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Sarah Roop’s Final Exam on Poetry

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Through written accounts many people learn to see from a different person’s perspective. They are exposed to a different mindset.  Poetry, a universal means of communication, lends itself allowing for the representation of autism to be broached from a variety of focal points. Poetry addresses the challenges that many people on the autism spectrum and their family members are faced with, but it also allows for an escape for those individuals, allowing them to express themselves in a world that is often so quick to limit them. In this, the strength of the individual is seen, whether it is a mother who sees the judgment of their child or rather a glimpse into the thoughts of the person themselves. The difference in authors, a parent or an individual with autism, yields a difference in perspective, yet they both show the fight they undergo and the beauty that they still see in the world.

Expectations set by society, when not met, force those who are viewed as different into categories, while others proceed to judge them. And often looking to those around them for explanations or even apologies for something they are not accustomed to. In the poetry of Rebecca Foust’s, she counters this advances by defending her son. In “Apologies To My OBGYN”, Foust responds to the behavior of her son after birth. It is apologetic thought the poem, stating, “sorry he took so much of your time” (Apologies).  As he fought to survive and be a part of this world, Foust stood up for him, explaining himself to the world, though differences should not merit explanations. This continues in her poem, “Dark Card”, where she more directly addresses the involvement of others, “When they look at my son like that” (Dark). She explains him, hoping to justify his differences, “Before they get angry, I pull out my deck/deal out what they want…” (Dark). Though it is his differences that make him unique. His behavior should not need to be explained, she should not need to “play the dark card of the idiot savant” to make people more at easy and stop “shoppers shuffl[ing] their feet while waiting on line” (Dark).  Foust demonstrates the difficulties that are presented by the judgment of others, while all she wants for her son is acceptance.                                                                                                                                      Poetry allows for an escape, self-expression from the critical views of others. Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay has been writing poetry for many years and wrote his first two books between the ages of eight and eleven years old. He illustrates the immense connection that he feels with the world and nature surrounding him, explaining his views on nature, as he states, “Who can explain it better than I?/The blue sky surrounds the earth/ Who can explain it better than I?” Mukhopadhyay find security in poetry, especially in his mother reciting it to him, ” because of the predictability formed by the pattern in the words” (Savarese). Rather than limiting him, his poetry and that of other sets him free.                         Foust and Mukhopadhyay hold different experiences with autism and utilize poetry to convey their perceptions with their surrounding.  Poetry allows for expression, while outsiders make attempts to limit them based on differences. This form of liberation exhibits the strength they have developed from their experiences with autism and those around them.

Written by sroop

December 8th, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Amanda Gorman’s Final Exam: On the Limits of ‘Scientific’ Analyses of Autistic Poetry, the Example of Perceived Lack of Analogical Thinking

