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Autism, Poetry, and the Joy in the Details

Happy Poetry Friday everyone! Today, we are hosted by the lovely Laura Purdie Salas. Hop on over to their post to check out all the poetry goodies!

Today, I wanted to chat a little bit about my experience writing poetry as someone who is autistic. But first, a caveat. These thoughts are just mine-- and are really just one very small aspect of how autism is a part of my experience and informs my craft. Different folks experience autism different ways-- and sometimes that experiences changes even for individuals! So, please don't take this as a "one size fits all" definitive dissertation on autism in any way. Thanks! Now that we've got that cleared up...

My specific brand of autism comes with heightened sensory experiences. Sometimes this feels like a curse-- how can the sound of someone typing a room away cause me physical pain? (Yes, some folks' brains can actually interpret sound as pain-- look it up!) But, this heightened awareness also allows me to hear wonders that I frequently wonder if allistic folks are aware of-- like the way I can enjoy the sound of each tree species rustling differently in the wind, even from inside with the windows closed. For me, sensations of sound, touch, and smell are all expanded and intensified-- which for me also means that I can tune into very subtle changes and differences easily. As much as I am bothered by the shocks of noise, I am deliciously aware of detail.

When I write a poem, especially a nature or science poem, all of my sensory experience gets poured onto the page. Writing becomes, for me, an exercise in distilling details down to their most precise description based on what I've observed. I love that exercise. It's absolute joy for me to find that perfect word or phrase to say exactly what I mean. Which is to say, exactly what I've noticed. Poetry is, in so many ways, a snapshot of the poet's perspective.

All of my poetry has always been written from an autistic perspective-- because that's my perspective. But, I was recently gifted the experience of purposefully writing a poem not just containing hyperawareness of detail, but about it-- about the experience of sensation-created aversion or comfort. That poem, "Feeling the Ground," can be found in the column "The Poetry of Science: Sensory, Sensitive Science" by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater in the January/February 2024 issue of Science and Children (which members of the National Science Teaching Association can read at this link).

I am so grateful to Amy for the opportunity to contribute to her column, because it gave me the opportunity to really examine not just what I observe, but how I observe it. And, as usual, art leads to art... and this angle into poetry has me excited to write more. What about you? Have you ever written a poem rooted in the mechanics of how you view the world? Would you want to? Let me know!

And, since it's Poetry Friday, I wanted to leave you with a poem. Happy reading!


The weight of snow

eases the earth’s growing pains,

lets the seeds slumber a little deeper,

bends trees into yoga positions

so they breathe, hold...

and release with a sigh.

Wait for spring,

we’re told.

Everything will be bright and beautiful,

the colors will riot

and the breeze will be

perfumed with flowers.

But the earth and I,

we love the weight of snow.

We will miss it

when it's gone.

-Sarah Grace Tuttle


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