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BOOK REVIEW: Disability Representations: Poems by Peter Street (Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, 2010)

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BOOK REVIEW: Disability Representations: Poems by Peter Street (Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, 2010)
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           James McGrath Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, Volume 5, Number3, 2011, pp. 343-345 (Article) Published by Liverpool University Press DOI: 10.1353/jlc.2011.0021 For additional information about this article  Access provided by Leeds Metropolitan University (3 Sep 2014 11:20 GMT) http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/jlc/summary/v005/5.3.mcgrath.html   Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies  5.3 (2011), 343–348 © Liverpool University PressISSN 1757-6458 (print) 1757-6466 (online) doi:10.3828/jlcds.2011.27 Reviews Peter Street  , Tumbing from Lipik to Pakrac: New and Selected Poems . Hove: Waterloo Press, 󰀲󰀰󰀰󰀹. 󰁉󰁓󰁂󰁎 󰀹󰀷󰀸-󰀱-󰀹󰀰󰀶󰀷󰀴󰀲-󰀰󰀰-󰀳 pbk 󰀱󰀳󰀰 pp. 󰂣󰀸.󰀰󰀰 James McGrath Leeds Metropolitan University “Disability has been a big part o my lie,” begins part one o Peter Street’s prose Excerpts from a Memoir   on the widely viewed website Te Recusant  . Yet, in his book o one hundred poems (new and old), reerences to disability are relatively ew. Te eclectic subject matter is key to why the Wigan-born Street’s Tumbing  from Lipik to Pakrac: New and Selected Poems  deserves attention within Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, but also rom anyone interested in contempor-ary poetry at large. While several pieces conront experiences regarding disabil-ity, the book is mostly without suggestion o Street’s diagnoses with epilepsy, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia, or the act that he has been a wheelchair user since sustaining spinal injuries in a 󰀱󰀹󰀸󰀲 industrial accident. Disability is addressed in Street’s poems primarily as an existential, rather than an essential condition. Its maniestations vary with the physical and social settings, ofen seeming to disappear completely. Born in 󰀱󰀹󰀴󰀸, Street lef school barely able to write. Following his accident, he undertook O Levels in his thirties. Reading his exquisitely articulate reflections, it is astonishing to learn that he ailed these examinations in the 󰀱󰀹󰀸󰀰s because, Excerpts from a Memoir   part three reveals, “I couldn’t put sentences together.” However, Street adds, “I had discovered my first ever poem: ‘Song o the Dying Gunner’ by Charles Causley.” Street began writing poems, publishing his first collection in 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀳. Overtly autobiographical poems begin the new volume—his fifh—with reflections on how dyscalculia and dyspraxia (diagnosed in adult-hood) alongside epilepsy affected Street’s experiences at school and during ini-tial employment in an abattoir. Poems recalling later vocations seldom indicate these neurological conditions. It seems that when working alone or with riends, disabilities that caused the speaker’s earlier victimization ceased to matter. Nonetheless, implications o how disability has affected opportunities—and by extension, class identity—or Street’s generation are made apparent. “󰀱󰀹󰀶󰀴” narrates how a careers officer  344 James McGrath  landed me with labourer in a slaughter house saying “Epileptics with literacy problems don’t get work: you’re lucky!” (󰀳󰀱)Te title “󰀱󰀹󰀶󰀴” is significant in invoking the past, but the inclusion o the piece also suggests prejudice as an ongoing impairment o society at large. Te quot-ed poem addresses this with dark but irresistibly humorous imagery (including the careers officer’s “mustard tie vomiting down his shirt”). Street has a knack or presenting Dickensian monsters in modern and postmodern times, includ-ing English ox-hunters and news reporters in Croatia. Usually in this empathic poet’s work, though, oppressive figures are given unexpected roundedness as characters. Te counterpart to the careers officer is the eponymous “Slaughterman” in the next poem, who teases animals to death, then “turns on me, taunts my virginity” and “mimics my epilepsy: