Throughout my school years, I always loved to write. Perhaps because
I stuttered, I just found it easier to express my feelings on paper than with my voice. However, I never pursued a career in writing, as that would have required continuing my education; and that is something I never could have done.
You see, my stuttered speech had a devastating affect on
me while I was growing up. Without going into all the gory details,
let's just say that upon graduating from high school, I had all the schooling I could tolerate. In fact, for 10 years after graduation, I had nightmares that I would have to return and repeat the 12th grade.
Fast forward to the late summer of 1999. By now, I was long time member of the National Stuttering Association and co-chairperson of the NSA's Royal Oak, Michigan chapter. Often while at work, I would think about possible support group meeting topics. One day, as I was leaving the plant, I was thinking that a good topic for discussion would be the acceptance of one's stuttering; seeing as we are, in a manner of speaking, simply destined to stutter. As I drove, I thought about how speech, the simple act of the speaking of words, something that the vast majority of people take for granted, had been the cause of so much
grief for myself and many like me. This thought came into my head
"Words, simple little words,
Whoa, I thought, that sounds pretty good. Almost like a poem. Heck no, it is a
poem; a poem about how some are simply "Destined" to stutter. I raced back to work and wrote down that stanza and proceeded to see what else I could come up with. The words flowed so easily. Within a day, I had written my first poem about stuttering. I called it "Destiny." I read that poem at our next support group meeting. I didn't know it at the time, but the genie was definitely out of the bottle. I became a man possessed. Since that time, I have written a total of 28
poems about stuttering. In them, I tried to cover many various aspects of stuttering.
words other say so effortlessly,
the same words I can't say,
at least not fluently,
no matter how I try,
and always have I wondered
why my tongue is so tied,
yet my mind can run free,
but I need not your pity,
for my friends you see,
it has occurred to me, that this is just,
Another poem, "A Few Seconds Longer," was written to
help educate the general public about stuttering. I wrote
"Times when you see me struggle,
Concerning saying our words for us or the finishing of our sentences; I
Please don't turn away,
It's just that
Are a little bit harder to say."
"Please don't finish my sentences,
As far as how at times stutterers, when out to eat, will order something, not
because it's what they wanted, but because it's easier to say; I wrote
Please don't say words for me,
Just give me few seconds longer,
To say what I have to say."
"How could you know the feeling we get,
The poem ends with a simple request
To have to order a meal we don't want
to avoid embarrassment,
Picking out something not too difficult to say,
Of course it makes us angry,
But it's easier this way."
"Now I'm not asking for your pity,
Two of my poems were inspired by a woman in our support group. In all my experiences with PWS, I have never met anyone who goes to such great lengths to hide the fact that they stutter. Ann (not her real name) definitely is the queen of the "covert" stutterers. Word substitution is her
specialty. A quick example; when asked by someone for the name of her
dog, should she feel as if she might stutter, she'll simply assign to
the dog whatever name it is that she's able to say at that moment.
As of this writing, the poor pooch is up to 20-30 names and counting.
Spare me your sympathy,
Just allow me a few seconds longer,
And I'LL say what I have to say."
The first poem I wrote that she helped inspire was called "The Games
That We Play, The Tricks Of The Trade." The poem starts out by explaining what it was about and then blends with the poem itself.
"This poem is dedicated to people who stutter,
The poem concludes
But try to hide the fact that they do,
So they avoid situations and substitute words,
Afraid some folks will think them a fool,
You spend your days,
Dreaming up ways,
To hide your stuttering shame,
Substituting does work,
But doesn't fear always lurk,
When you run out of other words to say?"
"So drop the charade,
The second poem that Ann's covert stuttering helped me write was
called "A Reluctant Revelation." During a support group meeting, she
blocked on the word "year." After trying to say it a few times, and
with her face a bright crimson, she finally said "twelve months time."
We're a very open, informal group; and most of us don't take ourselves
too seriously; so we couldn't help but laugh when she said that. I need
to point out that she also did see the humor in it; as she began
laughing almost immediately afterwards.
