from the editor's desk

Weterly: DisAbility

Featuring ‘DisAbility’

All of Westerly‘s online special issues are edited by very special guests and each one is free to download. DisAbility, edited by Josephine Taylor, is the latest in our series. Click here to see the full list of our online special issues.

We’re keen to hear your experience of reading this issue; please click here to give us feedback on its accessibility.

I have been delighted to act as guest editor for Westerly‘s seventh Online Special Issue, themed on disability, and I feel honoured to be representing so many fine and passionate writers in the issue. From the very first, though, I also felt the responsibility of the undertaking. As a writer with a long-standing disability myself, I don’t want other people to speak for me: historically marginalised, disabled writers and artists have typically been silenced or spoken for. So, as editor I felt it was important for me to get out of the way as much as possible; to allow the words of those who identify as disabled, or those who most closely represent them, to speak for themselves; to identify the themes as they arose.

I’ve been asked why I chose the title I did for this issue; specifically, why the ‘A’ in ‘DisAbility’ has been capitalised. This is no ‘ableist’ agenda; no desire to reinforce the reductive and unbalanced cultural binary that is so often encountered: abled versus disabled. The intent is otherwise, and at least twofold. One, I wanted to emphasise the ability so evident in the writing selected for the issue, which ‘strikes its own lightning trajectory, leaping from and criss-crossing paralysis, impairment and pain’ (Editorial, DisAbility). Two, I noticed repeatedly paradox and even ambivalence within contributions, a state of being that seemed critical to the creative process itself: ‘an internal tension between alternative perspectives on, and attitudes towards, disability is often palpable in individual pieces—even essential to them—the writing itself generating a creative response to an insoluble impasse or paradox’ (Editorial, DisAbility).

There are many beautifully textured pieces I could present that speak to this tension, and the richness of disability in sparking a creative response to an embodied experience of difficulty or even impossibility. I will include here the wonderful opening poem from Andy Jackson as an example, as an introduction to Westerly: DisAbility, and as an invitation to readers. Please enjoy these offerings from these terrific writers; I certainly feel honoured to have been editor for them.

Josephine Taylor,

Guest Editor

Associate Editor, Westerly

Andy Jackson

Are words like these stimulants or anaesthetics?
Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.
You can’t feel that from the stale cell of your bed.
I don’t, as another load is thrown onto my back.
Where is there no struggle?  Is there no strength
in succumbing, in the collapse?  Do we have to fight?
I don’t—as another load is thrown onto my back,
whether insult or pity—welcome that weight. 
In succumbing, in the collapse, do we have to fight
the impulse to fight?  Being different is exhausting.
Whether insult or pity, welcome that weight,
I keep telling myself, as if repeating makes it true.
The impulse to fight being different is exhausting.
BefeebleBeignorant.  Lose.  This is what
I keep telling myself.  As if repeating makes it true, 
experts prescribe affirmations, courage.  Instead, I’ll              
be feeble.  Be ignorant. Lose.  This is what    
flesh and bone want—to hold, to dissolve.  Still,
experts prescribe affirmations, courage.  Instead, I’ll              
think, whereisbirdsongwhereishumantouch?
Flesh and bone want to hold, to dissolve.  Still,
you can’t feel that.  From the stale cell of your bed,
think—here is bird song, here is human touch.
Are words like these stimulants or anaesthetics?

Andy Jackson has featured as a poet and a performer at literary events and arts festivals in Ireland, India, the USA and Australia. His most recent collection, Music our bodies can’t hold (Hunter Publishers, 2017), consists of portrait poems of other people with Marfan Syndrome, and was recently featured on ABC Radio National’s Earshot.

Featured Image: Oliver Mills, Oliver’s Choice, 2014 (oliverschoice.net). Photography Kerri Mills.

DisAbility was published with the support of Culture and the Arts (WA), the Australia Council for the Arts, and the University of Western Australia.

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