Poetry of Disability: Discovering the Voice of Laura Hershey

Besides my family, there’s nothing I love more than my library at home. Its tall bookshelves are filled with books of all kinds; novels, poetry, essays, biographies, dictionaries, etc., and now and then I bring home additional volumes purchased in the nearest bookshop.

My husband sometimes questions the need to buy more books when I haven’t yet read all the ones already in my possession. But I call it an investment.


One of the books on my poetry shelf is a hefty anthology of poetry of disability, Beauty is a Verb, and if someone I know hadn’t once recommended this book to me, I might not have discovered the powerful writings of Laura Hershey (1962-2010).

An American poet, writer and journalist, Hershey was born with a form of muscular dystrophy and spent her life in a wheelchair. Not only was she a prominent voice in the disability rights movement, but she was also a champion of women’s rights and social justice.

She worked tirelessly to challenge negative perceptions of people with disabilities and, fighting for equal rights, she wrote:

“We have to demand the things that are essential to our lives, equality, and quality of life…We must refuse to feel gratitude for these, except the normal level of gratitude that anyone might feel for living in a time and place that still supports human life.”

You Get Proud by Practicing, is one of her best-known poems and I believe its message is highly relevant to all of us, whether or not we have a disability:


If you are not proud

For who you are, for what you say, for how you look;

If every time you stop

To think of yourself, you do not see yourself glowing

With golden light; do not, therefore, give up on yourself.

You can get proud.


You do not need

A better body, a purer spirit, or a Ph.D.

To be proud.

You do not need

A lot of money, a handsome boyfriend, or a nice car.

You do not need

To be able to walk, or see, or hear,

Or use big, complicated words,

Or do any of those things that you just can’t do

To be proud. A caseworker

Cannot make you proud,

Or a doctor.

You only need more practice.

You get proud by practicing.


There are many many ways to get proud.

You can try riding a horse, or skiing on one leg,

Or playing the guitar.

And do well or not so well,

And be glad you tried

Either way.

You can show

Something you’ve made

To someone you respect

And be happy with it no matter

What they say.

You can say

What you think, though you know

Other people do not think the same way, and you can

Keep saying it, even if they tell you

You are crazy.


You can add your voice

All night to the voices

Of a hundred and fifty others

In a circle

Around a jailhouse

Where your brothers and sisters are being held

For blocking buses with no lifts,

Or you can be one of the ones

Inside the jailhouse,

Knowing of the circle outside.

You can speak your love

To a friend

Without fear.

You can find someone who will listen to you

Without judging you or doubting you or being

Afraid of you

And let you hear yourself perhaps

For the very first time.

These are all ways

Of getting proud.

None of them

Are easy, but all of them

Are possible. You can do all of these things,

Or just one of them again and again.

You get proud

By practicing.


Power makes you proud, and power

Comes in many fine forms

Supple and rich as butterfly wings.

It is music

When you practice opening your mouth

And liking what you hear

Because it is the sound of your own

True voice.


It is sunlight

When you practice seeing

Strength and beauty in everyone,

Including yourself.

It is dance

When you practice knowing

That what you do

And the way you do it

Is the right way for you

And cannot be called wrong.

All these hold

More power than weapons or money

Or lies.

All these practices bring power, and power

Makes you proud.

You get proud

By practicing.


Remember, you weren’t the one

Who made you ashamed,

But you are the one

Who can make you proud.

Just practice,

Practice until you get proud, and once you are proud,

Keep practicing so you won’t forget.

You get proud

By practicing.




A Holiday Season of Smiles

On my return from Smile Train‘s Journey of Smiles to Guatemala in October, I set up a Just Giving page with the aim of raising £2,000 on behalf of Smile Train, and it gives me enormous pleasure to report that thanks to the generous donations received, I have now exceeded that target. As of Monday this week, the amount raised stood at £2,313.07, and I’ve also honoured my pledge to match the total amount donated.


Thank you to each and everyone who made this fundraising initiative such a success, I am deeply grateful and humbled by your generosity, which will directly benefit at least thirty children in need of cleft repair.

Last week I attended Smile Train UK‘s Christmas Carols Concert in London, and I’d like to share with you a poem read by an 8-year old Smile Train supporter at the event, which beautifully illustrates the power of a smile.

A smile_dsc5672

is a frown turned upside down.

A smile

is painted on the face of a clown.

A smile

brightens a dreary day.

A smile

chases tears away.

A smile_dsc6328-copy

is a gift that shows you care.

A smile

is priceless no matter where.

A smile

is the key to happiness.

A smile

a sure sign of success.

When you feel lonely in a strange place.

It helps to see a smile on another’s face.

If there is any real magic around.

It is the silent magic of a smile’s sound.

(A smile by Kurt Hearth)


Happy Holidays! 

I Wish I’d Known…


Some time ago I came across a beautiful book that that touched my heart and which I’d like to share with you. I Wish I’d Known…How Much I’d Love You is a compilation of stories written by parents of children born with cleft lip and palate.41mry-iw4tl-_sx348_bo1204203200_

I strongly recommend this book to everyone who’s either expecting a baby with cleft or who’s already the proud mother or father of a cleft affected child. Not only is it a gem of inspirational stories, but it also contains helpful advice and information about cleft from parents with first hand experience.

Many parents go through a grieving period after finding out that their baby has a cleft. They feel sad, depressed, worried and frightened but, as every story in this book demonstrates, a cleft child is just as beautiful and perfect in the eyes of their parents as a child without cleft.

That’s not to deny that cleft affected children and their parents face a particular set of challenges including surgery, feeding, speech therapy, etc. But, as one parent points out, among all the challenges facing children and parents, the cleft is only a small part.

“I Wish I’d Known…that raising my cleft affected child would not be any different than raising my non affected child.”

“I Wish I’d Known…that despite his clefts, my son is just like any other baby.”

Several parents testify to falling in love with their newborn baby’s cleft smile and feeling conflicted upon seeing their baby for the first time after surgery.

“I Wish I’d Known…that I would come to live this smile so much and that I would be sad when the cleft was gone.”

“I Wish I’d Known…how all the worries would fade away as soon as I saw her face!”

“I Wish I’d Known…that when I would hold him in my arms, nothing else would matter. He was precious and perfect just the way he was.”

“I Wish I’d Known…how much I would fall in love with my daughter’s wide smile.”

There’s so much wisdom, compassion and love in these stories and implicit in each and every one is a parent’s deep knowing that their child is born whole.

PS. There’s still time to make a donation to my fundraising drive on behalf of Smile Train. I’m hoping to raise £2000 by Christmas Eve and with a little help from you, it looks like I will meet that target. If you’d like to make a contribution, please click here. Your support is much appreciated!


Children with cleft palate often face years of orthodontic treatment to correct their bite, move and straighten teeth and in some cases compensate for the lack of teeth in the cleft area.

I was no exception. As much as I hated the sharp metal train tracks on my teeth and the fiddly rubber bands that stuck to them, not to mention the massive contraption I had to wear at night, I carried on in the hope of transforming my crooked teeth into a perfect Hollywood smile. Continue reading

A Few Thoughts on Stress

Two years ago, in the mad rush of pre-Christmas activities, I found myself unexpectedly in hospital diagnosed with acute pulmonary embolism.

It all happened very suddenly; I’d gone to bed the night before feeling fine, yet woke up the next morning with what seemed like a bronchial cough. Thanks to a very perceptive GP, I was sent to the accident and emergency department at my local hospital where a CT scan confirmed I had three blood clots in my lungs. Continue reading