“To speak of Ekiwah, his spirit and his work, is a gift in itself.” —Mary Oliver
“I think that what poets do is decipher silence.” —Ekiwah Adler-Beléndez
“I fall into the sea of poetry which drags me to the forgotten archipelagos of my Being. Or, drowned by the ocean I reincarnate as a crab that plays the lovers' game...a crab that draws near, a crab that grows distant.”—Ekiwah Adler-Beléndez
Born in Morelos, Mexico, in 1987, Ekiwah Adler-Belendez began writing poems and stories at the age of ten. He sent his writing to the Institute of Culture of Morelos (ICM), and upon reading Ekiwah's poems, the director of the Institute immediately offered to publish them. In June 2000 Soy (I Am) was published. Ekiwah was twelve years old. He presented the newly published book to a large audience at the Jardín Borda in Cuernavaca and became an immediate literary sensation. At fourteen, Palabras Inagotables (Never-ending Words), was published, and at sixteen, Weaver. The latter books were also presented at the Jardín Borda of Cuernavaca, causing Elena Poniatowska, one of Mexico's finest writers and journalists, to hail Ekiwah as "A young Prometheus chained." Ekiwah was awarded an Honorable Mention for the contest Premio Nacional de la Juventud, (National Prize for the Youth), by the Governor of the State of Morelos. He was twice granted a six-month scholarship by the FONCA (the National Institute for Support of the Arts)—an unusual occurrence, as scholarships are usually not granted to persons his age. Ekiwah has since written and acted in three plays and has begun writing prose.
Ekiwah, which means Warrior in the language of the Purepecha, is an appropriate appellation. He has been battling cerebral palsy since birth—born ten weeks early and weighing less than two pounds. Ekiwah writes, "I cannot walk by myself, yet in my poems I not only walk, but give myself license to have eight legs and experience movement. When I read a poem, on an ephemeral level I go to the places the poet describes." His warrior nature also allows him this wisdom: "I don't feel my cerebral palsy is a battle I have to win. I don't battle more or less than anyone else—my cerebral palsy is simply there. For me the connection of my name with my struggle has to do with the fact that I fought in my birth to live."
Ekiwah's literary career continues to blossom. He is speaking and reading his poems at universities, high schools, and conferences in Mexico and the US. He has an extraordinary ability to relate to his audience, heart to heart. At a shared reading with poet Mary Oliver in Provincetown, Massachusetts, Oliver introduced Ekiwah, stating that although his is indeed a powerful story, the poems themselves stand alone with a clear and distinct—and soulful—power of their own.
Ekiwah's latest work, Love on Wheels, deals with coming to grips with the richness and complexities of life in a wheelchair, taking into account its symbolic connotations as well—that to love on wheels is to be bound by the very thing that sets you free. As such, the wheelchair is not simply portrayed as an object, but also as a symbolic force, and as a metaphor for both the freedom and the obstacles that we experience in the process of loving. In the process of encountering the erotic realm, he journeys into the body and into the desire to be recognized as a fully sexual being. His poetry becomes a way of descending into the complexities of the physical and the sensual worlds.
Ekiwah offers workshops in both Mexico and the US on different aspects of disability and how to use it as a creative force. He currently teaches at Con Nosotros, a school in Cuernavaca for young people in wheelchairs, where he uses poetry as a way to discuss distinct aspects of life and identity. He also teaches workshops for parents of disabled children and young adults, sharing the insights that have led him to live a happy and fulfilling life, and facilitating discussions meant to stimulate creativity and communication among parents and their children. His poetry workshops focus on activating the wildness within, using dreams and questions that come up in everyday life through conversation, as well as the poems of others who have inspired him. He believes very strongly that any reading or presentation is incomplete without the active presence of the audience. He listens to other people’s stories and experiences so as to enhance the mystery that happens in the exchange with the audience. Ekiwah also explores the interconnection between poetry and other art forms, such as dance, performance, and music, and welcomes these multiple expressions to join the conversation whenever possible.
