I have severe non-verbal autism. In my days of extreme loneliness, I met Chris. I never thought meeting Chris would help open my inner feelings immediately. I noticed that his calm demeanor was pleasing. I also noticed that he was very understanding of my limitations, while he was very exploratory of my talents. He was not only supporting me, I saw him supporting so many others at our school.
He made an immense impact on my life. I sincerely wish I met him sooner. I improved my sad moods thinking about poetry after meeting Chris. I hoped he would see me more often.
Life without expression was difficult until poetry gave me a voice. Meaningful literature has deep impacts on me. Poetry has even deeper impact. Poetry is a love song to my heart. It resonates at levels that regular words cannot reach.
My writing does not sound autistic, but unfortunately, I cannot function in life without assistance. I need something to lift up my spirits and poetry with Chris does that for me. Treating my limitations with respect and helping me learn to express myself, is Chris’s strength.
Meghana Junnuru, poetry lover and non-verbal autist from South Education Center.
Unrestricted Interest has captivated the students. They look forward to Chris’s visits. They love reading the final poem. Unrestricted Interest also helped the EAs and teachers reimagine the students’ inner worlds and potential voices. The students released unexpected and lucid expressions during each session. The students and staff felt joy and surprise. This experience developed our classroom community and broadened the relationships among the four students, as well as students and staff.
Pierce Kroh, Special Education Teacher, South Education Center-Sun/CIP Program
The students I met through Unrestricted Interest reminded me why poetry is an ideal medium for discovery and collaboration. It’s not every day I get to read a poem out loud and hear a person recite three lines back to me because he enjoyed a metaphor I wrote about the sun. But that is exactly what occurred in the span of a few hours, hours in which poet and instructor Chris Martin created a safe and productive space for students to delve into the riches of language, the playfulness of sound, and the spirit of association.
As someone kept outside of poetry’s gates until I got to college, I was thrilled by the level of care and depth these students demonstrated while discussing my work. Leave it to them to carry the seeds of poetry in their hearts and in whatever discipline their journeys end up taking them. If this is what it’s like to expose our youth to the magic of poetry, I can’t wait to see how other educators and programs in the Twin Cities welcome their students into literature.
Roy Guzmán, Coffee House Press: In the Stacks featured poet, author of the forthcoming Catracho (Graywolf Press, 2019)
Chris Martin of Unrestricted Interest did an amazing job with the Poetry and Autism Professional Development Session and Weekend Workshop for Students with ASD and their Families here at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Chris’ theories and methods not only offered the professional development attendees ideas on how to work with students with ASD, but offered us techniques we could bring in to any classroom or learning situation. During the weekend workshop, Chris collaborated with students to develop poem forms based on their interests, including one shaped like a Ferris wheel and another like the Rodeo Parade route. In addition to his teaching, Chris runs Unrestricted Interest Press, which publishes the work of writers on the spectrum—an important contribution to the world of poetry.
Wren Awry, Education Programs Assistant, University of Arizona Poetry Center