Friday, May 3, 2013

Umbly Yours

Last night I got to read and listen to a couple of poems written by Art Honeyman, former Portland State professor and, before that, student. Honeyman, a prolific writer with a sharp sense of humor, often drew upon his experience with cerebral palsy for inspiration. I want to post the first poem from his book “Umbly Yours: Random Poems & Cover Design”. His clever manipulation of language and unique—and positive—perspective, I believe, are well worth sharing with all of you. So, without further delay:

my way through existence
but I have not bit the dust
and I am umbly grateful
umbilical cord acting up I was born
into palsied chaos and have danced
to a different step ever since
and though I shake and slobber
and stutter my way through life
occasionally missing the right turn
my skull on even harder objects
and sometimes narrowly escape
injury caused by collision of me
and another faster traveling body
like a train or other motor vehicle
again reminding me of my ultimate
vulnerability in the game of life
strengthening my determination
to keep on going until the last play
even if I cannot easily pronounce
the h letter and call myself oneyman
or tell bible thumpers to go to ell
for my crippled drooling mouth
are for me interesting and umbling.

In this poem, Honeyman cleverly plays on his struggle to pronounce the “h” sound to create “umble”, which not only serves as a play on words and an assonantic device (for example, the sound relation between “umble” and “umbilical”), but also as a way of living. Honeyman transforms “humble” into “umble”, and eventually “umbling”, which is how he moves through his life. In turn, his “umbling” is what makes him humble. Honeyman's intricate wordsmithing not only displays the wonderful power of language as a mode of expression, but also shows, conversely, how his struggle to communicate verbally reflects the overall complexity of umbling: he bumbles, grumbles, mumbles, stumbles his way through existence in the same way he bumbles, mumbles, and stumbles his way through a sentence.

Okay, I'm finished with my English major geek-out moment. (Whew!) But seriously, I think this poem is very telling of the nature of living with a disability. Tell me if I'm wrong. I don't personally know what it's like to have a disability, but I can say that I feel this poem gives members of the able-bodied community insight into what it might be like to have a physical disability that many people don't understand. Plus, if it weren't obvious already, I believe this is a fantastically crafted poem written by someone who, perhaps ironically, has strong control of the English language.

What do you guys think of this poem? Did any of you know Art personally? I know MHCK's Ann Fullerton mentioned knowing him...Anyone else? I'd love to hear your stories since I never got the opportunity to meet him.

Also, if you weren't able to attend Susan Schweik's talk about the Ugly Laws, you can access a transcript of it here.


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