Jillian Weise’s bio at the back of her latest collection, Cyborg Detective, boasts an impressive professional history, from books published to awards won to disability rights activism to starring in the tongue-in-cheek web series “Tips for Writers by Tipsy Tullivan.” In Cyborg Detective, Weise continues to show off her skills while holding the mirror up to the literary community.
Poems such as “Cattulus Tells Me Not to Write the Rant Against Maggie Smith’s ‘Good Bones,’” “10 Postcards to Marie Howe,” and “The Phantom Limbs of the Poets” cover the topic of ableism in the writing community and the ableist language and ideation that many writers and artists keep using in their craft. Using this language might not seem like a huge deal to writers without disabilities, but poems like “Attack List” (which is continued on Weise’s Twitter as a transcription informs [braille included]) show the danger of these microaggressions by making us face full-on, violent aggressions. In her list, Weise rethinks Josef Kaplan’s Kill List and Steven Trull’s “Fuck List” with the headlines or summaries of murders and rapes of disabled women. The words we choose matter.
A favorite part of Cyborg Detective for me is “Cathedral by Raymond Carver,” in which Weise reimagines the three characters of “Cathedral,” the blind man actually given a background, a personality, sexuality, agency, all things Carver did not provide.
As a nondisabled reader and writer, I find Weise’s work revealing and informative, a reminder to check my own vocabulary for ableist language and my own thoughts for ableist ideas, and to put an end to them. Weise never resorts to handholding as she does all this, but points out the bullshit with biting wit, dark humor, and a punk rock, cyborg attitude.
Review by Katy Haas