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Constance Alexander: Inspired by images of people with disabilities, 7th graders celebrate Poetry Month

This year, January, February and March stacked up so fast, it has been hard to keep up. And now I hear the faint patter of graceful April approaching, fragrant as spring rain and sweet camellias.

April is National Poetry Month, a time to celebrate the power of words. Compliments of the Academy of American Poets, this is the twenty-first birthday of Poetry Month. Western Kentucky is noting this important milestone through an arts partnership the includes 7th grade poets from Murray Middle School, the Murray-Calloway County Endowment for Health Care, and WKMS-FM, the National Public Radio affiliate in Murray.

Inspired by images of people with disabilities, students in Mrs. Hope Foster’s 7th grade Language Arts classes have written short poems on the subject of disabilities. Over the next two weeks, their poems are being recorded and edited for broadcast in April as “Poetry Minutes” on WKMS.

The students’ writings explore many facets of disabilities and how people with disabilities are – and are not – accepted in the mainstream of community life.

The images they worked with showcased a range of people and situations, including a picture of brilliant theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, confined to a wheelchair and dependent on a computerized voice system because of ALS.

Another one features a young woman being guided from the underground of the New York subway system by her seeing-eye dog. A young man wearing a Mahatma Gandhi tee-shirt seems to be marveling at the prosthetic arm and hand that will restore some of his dexterity and independence.

The pictures were distributed randomly to the young writers, and they set to work on their poems. They followed the pattern in two short poems by William Carlos Williams. Some chose the 16-word model, while others aimed for the 31-word structure. A few managed to complete multiple poems within the class period, and all were encouraged to continue writing at home and then post their work on Mrs. Foster’s blog.

A ballerina in a fluffy tutu, illuminated by bright lights on-stage, stands in partial shadow. The viewer has to look carefully to notice that one of her legs is prosthetic. She stands confidently, on both feet with arms outstretched, as if thanking an unseen audience for their applause.

Writing about that picture, Caroline Larkins describes the ballerina’s “irrepressible/ grace” and imagines an audience, stunned by the beauty.

In her poem, Katelynn Stanzyk chides those who see a person with a disability and feel only pity. “See my potential,” she demands, adding that those who refuse to acknowledge it are the ones who deserve pity.

In his poem, Sam McClure takes on the persona of a silver wheelchair. Speaking as the chair, he explains the important work he does to help his passenger. He ends with a humble declaration about his heroic work: “it is my job,” he declares.

The image Agustin Alvarez viewed addressed the challenges of stuttering. Agustin’s poem describes a person trying to overcome this disability and finally mastering the difficult word “s-s-soda.” The message to readers is that trying again and again helps “…you accomplish/ anything.”

The poetry project is made possible through an Arts Access Grant to the Murray-Calloway County Endowment for Health Care from the Kentucky Arts Council. The state arts agency, the Kentucky Arts Council is supported by state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

More information about grant activities is available through Keith Travis, VP of Development, at ktravis@murrayhospital.org, or 270-762-1908.


Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at Calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit her website.

Read all posts by Constance Alexander on KyForward

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