And lower your facade,
Do you really think people are fooled,
It's not who you are,
It's not what you are,
Stuttering is just something you do,
So look 'em square in the eye,
You might be surprised,
Your listener won't scream and run away,
Give it a try,
And I believe that you'll find,
That if you stutter,
The idea of someone who is an expert at word substitution, having
to give a presentation, and coming across a word that they could not
find a substitute for intrigued me. This poem took me quite a while to
figure out exactly where I was going with it, but once I established
the principal idea, it came rather easily. It became a kind of a step by step account of what a PWS experiences while having to give a oral presentation. From
"Rising up from your chair,
Ever so slowly,
You begin your long
With shoulders slouched forward
in passive resignation,
And your eyes fixed firmly on the floor,
With a deliberate gait,
Knowing full well the fate,
That for you,
"Eventually you reach
Everything is going rather smoothly, at first
your final destination,
And on unsteady legs,
you step to the podium,
Stealing a glance,
At your audience,
You see a sea of eyes
staring straight back at you,
watching your every move."
"Much to your surprise
However, right around the corner, a road block awaits;
the first few lines,
Do go over quite well,
A hesitation here,
and a slight pause there,
Heck, they probably couldn't even tell,
And surely no one notice's the fact,
That when like a bantering Barishnikov
you so assuredly dance,
Around those most difficult of words."
Having run out of options, the speaker eventually gives up trying to hide his (or her) speech problem and allows their stuttered speech to happen.
Such embarrassment does this person feel about their stuttering, they
avoid making eye contact with the audience until almost the end of their
speech. When they finally do look up, they find that people are
listening to what they say; that they care not in the least about the
manner in which it was said. The speaker is then almost overcome by
emotion. The next to last stanza in the poem says
"In the next 8 ye.....",
"In the next 8 ye...",
Oh no, it can't be,
the thing that you most fear,
Quick now think,
what's another word for year,
Millions of words bombarding your brain,
Desperately searching for something to say."
"You finally finish with your words,
Perhaps my favorite poem is the one that I call "Maybe
Tomorrow." This was actually my second poem, written
right on the heels of "Destiny." I had finished it and was planning to read it at our next chapter meeting, but it just didn't sound right -- way too forced and
predictable. Actually, it sounded downright silly. So I proceeded to
work on it, and work on it, and work on it. Days turned into weeks, and
the weeks into months. Nothing seemed to work. Finally I put it away in my drawer at work and forgot about it until I returned from my first NSA convention (Chicago 2000.) Meeting so many wonderful people and witnessing the incredibly emotional closing ceremony had an
affect on me. Within a few days of returning home, starting from
scratch (taking only the original title) I finished my poem with
little difficulty. It deals with an idea that a lot of PWS had when they were
growing up -- the thought that if they could make it thru whatever
particular difficult speaking situation that they were facing at that
one moment in time without actually having to speak, "maybe tomorrow"
their stuttering would somehow magically disappear. The poem ends with
the protagonist now a adult; reflecting on his life as it is now, with
the thought that while many years might have passed, and though he/she
has for the most part accepted stuttered speech as being part of
themselves; at times, well, they still hope that maybe.......
When a thunderous roar is suddenly heard,
As everyone stands and claps and cheers,
And in the corner of your eye,
A single solitary tear,
For, after all these years,
It finally has dawned upon you,
At last you realize
that what you've heard is true,
That what you say IS far more important,
Then how you happen to say it."
"This poem was written thru the eyes of my youth,
Many of my poems have started out as a free verse
exercise but that doesn't usually last long. One of the few times that
I was able to make it work was in a poem that I call "Sometimes." This
was another one of those works that I had started, gotten stuck on, put
away, and then was able to go back later and finish.
But those memories still burn in my soul,
The thoughts and the feelings I tried hard to bury,
So many, many, years ago,
You see tomorrow never came,
And the way I spoke,
Well, it remained the same,
Of course my life has moved on,
But there are times I still think,
Late at night, when I can't sleep,
That maybe tomorrow,
My stuttered speech,
Will be gone."
