About the presenter: Jim Abbott writes, "I'm 42 years old. I live in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, with my wife, my son, and a house full of pets. I'm a shipping clerk at a one of the nations largest independent parts suppliers; a 18 year member of The United Auto Workers union, and a 7 year member of The National Stuttering Association. Besides poems about stuttering, I like to write lyrics to songs that no one will ever hear. I've also written a number of poems/songs that deal with unions and/or the working class. I guess my only other hobby is listening to the music of the great singer/songwriters; people like Springsteen, Guthrie, Dylan, Steve Earle and Billy Bragg. Words are just so very important to me. One last thing; never in my life have I been prouder to be an American.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to Jim Abbott before October 22, 2001.

My words have wings - finally!

by James Abbott
from Michigan, USA

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

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.

Another poem, "A Few Seconds Longer," was written to help educate the general public about stuttering. I wrote

Concerning saying our words for us or the finishing of our sentences; I wrote 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 The poem ends with a simple request 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.

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.

The poem concludes 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.

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

to Everything is going rather smoothly, at first However, right around the corner, a road block awaits; 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 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....... 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.

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.

And finally 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.

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 -

The idea that we are as one is summed up in the closing. 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.

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 thunk it?"

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to Jim Abbott before October 22, 2001.

September 22, 2001