shaking” (󰀳󰀲). However: “His months o abuse orce me past consequences: / I chin him with a knuckle-duster”, and “His jaw dangles / and he screams a baby’s scream”. Tis is the starkest instance o a grotesque yet unsettlingly recognizable figure being made redeemably human in Street’s poetry. Yet throughout, he remains unsentimental, especially regarding disabil-ity. Te anthology-worthy “Fractured Cervical Vertebrae in Four Parts” cele-brates robust camaraderie between spinal-ward patients. One part—to a named dedicatee, rom “me, the one who took the piss / out o that neck prop”—asks “do you still look up / when they are washing your bollocks” (󰀴󰀹). Te poem also expresses ear on leaving hospital: “Tey’re orcing me out”, into a world “where everything’s changed: the streets, the caé’s, the toilets” (󰀴󰀸). However, it is Street leading his ward-mates into “Astral Projection” (󰀴󰀷) that best encapsulates this collection’s perspective. While astral projection suggests transcendence o the body via imaginative and spiritual will, Street spends ew words on esotericism. Te journeys with “the lads” through the hospital window, down the wall and off to “the nearest chippy” (󰀴󰀸) are characteristically homely. Te astral projection moti parallels Street’s explanation o how, ollowing his accident—lef with “not much to do”—he examined his memories, sometimes  jealous o his younger body, while “reliving things I hadn’t thought o or years. I was even smelling some o those memories, they were so vivid” ( Excerpts from a Memoir  , part three). Street’s compellingly sensuous poems o childhood re-quently capture such intensity, particularly “Dinner’s Ready”: Bare-oot, on all ours, we scramble, pull ourselves over green-elted boulders flooded downstream (󰀱󰀶)   Reviews 345 While Street’s work offers much to consider or Disability Studies, he is no more a “disabled poet” than U. A. Fanthorpe (a comparable observer o sickness and health in modern lie) was an “able-bodied poet”. Te title sequence “Tumbing rom Lipik to Pakrac” provides poetic snap-shots o how, in 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀳, Street joined a humanitarian convoy to Croatia in the midst o war. He takes no political sides, at least not in the most obvious sense: his sympathies are with civilians. Yet Street criticizes media coverage o the war and also conesses his own shock at its human (and ecological) cost. “Bomb Damage”, as the title suggests, remains pertinent beyond the 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀰s: “a kind o no-ace with holes or eyes, / nose, mouth” is revealed to belong to a child, bandaged: “Some nurse had taken an age / getting each lap perect” (󰀱󰀱󰀶). Street remains active in perorming and promoting poetry. His 󰀱󰀹󰀹󰀸 commis-sion to celebrate Wigan’s chip shops in verse raised a ew conservative noses, some broadsheets ailing to recognize that while these settings brought novel imagery, Street’s abiding themes—amily, memory, love, sex, war, and riend-ship—remained complex in their treatment. Selections rom this phase o his work are especially welcome here. Street’s New and Selected Poems  has appeared at the end o a decade in which ood reerences have reinvigorated the role o the tongue in poetry. However, against the dinner-party delicacies italicizing much contemporary verse, the bacon sandwiches and chips in Street’s poems are joyully nourishing. Loyalty to working-class roots remains pronounced in Street’s gripping sequence “Private Service”, recalling work as a gardener on an upper-class Kent estate. But most evocative are his reflections on working in the 󰀱󰀹󰀷󰀰s in an indispensable role: gravedigger. Glimpsing bodies turned to “watery jelly” o “a colour darker than black” (󰀴󰀳), and having to “piss on my hands” to ease “blisters and rost” (󰀳󰀸), Street again cordons off sentimentality, rendering all the more stunning the impact o, or example, “Stillborn”: I take rom Jenny her baby  and slot him under a list o names into Dearly Beloved Grandather’s arms. (󰀳󰀸) While many o Street’s poems are sonnet-length, his work simply does not need strict orms. Like Street himsel, these new and selected poems dey con-fines, conventions, adversities, and labels. Ӹ
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