designer, and is currently the graphic designer for Missouri State University-West Plains, and is owner of StudioKerns, a graphic design consultancy.

Note:  An expanded biography is available on Ron's website (linked above).

Friday, April 3, 2020

Crisis by Louise Runyon

I have been thinking of it as a situation, because it’s come about so slowly.  But in reality, it’s a crisis.  A crisis of the body/mind, a movement crisis.  A crisis of movement, ironically developing as I prepared to move from one state to another.  And continuing after the move, as I find my way here.

This crisis, or situation, has to do with walking, with standing, with standing up.  It has to do with manipulating fabric, making the bed, shaking out a plastic bag.  With dancing, with swimming, with biking.  With cooking, handwriting, typing.  With rolling over in bed, getting dressed.

It is more than just aging.  It’s neurological, but it’s not neurological.  It’s mysterious, vague, hard to talk about, has no name.  I haven’t liked to talk about it; have feared gossip; have tried to hide; have had embarrassment, shame.

Embarrassment and shame because I am a dancer and a practitioner of a stellar method of movement education.  This method, like my malady, is profound but obscure, hard to describe.  Given my background, I am not supposed to be this way.  No one has expected it, least of all me.  I am supposed to live to be 103, just like my mother.  I am supposed to live better than she did, because I take so much better care of myself.

I have moved elegantly, eloquently, for decadesbut not now.  It’s been surprising, sudden, slow.  I should be full of vim and vigor, but I’m not.  I’ve done everything I could, everything I know, and I know a lot.  I’m disciplined.  I make certain breakthroughsstill, it persists.  It is even more persistent than I am.

A few things I’ve maintained.  BalanceI know how to fall, but I do not.  I’ve maintained walking, even some hiking.  My calves grow solid from climbing the hills.  I have no comfort, but I have no pain.  Sometimes I pass for normal, but less often.

Some things helpplaying catch, kicking a soccer ball.  Talking to people.  Music, finding a way to dance.  The solid, assertive contact of boxing.  The unglamorous activity of resting.  Friends, old and new; family.

Louise Runyon has recently been diagnosed with environmental toxicity, which affects involuntary movement and requires conscious motor planning for most things she does. Louise has published four books of poetry; her last book, released in 2018, is The Passion of Older Women – a manifesto on the wisdom, strength, needs and desires of older women as well as a testament to those who have gone before. A dancer/choreographer as well as poet, Louise is Artistic Director of Louise Runyon Performance Company. She is currently based in the mountains of North Carolina.