Review: Stairs and Whispers – edited by Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka, and Daniel Sluman

Book cover: A section of the Tate Modern while it was under constructionStairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back, edited by Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka and Daniel Sluman, is a ground-breaking anthology examining UK disabled and D/deaf poetics. Packed with fierce poetry, essays, photos and links to accessible online videos and audio recordings, it showcases a diversity of opinions and survival strategies for an ableist world. With contributions that span Vispo to Surrealism, and range from hard-hitting political commentary to intimate lyrical pieces, these poets refuse to perform or inspire according to tired old narratives.

I received an review copy of Stairs and Whispers from Nine Arches Press. I requested a copy after talking with one of the editors, and mentioning to them how excited I am to read this anthology. This is the only poetry anthology I know that has collected poems by D/deaf and disabled poets.

This poetry anthology is #ownvoices for all of its poems.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter, know that this collection took me a long time to read. Not because I was bored by the poems, but because they made me feel so many emotions and were so beautiful, and I wanted to savour them and enjoy them over a long period of time. You can check out my Twitter thread to read my live-tweeting.

There were poems that conveyed important messages, that were important for abled and hearing readers to know. Poems that discusses ableism and how society was inaccessible due to infrastructure, and not due to disabilities or being D/deaf. There were a lot of empowering and strong poems. A lot of the poems did not focus on disability or being D/deaf. I felt so many emotions while reading this collection. Laughter, sadness, indecision, confusion, anger, etc.

Some of my favourite poems include Alice in Check and The Alice Case, which are poems inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Joanne Limburg’s poetry was so beautiful, that I have put her book The Autistic Alice on my TBR. Bilingual Poet’s Dilemma was another poem that I found very intriguing. The video was an amazing way to convey the words.

I really enjoyed the various forms of poetry that I encountered in the book. Most poetry books only offer written poetry. This is one of the few that offers the reader spoken poetry, visual poetry and poetry conveyed through the medium of film. This does not mean that the book is not accessible to some readers, as all poems have been described so that the reader can know what is being portrayed and_or spoken. The variety of poetry meant that I was able to immerse myself in new creative styles every so often, and thus I stayed interested in the anthology throughout my reading of it.

One of the parts of the book that I learnt the most from, was the little boxes in which the poets described what poetry meant to them and how they use it. Some poets also explained how the definition of mainstream poetry excludes them from certain events, which is something I will be more aware of from now on.

A very concise list of trigger warnings for each poem can be found at the end of the anthology.

Stairs and Whispers is a fantastic poetry anthology. I am so happy to have read it. I truly believe that this is a book that can be read multiple times. In my opinion, it actually is a great book to put on display, as any guest of yours will be able to flip through the pages and discover a poem that they can call a favourite of theirs.

Trigger warnings: ableist terms (which are reclaimed), descriptions of ableism and_or anti-Deaf sentiment, state violence, hospitalisation, procedures, drugs, illness, pain, death, loss, scars, self-harm, suicide, violent/graphic imagery, war, sexual violence, sexual imagery, strong language, dead or injured animals, descriptions of racism, colonial violence, heterosexism, cissexism, transmisogyny, forced gender conformity, and classism.

5 stars

Have you read Stairs and Whispers? I’d love to talk to you about the poems that you most liked.

4 thoughts on “Review: Stairs and Whispers – edited by Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka, and Daniel Sluman

  1. How lovely! I’ve added it to my wishlist, although it looks like it may be a little more challenging to get here in the US. Lately l’ve been watching a lot of ASL poetry – this is one of my favorites:


      1. To be honest I don’t understand it all yet either, I just love the bits I can understand. There are a lot of references to time, he starts off learning in the oral method, and then his world cracks open and becomes free when he learns to sign.

        Liked by 1 person

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