*** In honor of Disability Awareness month, Angie C. Orlando will
read from her manuscript, The Slide: A Poetic Memoir. the reading
will be on October 24th from 4:00 - 5:00 pm in the library Quiet
Study Room, also called the Garden Room. ***
It has been more than a yer since I graduated from the Ashland
University MFA program. During the first two Summer residency
sessions, I kept a journal of my feelings and experiences. I
regret that I was unable to continue this during the lat rescind.
The story, as recorded on my blog, is far from over. It's time to
go back and finish the tale.
In May of 2016, I turned in my final thesis, introduction and
list of 50 books read. My thesis defense was on July 25, 2016.
This began with a ten minute introduction. The two introductions
offered similar information but could not be the same. I wanted
to tell a creative story, the story of my writing, education and
the creation of my thesis. I now invite you to read these two
Journey to The Slide
As a child, dressed in one of my ever present tomboy
outfits, I'd skip from the front door, around the corner, charge
down the large stone steps, across our gravel driveway and onto
Gardenview Drive. Ten feet later, next to an orange and black
"Caution: Children at Play" sign, and directly across from my
backyard, the street split in two. I'd take the bumpy, dirt road,
with its huge puddles and large embedded rocks, past the barren
soccer field, around the baseball backstop and step onto the
In those days, playground equipment was built on large
squares of black asphalt. Children fell, got bruises, scrapes and
cuts, bled and lived to tell about it. I was tough and rough, too
cool for words. Each day I could be found climbing on top of the
monkey bars, twisting swings round and round to make them higher,
rubbing wax paper on the metal slide and trying to climb up the
I lived in Kent, Ohio from 1974 to 1997 and 2006 to this
present moment. I attended Longcoy Elementary School, Davey
Junior High School, Theodore Roosevelt High School and Kent State
University. When I returned home after my divorce, I re-enrolled
at Kent State as a post-graduate student, taking American Sign
Language classes. My only goal was to improve my communication
skills. Little did I know that I had begun the journey that would
lead me back to the old slide of my childhood landscape.
It was my brother, Tony, who first said, "Write about it,
tell your story."
I did so, in a 6,000 word essay that got chopped to bits
before being published by the American Association for the
DeafBlind. Later, an E-Zine named Clerc Scar ran the essay in
The fuse was lit, I wanted more. Soon I created "Dotbug:
Deaf-Blind and Determined," a blog about my life as a woman,
mother and student who happened to be deaf and blind. I loved the
praise. I still wanted more, wanted to be better. Before I knew
it, I was enrolled in "Intro to Creative Writing" and I was
scared to death. I liked the part in the course description that
talked about fiction and creative nonfiction. I didn't like the
mention of poetry, or the five poetry books we'd be using for the
class. I didn't like figurative language, meter, form or rhymes.
I nearly dropped the class because of the strong focus on poetry.
What happened next was like magic. I opened the first book,
No Matter How Many Windows, by Jeanne Bryner and began to read.
In this book, Bryner uses poetry to document the lives of four
generations of women in her family. As Bryner explains in the
opening poem, "Rose of Sharon:"
Here's what's at stake in the common comer,
volumes of women's pale voices
bound and catalogued in the living room.
Do you have your card to this still library? (2)
I was captivated by each section, the hardships of the
far-past and not so long ago. Her mother's mental illness struck
me deeply, as I was still grieving for Tony, trying to understand
what made him pick up those pills to end his life.
Most importantly, what I found in those pages of my first
contemporary book of poetry were stories. The way of telling was
different from what I was used to. The emotions, images and
language made each poem pulse with life. But they were stories,
and I was hooked.
I took two more poetry classes at Kent State and began
looking into graduate school. Never in my life did I imagine I
would start an advanced degree in the field of poetry. I think of
myself as an accidental poet. I was following an unexpected path.
The road led me to Ashland University and the MFA program.
It would be a bumpy ride, like riding my bike over the rocks and
through puddles on my way to the playground. Each residency
brought communication challenges and severe pain in my arms. The
online classes were filled with technology problems. With a lot
of support, I made my way past most obstacles but crashed into
others. I got back up and continued the journey.
In my first semester class, we read Winter Stars by Larry
Levis. I loved the narrative quality of his work, and the way in
which he was so open with his life, even telling about affairs or
similar things people usually keep secret. Some of his poems,
most notably "South," were written in a "braided" style, jumping
around in space and time, yet so artfully woven together.
