Recently, there’s been an interesting development in the arts–a reactive one that reflects turmoil in the political world. The more Trump and some of his emboldened followers continue their drumbeat of discriminatory words and policies based on race, religion, gender, and sexual identity, the more poets and writers begin to write about the minority experience.
To see this, you need only look at editorial statements from journals, many inviting minority voices to submit. And submit they have. Journals are showing more and more that not only black lives matter, so do female voices; Jewish and Muslim voices; and gay, lesbian, and transgender voices.
But the most politicized minorities are not the only ones. There are many minorities around us and, sometimes, within us. By way of example, for years Massachusetts poet Paul Hostovsky, a Braille instructor and interpreter for the deaf, has been writing poetry about the deaf and blind. His work is further proof that art humanizes us and shows how similar we all are despite our differences.
One of the hallmarks of Hostovsky’s work is his sense of humor. There is a place for righteousness and anger in our fraught political times, of course, but there is also reason to occasionally use the lighter touch, to show how humor can often demonstrate the ties that bind as well as any polemic. Here are a few examples from Hostovsky’s work, each in its way transporting the seeing and hearing majority–for a brief, shining moment–to a little-experienced point of view:
“Away Game at the School for the Deaf” by Paul Hostovsky
Maybe we were thinking ears
instead of hands.
Stepping off the bus, we glimpsed
a flicker, then a flitting
from a sleeve. We felt
annoyed, then afraid,
like spotting an ant on the tablecloth, then
another and another, till it hit us:
what we had on our hands was a nest,
everyone here signed
except for us, and our bus driver
was departing in our empty yellow school bus
leaving us standing there, wondering
where the gym was.
Once inside, we polished our lay-ups,
at the deaf team polishing theirs:
we were taller,
but something in the air—tunneling, darting,
singing among them—
said they were quicker.
Their whoops when they scored, their groans
when the ball rolled round the rim full circle
were perfectly intelligible.
But the ref was at a loss:
he kept blowing his whistle
while they dribbled to the hoop,
scoring points that didn’t count.
“Braille in Public Places” by Paul Hostovsky
Touch me, I know you want to.
What would you say if I told you
I’ve never been touched in my life
by anyone who understood me?
And even if they were having
their convention here in this building,
squeezing into this elevator,
looking around for this restroom,
bumping gently up against each other like
a queue of balloons at this
ATM–do you think they would
see me, or even think to look?
I hate my life. I should have been
a poem by Li Po with a pond
and a frog, a soft rain and a pebble
the size of a braille dot thrown in.
At least I’d have something to do
with myself for eternity. I have
nothing to do with anyone. I am
someone holding up a sign
in an airport terminal, waiting
for a look of recognition to come
from among the arrivals who never
arrive. And it never comes. What
would that look even look like? Would I
recognize it? Is it round like
a smile? Is it pointed like a greeting
or a touch? Would I mistake it for
love? All of my life I have waited
to be touched by someone who could
touch me like that. I have given myself
goose bumps, look, just imaging it.
— from Selected Poems by Paul Hostovsky, Future Cycle Press 2014