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In Ilona Roth’s Imagination and the Awareness of Self in Autistic Spectrum Poets, she sets out to find answers to “one of the most elusive but fundamental questions posed by autistic conditions: what is the mental world of the person with autism like?” through an examination of autistic poetry (145). Whereas understanding other minds, especially those that are neurologically different, is a question of both great interest and importance, Roth unfortunately undertakes this project from a distinctly neurotypical perspective. Amanda Baggs points out in her video In My Own Language that the predominant view is to see autism as an inherently mysterious condition, rather than recognize the roadblocks of neurotypicals to understand autistic perspectives and communication. Though Roth admits that researchers have misjudged many features of autistic imagination and awareness of self, she does little to reverse or even question the framework in which the theories have arisen. In this paper I hope to show that Roth’s approach is a misguided one, through the example of her explanation about her findings on metaphor and simile in autistic poetry. I will contend that the fact that autistic poets use fewer similes does not show their inability to understand or use analogical thinking, but rather, may point to the person with autism’s heightened awareness of all linguistic communication as already functioning only within an analogical space.
Roth frames her project as examining whether or not autistics have an inner life at all, or if they just live in the here and now (145). One of the ways to figure this out, she presumes, is to look at whether or not autistic poets employ “imaginative language” by which she means primarily the use of metaphor and simile. Roth conceives of the research from which she is drawing as a “wide ranging study of autistic poetry” that “sought to integrate a scientific approach to the autistic mental world…with an attempt to understand the autistic poets’ points of view on their work” (152). The study included poetry from only five published autistic spectrum poets, though, and the poems were analyzed not through any kind of literary analysis, but rather through “quantitative content analysis” (152). She was impressed to find that autistic poets make substantial use of metaphor; she found that they use metaphor about as often as non-autistic poets do (155). She takes their sustaining metaphors over the course of multiple lines and stanzas as evidence of the fact that they had a relatively sophisticated grasp of the concept of metaphor. She rather unfairly qualifies this, though, by saying that the autistic poets’ metaphors are less creative since they play on “standard or idiomatic figures of speech” (155). Roth then explains her surprise at finding that given their ability to write metaphors, considering autistic poets employed significantly fewer similes in their writing than the non-autistic poet control group. The reason she is especially surprised at this finding, she tells us, is because in “Happe’s studies of figurative language understanding in people on the spectrum,” it was supposedly demonstrated that simile is the most accessible form of figurative language, whereas metaphor is more difficult, second only to irony. Rather than examine what figurative language might be like from an autistic perspective, Roth rather hastily concludes that when it comes to generating the example oneself, composing a simile must actually be harder and require a tighter control on language than composing a metaphor (155).
If one takes the voices of those with autism, like Amanda Baggs, seriously, it is not hard to see why it is misguided to evaluate autistic mental life by how well a person with autism can use neurotypical ways of communication in a neurotypical fashion. Baggs claims to have her own kind of language in which she directly communicates with her surroundings in a non-symbolic way. To use neurotypical spoken language for her is to restrict the ways she has of communicating into a predefined sphere of shared symbolic meanings. It is clear that Baggs not only has an understanding of how language can function analogically, and notices the necessarily analogical nature of spoken and written language. This is an insight that many theorists from Rousseau to Rorty have arrived upon. Percy Bysshe Shelley also defended the view that language is vitally metaphorical. If persons with autism are more likely to see language as already metaphorical, it would make sense that they would see little need to point out this relation in a simile with “like” or “as”, yet still use plenty of metaphor in their writings. It might also potentially explain a fascination with “standard or idiomatic figures of speech”.
Even if Roth’s research methods were sound, it is clear that there is more than one way to interpret the results. Between a neurotypical perspective on what autistic minds are like and an autistic perspective on what autistic minds are like, we should probably opt for the autistic perspective which we should have no trouble finding to be the truth. Quantitative scientific analyses of autistic poetry can only tell us so much. It would be much more fruitful to look at what autistic poets say about their work and writing process. For example, Tito Mukhopadhyay, one of the poets whose work Roth analyzed expressed the following in an interview:
“Blunt truth is “affective.” But slanted truth is “cognitive.” I expect my readers to understand the truth by linking it to something. When we relate a truth or a perception to some known field through metaphors, it becomes the stepping stone towards better cognition. Otherwise it is a childish — “I feel this and I feel that.” How many people pay heed to childishness?” (Savarese).

Undoubtedly, it is possible for autistic poets to understand metaphor, their neurological make-up may even illuminate make the relationship of language to metaphor. Perhaps it is time to stop trying to figure out people with autism, doing quantitative studies of how many similes they include in their poetry, and start listening to their words themselves.

Works Cited

Baggs, Amanda. In My Own Language.January 14, 2007.

Roth, Ilona. “Imagination and the Awareness of Self in Autistic Spectrum Poets.” Autism and Representation. Mark Osteen. Psychology Press. 2007.

Savarese, Ralph. “More Than a Thing to Ignore: An Interview with Tito Rajarshi

Written by gormanda

December 8th, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Robert’s Final – Mukhopadyay’s “The Sunset Hour”

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Cognitive Poetry: Mukhopadhyay’s “The Sunset Hour”

We would normally expect the metaphor of the sun as a scrambled egg to be associated with sunrise, dawn, or morning. In “The Sunset Hour,” however, Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadyay unexpectedly associates this with the setting sun. This reversed association – or, at least reversed for most neurotypical readers – strengthens Mukhopadyay’s poetic style. Reading his work, neurotypical readers must visualize and combine normally unrelated images and concepts. For the neurotypical reader, this experience might mirror an autistic person’s experience reading neurotypical literature. In “The Sunset Hour,” as in many of Mukhopadyay’s poems, unexpected metaphors and associations create a uniquely stimulating cognitive poetic experience. Many of our expectations of sunset – comfort, security, and routine – are presented alongside of discomfort, vulnerability, and chaos.

Sunset can be associated with positive concepts of rest or returning home. “The Sunset Hour” partially holds true to this. Two birds sat on the electric wires and were “chatting perhaps about each other’s nests,” (4-5) like humans gossiping about their home life at the end of another long and eventful day. The next line of the poem, however, provides an unanticipated context to this otherwise domestic scene; while the birds chatted, the “light of the sun got scrambled” (6). Scrambling, as discussed earlier, carries connections to breakfast and morning. By inverting this connection, Mukhopadyay provides us with an interesting and logical perspective: eggs can be scrambled at any time of day.

From yet another perspective, however, scrambling is hectic and far from homey. Throughout much of the poem, Mukhopadyay presents several uncomfortable images that contrast with the comforting images of the sunset hours. The “downtown seemed to tremble” and “the streets were…congested” (7-8), highlighting an all too common reality of sunset and the end of the day: after work traffic. This contrasts with the earlier image of cozy domestic avian conversations and reinforces Mukhopadyay’s realistic perspective on this often cliché hour of the day. Reading further, we learn that “the cars, too, seemed scrambled” as their drivers rushed home “as restlessly / as the city veering into purple” (13-15). To get home to cozy conversations about their “nests,” the people must put up with uncomfortable traffic.