It was at this time that I had the chance to hear Mark Doty
do a reading at Kent State University. I wanted to get a feel for
his writing style and randomly picked a book to read. This turned
into two books of poetry and one memoir about his lover, Wally,
who was dying of AIDS. I was taken by the on-going story, the
arc, and Doty's gift of turning mundane objects into something of
I later read Still Life with Oysters and Lemon: On Objects
and Intimacy. Although the book is considered an essay, Doty
turns to his own life, as he describes the objects that are most
dear to his heart. A story about peppermint candy animates an
elderly woman with her drab sense of dress and black pocket book.
Inside the purse are a delight of objects, the same type of
treasures my grandmother kept in her own black pocket book.
In another story, Doty tells us of a platter he found at a
yard sale and bought for $5.00. His mother had loved white and
blue china and he inherited that fondness. The platter shows a
cobalt deer with antlers. Despite a chip in its surface, the dish
quickly becomes a favorite decoration. In fact, Doty argues that
the flaw in the platter, or any other object, makes it more
intimate to the owner.
I began to play around with my images. What could I add to
enhance the scene on a bus where I was first kissed? Or the field
while my junior high jazz band warmed up for an outdoor concert?
Or the yellow painted slide that represented the first "dent" in
an otherwise ideal childhood?
I was reading more poetry books outside of class. My
favorites were personal narratives that often had a focus on the
darker side of human nature. I enjoyed Alice Anderson, Julia
Kasdorf, Minnie Bruce Pratt and especially Sharon Olds. I
discovered The Father while writing my long paper for English
633. The topic was about how female, contemporary poets express
grief and loss through their work. Olds stood out with her
ultra-openness and, like Mark Doty, talent with details and
images. It's almost like she unzips herself, letting us view her
inside and out, in terms of the body and in sexual ways, even
when the topic isn't sex..
After I had found my niche as a narrative writer, I made
another discovery that would impact my work -- voice. I first
noticed the power of voice in poetry when I read North of Boston
by Robert Frost. The poems are told as dramatic dialogs. Frost
was concerned with what he called "the sound of sense." This
refers to the raw sounds of speech and how pure sounds can be
utilized in writing. Published in 1914, the book focuses on small
town life in rural New England. Frost sets out to depict the
harsh reality faced by people living in that time and place.
Unlike poetry I had previously read, the poems in North of
Boston include two or three characters as they speak to each
other. The only clues the reader has about what is happening is
through the true conversational sound of the dialog.
I sought out more poetry in voice and fell in love with the
Southern, black voice as depicted by Rita Dove and Patricia
Smith. They don't just write about people, they use common speech
in their portrayal and seem to become their characters.
As much as I liked to rad this poetry, I was skeptical about
my ability to write it. I have lived in Northeast Ohio for most
of my life. My parents were college educated. What is the voice
of a white middle class girl growing up in a small town in Ohio?
I began adding more dialog to my poetry and found my
childhood voice, first as a tomboy, then as a budding teen. The
voice loses confidence as the girl begins to feel the physical
and emotional loss of disabilities. There are more shifts as she
becomes an adult dealing with an abusive relationship, worsened
disabilities and the indifference of the medical community.
I had found the voice, my voice from different moments of my
life. Yet the manuscript needed something more. I discovered the
use of outside voice in Patricia Smith's book Blood Dazzler. To
begin with, the main voice is that of Hurricane Katrina. I've
read plenty of poetry about the devastation of this storm, but
never in the voice of Katrina. I was enthralled by the mere
concept of writing in the voice of something so huge and
destructive. In addition, Smith includes weather bulletins, TV
reports, emails and letters. I admired how the outside voices
offered supporting details that strengthened the main voice and
provided information that would be difficult to include as
Katrina. After all, I'm sure "she" wasn't concerned with FEMA or
the crisis at the Superdome.
