When I was first mulling over ideas for what was to become The Single Feather, I remembered a poem I had read in the 1990’s by a woman called Lois Keith who was the editor of a book called ‘Mustn’t Grumble’ with writing from disabled women. In this poem, she tackles the many ‘striving, ambulist metaphors’ – such as walking tall, or standing up for yourself, reminding us all how ableist the English Language can be. It also is a poem with controlled anger running through it, about how dependent it can make you feel if you can’t put your best foot forward, or stay one step ahead.
Writing about a paraplegic woman, as I do in The Single Feather required me to think about language all the time. I also found ‘Rachel’ to be a great observer, of the movements and landscape around her. For much of the book she is an outsider, looking into a world where she wants to belong. So although she may not be as physically active as some of the other characters she is painfully and acutely aware of what those around her are doing.
I’ll end with this poem. It was an inspiration for me, as were all the writings in this wonderful book.
Tomorrow I’m a Going to Rewrite the English Language by Lois Keith
Tomorrow I’m going to rewrite the English language.
I will discard all those striving ambulist metaphors
of power and success
And construct new ways to describe my strength,
My new, different strength
Then I won’t have to feel dependent
Because I can’t stand on my own two feet.
And I’ll refuse to feel a failure
When I don’t stay one step ahead.
I won’t feel inadequate if I can’t
Stand up for myself
Or illogical when I don’t
Take it one step at a time
I will make them understand that it is a very male way
To describe the world
All this walking tall
And making great strides
Yes, tomorrow I am going to rewrite the English language
Creating the world in my own image
Mine will be a gentler, more womanly way
To describe my progress
I will wheel, cover, encircle,
Somehow I will learn to say it all.
Lois Keith from Mustn’t Grumble published by The Women’s Press 1994