Purple appears many times throughout the poem – 4 out of 6 stanzas – and brings with it implications of bruising or shadow. As expected, sunset can be viewed as “darkness” arriving in a literal and figurative way. In this poem, though, purple serves more to convey the pain of a sunset. Returning to the notion of scrambling, we might think that, in response to the sun’s no doubt painful scrambling, the earth turning purple (3) and “the pavement turning purple” (9) function as the sun’s bruises.

Mukhopadyay ends the poem with a return to comforting images. “The street lamps lit up as usual / glowing through the darkness,” (16-17) even as the sun finally disappeared from view “into a tomb of velvet purple” (19). Like the rest of the poem, we encounter here a continued struggle between comfort, security, and routine – the streetlamps turn on the same as always – and discomfort, vulnerability, and chaos – the streets clogging, the sun dying, the sun scrambling. Rethinking sunset with these metaphors, as Mukhopadyay says in “More than a thing to ignore: an interview with TRM” by Ralph James Savarese, “becomes the stepping stone to better cognition.”

[Words: 549]

Written by Robert

December 8th, 2010 at 11:23 am

Rebecca Foust is a best seller!

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While browsing The Poetry Foundation website, I took a look at their best seller lists. They have separate ones for large press contemporary poets, children’s publications, anthologies, and small press contemporary poets. For the week of November 7th, 2010, Rebecca Foust and Lorna Stevens’ book God, Seed: Poetry and Art about the Natural World was #4 on the small press release best seller list.

Rebecca Foust was, of course, one of our poets during our autism poetry unit. I got very excited when I saw that she was on this list because I thought the book might feature some of her work about raising her son, who,  I believe, has Asperger’s. This particular collection doesn’t seem to feature any poetry directly about her son or her experience with him, but it is neat that the voice of an author within the autism community (if not a main part) is getting some attention from the press.

Written by Helen

November 22nd, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Gregory Corso’s “In Praise of Neanderthal Man”

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This is the poem of which the Flying Words Project video is meant to be a loose translation. Scroll down to pg. 194 on Google Books to read it!

Written by Helen

November 5th, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Katherine Sullivan’s Formal Post on Laurie Clements Lambeth’s “Hypoesthesia”

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“Are you touching me,

I thought to ask, but instead watched as he kissed each part and caressed

and did what we do when I feel right. I didn’t say          I can’t feel that,

but let his hands and mouth travel.

For the first time in my life I let go of my body a while and looked down

with fascination at the man I love in the process of loving me —” (lines 11-16)

Laurie Clements Lambeth’s poem titled “Hypoesthesia” presents three unique perspectives on disability that are captured in a single, vulnerable moment between a disabled woman and her lover.  In this scene, the female speaker cultivates a new definition of disability (that our class has not yet examined), offers an unguarded view of sexuality in a life driven by disability, and experiences the clarity of viewing the self through the eyes of one’s lover.

The excerpt above highlights the exact moment in which the speaker realizes that her body is not defined by her disability.  She is finally able to “let go” of her body and notice that her lover appreciates her exactly as she is.  This acceptance of self is significant in that the speaker learns to experience the pleasure of sex in an entirely new way.  She no longer feels inadequate for not being able to feel the delicate sensations that her lover draws on her skin, and in turn finds pleasure in her lover’s enjoyment.

This poem also describes a shift in the speaker’s attitudes towards sex in the lens of her disability. Up to this moment, the speaker’s entire life, and all of her sexual experiences have been “senseless,” meaning both without logic or thought, and without the feeling of sensations.  This epiphany allows the speaker to finally actively participate in sex, instead of allowing it to happen to her against her will.  Previously, the speaker was not able to actually feel what her lover did to express his feelings through her body, but she instead grows to experience it by watching and listening to her lover.

Lastly, this unique poem cultivates a new definition that our class has not yet come across. Not a non-normative functioning of the mind, or a broken or painful aspect of the body – but the absence of feeling, be that potential feeling bad (like some of the other disabilities we have studied) or good (like the sensations of the speaker’s lover).   In this way, her skin is essentially blind to texture and pressure, but not to temperature, as we see in the line “with each kiss planted along my belly, to feel only the cool afterward.”  This kind of disability connects to many other neutrality-based disabilities that our class has not yet studied, such as emotional disorders that render individuals incapable of processing other’s emotions.

The speaker’s disconnect from the traditional physical senses of her body lead her to a significant epiphany of how she views her own body, sexuality within that body, and disability.  This poem contributes significantly to our class’ on-going discussion of disability because it introduces the complications of sexuality and self-identity.

Written by Katherine Sullivan

November 4th, 2010 at 10:58 pm