Three years after editing the poetry anthology Among the Leaves: Queer Male Poets on the Midwestern Experience, Raymond Luczak has once again put out the call for writers and artists for his latest project, QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology. Released by Squares and Rebels press, the three-hundred page volume collects forty-eight queer artists with various types of disabilities and allows them to speak their minds, openly and honestly.
Luczak makes it clear in his introduction that he and cohorts are not here for your sympathy, empathy, or to make you feel better about yourself. They are here for their stories and experiences. The question posed to you is: ” Are you up to see them as human beings instead of curiosities?”
In terms of the literary style of the anthology, poetry takes center stage. The poems range widely in tone and subject, from angry rants against the medical establishments to tender ballads about first lovers (and subsequent lovers).
One of the angriest comes from Barbara Ruth and her poem “Who Killed Frida Kahlo?” Coming off like a prosecuting attorney wielding a hatchet, Ruth boldly indicts everyone and everything, looking for something to pin down as the killer of Kahlo. She ultimately comes to the conclusion that Frida was chasing death her whole life; it was her obsession, her muse, so maybe there is no pinpointed killer.
Ashley Volion’s “F.U.C.K.” should probably be on the short list for the best erotic poem of the year with its no-holds-barred brutal honesty. Dig these opening lines;
“Don’t touch me unless you want to fuck
My new mantra
And I don’t mean it in the gentle way
Make me feel something
‘But I’m afraid to hurt you.’
What hurts is that fucking line”
She’s tired of the condescending bullshit, tired of being seen as someone’s pet, someone’s good guy badge, all she wants is some raw fucking to make her feel alive and fully human. If only all romantic poets could be so fucking honest.
Speaking of lust, Raymond Luczak’s own contribution “My First Kill” definitely ranks up there in this collection. Mixing the story of an adolescent crush he had at summer camp and his defiance to stop speaking verbally and embrace sign language. The piece cuts deep, awakening a young man on his road to adulthood.
Luczak describes his crush as nearly divine in his perfection.
“He was the first god I’d ever witnessed.
It was as if he’d stepped out of the heavens,
choosing to spend seven weeks
among us heathens who needed lessons
on how to speak, how to adapt
wheelchairs and crutches in a world
far more crooked than us.”
By the end of the poem, Luczak gets rid of his terror and begins to blossom, telling his speech therapist,
“When she put her hands on my arms again, I turned
mute. My eyes turned into spears poised to strike.
She dropped her hands and sighed.
With my first kill, I didn’t know I’d become a lion,
finally comf-tible with the roar of my hands.”
Certainly one of the strongest pieces of prose in the showcase is John Whittier Treat’s short story “A Girl for Us”. Telling the tale of a mentally disabled man named Hal in his early thirties whose parents are looking to pair him with a young woman for marriage, and so that Hal can be taken care of after his parents pass away.
The story’s use of Hal as the first person narrator is really what puts it a cut above the rest as we see that Hal has his own desires and dreams, even if he can’t articulate them in the perfect way. Eventually, he becomes frustrated at his parents for ignoring his wants and condescending to him in a vain attempt at love. As the story ends,
“I hear you knock on my door, Mom and Dad. You want to come in and see how I am. Well, you can’t. Knock knock knock. Go ahead, it won’t do you any good. You’re not coming in here. I can be mad at you too, you know. I can be mad at anyone at I want, and tonight I’m mad at you. And that girl, whatshername. I wish Stan were here and we could be mad at everyone together.”
In the realm of non-fiction, Jason T. Ingram’s “They Called It Mercy” will ring strongly with many queer readers as it tells of his harrowing experiences within the “ex-gay” movement. From the perspective of Ingram, the ugly rumors we’ve all heard about such places are true as he describes cold, callous counselors and a regime of rules both written and unwritten, apparently designed to break any person trying to walk the tight rail out of there.
Stepping outside the usual realm of poetry and prose, the anthology is book-ended by two comic panels, one from Bex and one from Zak Plum.
Bex’s work discusses an innocent adolescent game of truth or dare she played at a party when she was in the fifth grade. At the conclusion of the game, one of the girls flashes everybody, and while the rest of the girls freak out, Bex just looks, causing everybody to absolutely lose their minds. It sets the stage perfectly for a book riddled with societal homophobia and personal discovery.
Plum’s comic contribution closes out the book with the tale of a young man who becomes the caregiver for a guy named Roger who became disabled in the Iraq War. As they get closer, the young man realizes Roger is quite the artist and finds boxes of his comic sketches. The work ends with Roger’s funeral where both he and his caretaker take wing and fly free, out of a world where neither one of them was accepted for who they were. It is a perfect closer, ending the anthology with hopes and dreams.
Luczak has put together quite the literary troop here with QDA, containing a broad mix of literary genres and themes all tied together with concepts of disability and queerness. There is something here for everyone to appreciate. I cannot recommend this collection highly enough.
Featured image credit: squaresandrebels.com.