Social commentaries

In Between Sentences: where words and disability meet

May 25, 2022

Bart English
Bart English
Image is of a piece of paper with a poem on from within Bart's book

I discovered writing poetry at 11 as a creative outlet for how I, like many disabled children, struggled to articulate my experiences and relationship with the world. I was lucky always to have the support of my family and veteran New Zealand children’s author Joy Cowley. She was one of the first people who saw the potential and the perspective I brought to the world. I was extremely fortunate to have Joy’s mentorship and have her tell me she wanted to ‘publish a proper, paper-back collection of your poetry’. With her help and the nurturing that all children deserve, I published my first collection, ‘Bounty’ at 14. Over a decade later, I’m still writing with almost more passion than when I was younger, having released three more collections of Poetry. My most recent collection, 'In Between Sentences’ was released this year.

Bart has short, cropped hair and a beard, he looks up smiling holding his book cover. He's in front of some trees

Despite my now strongly-formed identity as a disabled person, writing about disability or my experiences wasn’t always easy. It always felt too personal, that it wasn’t going to reach people and honestly, it was complicated.

“Disability as an experience can tangle the mind up in many ways, and finding the right way to untangle it and write about it healthily and constructively was a real struggle for a long time.”

It’s only recently, with age, reflection and practice, that I’ve found the right ways to talk about it in a way that helped me acknowledge past experiences or solidify my sense of self. However, I admit that it doesn’t work for everyone and everyone has their ways of processing this. I just knew I had found mine. Looking back it’s hard to separate the role of disability and the lens it gave me from my writing. The need to find a way to express myself authentically, an almost crippling self-awareness and sensitivity I developed interacting with the world, all combined with a vivid imagination to create a love of the written word.

I’m really proud of my book, in one way, because of the way it showcases the evolution of my disabled identity through the poems included. While disability isn’t the overall theme of the collection, It was important to reflect on my own experiences, those of the community and our collective pasts in the book.

Here's a poem from my book that I think embodies my view of disability in the creative world

A book cover that's shades of blue and in the middle says "Between Sentences"

Bart's book cover - designed by @_vincentowen

History books

Our history has long been seen as written.

In the fault lines and arched contours of our bodies.

On the blank pages or dark skies of sightless eyes,

In speechless language for soundless ears.

For a time we believed this to be true,

that we were living stories, epics, warnings.

Until we began to know, our stories never read.

Never murmured to drowsy children,

fit for neither essay nor novel,

our stories collected dust.

But our lungs had not,

and so we began to Whisper,

using the strength we had always had, recounted that history in protests

the stories never read,

That grew from sermon to incitation

invoking the rage written in our bodies,

screaming underneath the dust,

from the highest ledge of humanities bookshelves.

Buy "In Between Sentences" here