Prize-winning poet Laurie Clements Lambeth found out she had MS right before her senior year of high school. “I was diagnosed at the age of 17, so MS has defined much of my adult life,” she said. “I consider what goes on in my body an important factor of who I am; we are intricately linked, MS and me.”
She explores this connection through her poetry, which she believes she wouldn’t have pursued without the disease. “I had a different experience of my body in the world than most people my age,” she said. “My very first symptom was the left side of my body going numb. To not be able to feel a difference between fabric or someone’s hand on your leg, or between a hairband and a strand of hair in your fingers: it opens your capacity for feeling in the world, almost like your skin opens up. Living with numbness opened my perception of what is me and what is outside of me.”
Currently, Laurie is working on essays that explore MS from many angles, such as how oral and IV drugs “compete for my affections.” She also teaches such classes as Literature and Medicine at the University of Houston and for three years was the reviews editor for the academic journal Disability Studies Quarterly.
“One of my interests is invisible disabilities,” she said. “I feel invisible and hypervisible at the same time, with concern and gawking both. There’s a leap of faith people have to take to understand others’ disabilities. I had a job interview at a liberal arts college to teach creative writing. From outside the room, I could hear them talking: ‘Can we ask her about wheelchairs?’ ‘No, we can only bring it up if she does.’ When I walked into the room in high heels, I felt like they looked at me with suspicion: ‘you write about it but you’re fine.’
“I learned from the poet Gregory Orr that the French word blesser means to wound rather than to bless,” she added, “and in Old English, it meant to sprinkle with blood. I like the idea that the wound is the blessing that leads you to create. It’s hurtful and beautiful at the same time.”