Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

National Poetry Month: Highlighting a Poet’s Experience with Vision Loss

by Connor Courtien, RDPFS Intern

Poetry serves as the most personal, acute, and resonant form of writing, connecting the internal experience of the poet to that of the reader. In doing this, it serves a very important and humanistic function, engendering empathy, understanding, and free expression. This makes it fitting to celebrate “poets’ integral role in our culture,” which is the goal of National Poetry Month. Launched by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, the occasion is observed each April by millions of people, making it the largest literary celebration in the world. Check out the website from the Academy of American Poets for more information on ways to celebrate, such as receiving a Poem-a-Day in your inbox, all in the service of increasing public awareness of the work of poets. In that spirit, it’s a great opportunity to highlight an accomplished poet who has grappled with vision loss.

Edward Hirsch, a poet and critic, has written prolifically over his decades-long career. He has won many awards and grants, including the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1986 for his second volume of poetry, Wild Gratitude, as well as the MacArthur Fellowship in 1997. Hirsch also serves as president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, which “offers fellowships to exceptional individuals in pursuit of scholarship in any field of knowledge and creation of any artform.” Alongside his success, he’s struggled with vision loss for the past 20 years, a result of retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder which causes the gradual breakdown of cells in the retina. His condition worsened hastily during the COVID-19 pandemic, rendering Hirsch legally blind. While he was initially in a state of shock, he started to receive tools and services to help him adapt, and, in writing about his vision loss for The New York Times, Hirsch stated: “’Daily life has a renewed delight and vigor.’” To read more about Hirsch and his work, check out this piece on him by the Poetry Foundation, and be sure to read the full article he wrote for the Times: I Am Going Blind, and I Now Find It Strangely Exhilarating.