Taken together, the three memories in my poem ‘Signs‘ denote my progression towards finding a voice as a deaf writer. The intense pain and sensory overload that I experienced on that early spring day was caused by meningitis. The doctor gave me a large dose of antibiotics to clear the infection on the lining of my brain, but this damaged the hearing in my left ear and half in my right. This was why I couldn’t hear my father’s words clearly.
I was obsessed with books such as Strawberry Shortcake when I fell ill. As I’d learned to speak by then, and I clearly loved words, my parents decided to send me to the local primary school, which meant that I was raised as an oral-deaf person (that is, a deaf person who uses her voice to communicate, rather than her hands to sign). I had speech therapy from a teacher for the deaf once a week, and now people rarely notice I’m deaf unless they see my hearing aid, or I tell them. This raises another set of problems: I pass so well as a hearing person (largely by dint of lipreading and sheer hard work), that people fail to accommodate me by speaking more clearly, or forget to include me in conversations. Consequently, it’s easier for me to read than to listen to and interact with people. Reading was a solace when I became sick, and has remained so ever since.
My deafness aside, the aura of those letters living beneath the dresser suggests that words were always going to be significant for me. Shuffling them into words presaged my decision to become a writer when I reached my late teens. I poured the stress, frustration and isolation that came with deafness into journals. Later, when I developed my literary ability, I crafted my emotion into novels, stories, poems and essays.
Read the rest of this essay at Cordite Poetry Review.