Eli Clare – Occupy the Page

As part of the “Occupy the Page: Literary Criticism and Activism” festival held March 18-20th, 2013, members of the San Diego State University community chose a poem or piece of prose that they felt exemplified a spirit of literary activism.  This series showcases their commentary, and aims to add to the voices occupying the page.  Special thanks to the Hugh C. Hyde Living Writers Series, Associated Students, and Poetry International for their support of this project.

***

eli-sitting-in-old-growth-log

Late afternoons as shadows
overtake the valley, I lay myself
in the riffle where stream
meets river, water warmed all day
and still cold, current pulls, finger bones
tremble. I hang onto rocky bottom
long as I can, then give way,
body rushing downstream
to steadier water. Dive deep
to swim along the green
gold river bed, salmon
nibble, lungs strain. And finally
after the sun has disappeared,
hills leaning closer, I leave
the clasp of angels, return
to weight of bone and muscle.

The words in this poem call for us to viscerally experience the sensations of a disabled body in nature. Eli Clare has cerebral palsy; “finger bones tremble” and the “lungs strain” are descriptions of his own self. Clare shows that there is a fluidity between the unnatural (disabled) body and the natural world. In that regard this poem is a disruption of the mainstream concept that normal is only equatable with the able-bodied person. This poem is also a presentation of an alternative perspective, and as we see through the eyes of a marginalized individual our conceptions are transformed. Clare’s body of work is activism as it extends the discussion beyond gender, disability, and environmental studies– though his work is tailored for those fields– and furthers the discourse on categorizations of normal/abnormal, the natural/unnatural, and how these cultural binaries (and others) are damaging to those who cannot or do not want to conform.

By Allie Schulz

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