“Poetry… A Way of Being In A World Not Made For Us”: A Review Of “Beauty Is A Verb”

Written by: Jess Gallagher

An anthology as diverse as the human experience, Beauty is a Verb immerses its audience in intensely intimate works that capture the tenacity, beauty, and distinct experiences of disability—both challenging and joyful.

While this anthology traces the history of the disability poetics movement, it does not simply recall the poets that pushed this genre forward. Instead, it maps the movement of disability across time and space—spaces in which poets never discussed disability overtly, to others reclaiming their identity as disabled. 

“No man’s sickness has a synonym,

No man’s disease has a double.” (Vassar Miller) 

Beauty is a Verb does not represent a singular, universal experience or embody one voice. Much like its structure and definition of “poetry” and “disability,” Beauty is a Verb’s pieces defy categorization. 

From early poets such as Josephine Miles, Vassar Miller, and Larry Eigner to more recent poets such as Jim Ferris, Kenny Fries, and Ona Gritz, the audience sees the many ways in which each poet engages with both themselves and their identities in conversation with the wider world. 

Pieces such as Jim Ferris’ “Poems With Disabilities” brilliantly illustrate the many ways in which disability is perceived and viewed within society. Ferris’ poem parallels real-world experiences such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the act of staring, and creating a space of belonging. In doing so, the piece addresses overarching themes present in this anthology: how we challenge stereotypes of the world we inhabit; what it means to command our self-definition; and to embrace atypical embodiment. 

Ferris’ words reverberate throughout his lines—and only further uplift the stylistic differences between poets. Ferris’ concretely grounding yet metaphorical language allows the audience to feel the concreteness of disability. Other voices exemplify how lyricism offers more distance between the poet’s self and their body—and how others perceive their disability. Each moment, however, accurately portrays the differing ways in which humans navigate disability. 

In Ona Gritz’s “Because You Can’t See My Photographs,” she discusses how moments from her past and motherhood shape how she navigates her identity and disability. From hiding her cerebral palsy to making peace with her body and experiences, Gritz’s lyricism conveys what it means to seek oneself—to be truly “whole.” She writes:

“I seek out the past in voices, pulling you over

to speak with men whose words are edged 

with my father’s New Yorkese, or to hear songs

I listened to in his finned blue car.

Still if I could travel 

back to the schoolyard in Queens where I played

as a child, I trust you’d recognize the girl I was, 

you who tease her laugh from me so easily.” (196)

Motherhood prompted Gritz to embrace her disability and claim her identity. First in conversations, then through her poetry, this openness allows us to peer into what it’s like to live in her body, offering the reader a look into her world. 

With each featured poet discussing their diverse experience with disability, this collection shows a depth of perspective quite overdue. These narratives, poems, and experiences unlock previously disconnected perceptions of disability, allowing us to explore, investigate, and begin to understand what it means to be disabled in a non-disabled society. 

Beauty is a Verb, its writers, and their work encouraged me to reconsider my position in the world and define myself as a truly am within my work. 

It’s been 11 years since the publication of Beauty is a Verb. Moving forward, I hope to see the emergence of another anthology—one that will uplift, empower, and encourage a new generation of writers and poets with disabilities—because the disability poetics movement is far from over. 

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