Ekiwah experiences the line between his poetry and his life as extremely thin, if it exists at all, and weaves intimate life stories—from the mystical to the tragic, the contemplative to the uncertain—into his work. He has been strongly influenced by the poetry of Rumi, Mary Oliver, and Pablo Neruda, who in their own ways use poetry as an instrument to open the heart, and who appreciate the abundant beauty of daily existence as it entwines with the mystery of being. Recently he has also begun to approach the subject of the political, searching the connections between the political and the personal worlds. The violence that occurs in the collision of the Mexican military, the police, and the drug-war culture of his country has forced him to consider how poetry can be a defiance of violence. He is increasingly interested in exploring the bridges between the erotic, mystical, and the political, fields of study that have been for too long separated from each other, but that can meet in the mythical state of poetry.
Like poet Gregory Orr, Ekiwah believes that poetry can do nothing short of saving a life. When he underwent severe spinal surgery, it was the connection with poetry and a compassionate doctor that allowed him to continue living. He also offers sessions of poetry therapy, which use imagery and music to define and name the inner core of experiences, feelings, and situations that may have previously lacked the language to be expressed.
He is open to giving readings in English, Spanish, or bilingually.
Ekiwah is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock and Hampshire College, where he studied poetry, theater, and world religions. His life story and poetry were featured on NBC Dateline. He has given numerous talks, readings, and workshops at colleges, high-schools, and festivals in both Mexico and the United States. He was a judge for the Scholastic Awards, and is convinced we all have an inner poet.
His plays among other themes explore encountering Northhampton, MA, a wheelchair-accessible town, and the joys of crossing the street and serving himself coffee for the first time. His other play works with a troupe of young men and women with disabilities who represent the internal struggle that we face when we hear the conflicting voices of our emotions; anger, hope, and despair are all represented as characters speaking in verse. The Voices of Suki has been presented in numerous venues around Cuernavaca and Mexico City. He is excited for the chance to perform these plays in the US as well.
About CEREBRAL PALSY & DR. NUZZO
“In a way cerebral palsy has forced me to do what I love the most:
stop dead in my tracks and write.”—Ekiwah
Despite years of hard therapeutic work, Ekiwah developed a severe scoliosis that required surgery or would prove fatal. From Mexico, the family sent X-rays to Dr. Roy Nuzzo, a Pediatric Orthopaedist and Surgeon in New Jersey—and included Ekiwah’s books and English translations. In a Dateline special entitled The Gift, about Ekiwah and Dr. Nuzzo’s meeting, he said, “The fact that [Ekiwah’s poems] reached this doctor, in a routine request for medical intervention, may indeed have been a sign of divine intervention because Dr. Nuzzo knows almost as much about meter and rhyme, as muscle and bone. He's not only a surgeon, but a lover of poetry and a writer, himself, and what he read that day stunned him.” Upon reading the book of poems that fell out with the X-rays, Dr. Nuzzo said, “Ekiwah is simply an extraordinary talent...I was trying to figure just when I was last so taken by a specific series of writings. Who so stunningly allowed the rest of us to experience so internally the feelings of another? I decided...[Ekiwah] has the force of Dante but delivered with the temperament of Poe." Nuzzo declared then that saving Ekiwah’s life was the most important thing he would ever do.
Operating for free, Nuzzo quickly recruited Dr. Thomas Errico, chief of spinal surgery at NYU Medical Center and at the Hospital for Joint Diseases, and Dr. David Feldman, chief of pediatric orthopedics at NYU, to volunteer their services. On December 15, 2004, a team of NYU Medical Center doctors successfully performed a massive spinal surgery. Within hours of his surgery, Ekiwah picked up a notebook, wrote, and handed the following poem to Dr. Nuzzo:
I am the snow of white sharks in a sea of mercy.
And around me, there are luminous hands that open the wound.
Those luminous hands speak to my bones
the metal that they temper makes the strongest sword.
In that sweet hour, I discover through being the slow snake,
that spark of intelligence. I am the warrior.
The following year a smaller surgery was performed, also by Dr. Nuzzo, to facilitate Ekiwah's ability to walk. Ekiwah and Dr. Nuzzo were the keynote speakers at the annual National Association for Poetry Therapy conference in Boston in 2006.