Both of these voices are "heard" in the early poems, which
are titled with the time and date. For example, in "5 P.M.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 23, 2005," Smith begins with a weather update
from the National Hurricane Center:
"Data from an Air Force reserve unit reconnaissance
aircraft... along with observations from the Bahamas and
nearby ships... indicate the broad low pressure area over
the southeastern Bahamas has become organised enough to be
classified as tropical depression twelve." (3)
We then learn what Katrina has to say:
a mouth, thrashing hair, an overdone eye. How dare
the water belittle my thirst, treat me as just
try to feed me
from the bottom of its hand? (3)
Finally, I had my tools ready, in the form of an old
braille machine and a structure involving narratives, images,
voice and outside voice. I was fiercely against writing about my
disabilities. I didn't want to be known as a "disability
writer." As I progressed through the MFA program, I began to
understand that I could not write about myself without the
disabilities. Instead of just including them, I embraced them
with open arms, which is why I chose to begin with "Disability
Jam." It's interesting to note that two poems, "The Slide" and
"Ashley" are about my interactions with someone who has a
This thesis is an introduction to my life, a memoir told in
a unique mixture of poetry and prose. More than 30 years after a
"mad man" had me trapped on a yellow slide, I return to the
playground. Join me now, climb up the ladder, sit down. We'll
make a chain and slide together. I promise it will be a wild
Thesis Defense Introduction
Good afternoon. Thank you for taking the time to hear my thesis
defense. You have read my introduction, thesis and lit of 50
books. Now I want to share some details about my experience in
the MFA program.
First, let me state a simple fact that has been the toughest
lesson for me to learn here at Ashland University: I am a writer.
What do I write? poetry, prose, flash nonfiction, or essays. It
doesn't matter what you call it.
In my manuscript, I include a poem called "Doubt" that
illustrates my battles with lack of self esteem and confidence in
my writing. There were so many reasons why I couldn't and
shouldn't enter this program. Each class was a step forward in
improving my image of myself as a writer.
English 631 taught me to break down over-done epic poems and cut
back to essential details. English 632 introduced me to
docu-poetics and what I call ultra chatty poetry. English 633
brought about a major break through when I began writing short,
personal stories with conversational voice.
In my thesis semester, I brought it all together and this
manuscript I call The Slide was born. Of course, it wasn't easy.
I felt like Dr. Frankenstein creating his monster. "Oh, no Igor,
you put the brain in up-side-down! Let's try it again this way."
The Slide is a collection of poetry and narratives about my life.
Interlocking themes include loss, grief, pain and survival. Yet
there is a light side to the darkness, unexpected humor and wit
that keeps the manuscript moving forward. My original idea was
to write about burdens, focusing on disabilities, domestic
violence and my brother's suicide. But not all burdens are so
obvious. Through writing, I rediscovered emotions and event from
my past that I barely remembered. As I worked on a piece, I
often didn't know what was going to be reveled. In "Summer
Vacation with Katie's Family," for example, I thought the
narrative was about the first time I had body odor. There turned
out to be so much more. I put the images and details together,
added kid-talk conversation and suddenly I realized this was a
coming of age poem, much like it's companion, "How I Became a
Despite my central theme of surviving life's hardships, I didn't
want to write about my own disabilities. I don't want to be type
cast as a disability writer. The early drafts of "First Blow" and
"Leaving" mentioned nothing of my hearing and vision loss. I was
revising "Leaving," and I got the feeling it made no sense. Why
didn't this woman jump in her car and drive away? Domestic
violence is complex, but to truly understand the situation, the
reader needed to know about my disabilities.
I went back into my past to the first hint of what I would have
to endure. That became a poem called "Tinnitus." When I heard
those helicopter sounds, I thought they were real. I wanted the
reader to believe it, as well.
I still couldn't find a way to write about the loss itself. That
was too painful. Yet, as I begin picking poems to further
develop, I discovered the story was already there.
You see it in "Boys." The girl in 7th grade had no disabilities,
the girl in 8th grade couldn't understand kids talk in the
cafeteria. The girl in 9th grade had to write notes and tripped
while walking along the river.
"Faith" is about my struggles to feel a connection to God or
religion. It begins before I had any disabilities and continues
up to the present day. I was writing about faith, and somehow,
that brought out the details concerning my disabilities.
One of my greatest challenges during English 701 was deciding on
how to order the poems. Chronological order seemed like the
obvious way to do it. I took the narratives and placed them in
perfect, chronological order in parts one and three. But what to
do with poems like "Disability Jam, Neuropathy, In the Dark and
The Kent Ohio Blues>" They didn't fit neatly in time. Some, like
"Faith" cover an extended period of time. I put those in section
two, which I thought of as a mixed bag of poetry.
Ironically, my faculty mentor and fellow students felt some of
the strongest poems were in that part. I began playing around
with order, staying roughly chronological while mixing in other
poems. This worked to break up the narratives, and add energy or
humor where darkness threatened to overcome. The new version
seemed like an entirely different thesis, although it mostly
consisted of the same poems. And now I don't think of it as a
monster but more like my baby.
We are here today to talk about The Slide. Let's do it. Thank
Angie C. Orlando
contact me at Angie.C.Orlando@gmail.com