This one deals with the thought that, even for people like
myself, those that I consider to be "recovered" stutterers, there are
still times when those old, negative feelings come creeping back in.
"I have finally come to accept my stuttered speech,
"I understand that stuttering does not define who or what I am,
that it is something that fate has destined I do.
"I now possess the ability to simply shrug off things
like the fact that at times, I am unable to even say my own name.
"I made a vow to never again feel sorry for myself because I stutter;
AND BY GOD I DON'T,
"Yes, you see, after years of struggling
I usually try to write poems that have a positive message so
that hopefully, if someone were to read them (especially a younger
person) they would realize that it's not the end of the world because
they just so happen to stutter. At the same time, however, I try to be
realistic; staying away from any and all sugarcoating of the facts. One
poem that I wrote (a poem called "RAGING") is nothing more than an
angry, maddened rant about stuttering.
to slay this stuttering demon;
of bitterness and self loathing;
of banging my head against the proverbial brick wall;
I absolutely, positively have finally come to accept my stuttered speech,
Young stutterers need to know that yes, in the upcoming
years, they probably will have a rough row to hoe; that they will
be faced with challenges that those who reside in the fluent world have
never dreamed about. At the same time, however, they also need to
know, that if they hang in there, that if they keep plugging away, that
there is light at the end of the tunnel.
I know that poetry is not everybody's cup of tea.
I have had people come up to me after I've read a poem at one of our
local chapter meetings and tell my that they didn't agree with what I
had said; that their experiences growing up were nothing like the
ones I had spoken of. I then have to explain to them that what I
write about is basically an amalgam; certainly based on my life, but
also heavily influenced by the thoughts and opinions that I have
gathered thru the years from talking to others who stutter. Of
course, not everyone will have experienced the same things, but I
do feel that there are many things that are universally felt by the
majority of my people who stutter (shame, fear of public
speaking and talking on the telephone, the feeling of being different,
of not quite fitting in, etc...)
It is those universal feelings that are shared by so many PWS that
was the inspiration for the final poem that I'd like to share, a
poem entitled "Kindred Souls." I think that this one sounds better than it reads. I wrote it to be read at gatherings of PWS (support group
meetings, conference's etc.). A short, rather simple work, it starts
off by establishing a bond among PWS -
"We all have walked that same daunting path,
The idea that we are as one is summed up in the closing.
Though we've traveled down many different roads,
Each of us in our own unique way,
With our own story to be told.
True, the obstacles that we have encountered,
Were in different places,
with different faces and names,
But those feelings of fear and embarrassment and anger,
Those feelings, my friends, were the same."
"Yes, we all have walked that same painful path,
The discovery of poetry has allowed me to experiment with various ways to describe the thoughts and emotions that are common among many, many PWS. And while there are those who have told me that they don't like my poems as they find them too depressing, I've also had people tell me that the stuff I write is pretty darn good -- that I've been able to capture a feeling, put into
words a moment from their own lives.
Though we've traveled down many different roads,
But brothers and sisters when we come together,
Most surely, 'tis a sight to behold,
We talk and we laugh,
finally freed from our past,
Just letting our voices be heard,
Opening our hearts
to say what is ours,
With no fear of the spoken word,
Yes, we all have walked
that long lonesome path,
And though we've traveled
those many different roads,
All of us share a very special bond,
For truly, we are all,
As recently as eight years ago I could not
even bring myself to say the word "stuttering"; now I can't seem to
talk about it enough. In fact, between writing poems about stuttering,
co-chairing a support group for people who stutter, attending
conferences and workshops about stuttering, speaking before future
SLP's about stuttering, exchanging e-mails and going out to dinner
with fellow stutterers, and helping to host picnics involving
stutterers, it seems that most of my life now is wrapped up in, about, and around stuttering.
Thinking back to my feelings from many years ago and how much
I had once despised my stuttered speech, all I can say is "Who'd have
You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to Jim Abbott before October 22, 2001.
September 22, 2001