(c) Melinda Smith 2011

Foreword (from the book)

The poems on this blog have become a book called First…Then…, published by Ginninderra Press in April 2012.  Yes, I know it would have made better sense to call the book CircleQuirk, but the poem First…Then… went viral back in September so I changed my mind and decided to name the book after it.  What follows is the foreword from the book.

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Poetry appearing on this blog was generously supported by the ACT Government

I have never written a foreword for a book of poems before.  However this is a very special kind of book and I think it deserves a few words to accompany it on its journey out into the world.

All of the poems in this book are about life with autism.  Most of them are what is called in the trade ‘dramatic monologues’ – that is, they are written in the voice of a character.  Some of the voices belong to autistic adults, some to autistic children, some to parents, carers and siblings of autistic people.

Obviously, as I am the parent of a child with autism, many of the poems are informed by my experiences, those of my son, and those of other family members.  However this is not an autobiography or a biography.  It is one set of creative responses to a journey which many people happen to find themselves on.  I have published these poems so that others on that journey can read them and know they are not alone, and so that their friends and relatives, and the general reader, can perhaps have a tiny peek into a world which is often misunderstood, misrepresented or ignored.  I do not claim these poems to be the last (or the first) word on life with autism, just one set of sketches out of millions of possible ones.

In presuming – in some of the following poems – to write in the voice of a person with autism when I myself am not autistic, I am aware that I may be open to criticism from some in the self-advocacy movement.  Surely I should get out of the way, and let autistic people speak for themselves ?  In reply, all I can say is that I am not preventing anyone from telling their own story, I am merely engaging in the time-honoured creative practice of standing in the shoes of my fellow humans in the hope that we may all start to better understand each other.  Furthermore, in most cases I have framed my ‘autistic voice’ poems as responses to first-hand accounts written by autistic people, thus (I hope) furthering the efforts those people have already made to tell their own stories.

Thank you to ArtsACT and the ACT Government for the New Projects Grant I received in 2011.  This allowed me one day a week over twelve months to write, revise and publicise (via Facebook, Twitter (@MelindaLSmith) and my blog www.circlequirk.wordpress.com) most of the poems in this collection.

I also owe a large debt of gratitude to the following people and organisations:

  • Glenn Colquhoun, without whose initial encouragement this book might still be stuck inside me;
  • Stephen Matthews, for publishing my previous books and for promptly expressing his support for this one, enabling me to lodge the grant application on time;
  • Suzanne Edgar, Martin Dolan and Michael Thorley for their cameraderie, encouragement and fearlessness with the blue pencil;
  • Les Murray and George Thomas of Quadrant magazine for publishing earlier forms of some of these poems, and for their support and encouragement;
  • Blackmail Press, ACT Carers’ Circle, Vagabond Press’ Geek Mook and the websites of Dr Tony Attwood, Scottish Autism and Aspie in the Family for publishing / posting earlier versions of some of these poems;
  • the autism communities on Twitter and Facebook for embracing earlier versions of these poems and sharing them so widely with each other; and
  • my wonderful partner Michael and our two sons, without whom none of it would have been possible.
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