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Sweet Bells Jangled
Laura Redden Searing
A Deaf Poet Restored

Judy Yaeger Jones and
Jane E. Vallier, Editors

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Read reviews: The Women’s Review of Books, The Forum, Whistling Shade, Disability Studies Quarterly.


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The Fourth Volume in the Gallaudet Classics in Deaf Studies Series

From Disability Studies Quarterly

Sweet Bells Jangled is a collection of poetry by Laura Redden Searing, the Deaf poet who shaped the American literary landscape during the Civil War. Also known as Laura C. Redden in the Deaf community, Searing published more than 600 poems in her lifetime, most under the pen name Howard Glyndon. As the editors emphasize, Searing’s double identity was well-known throughout her literary career, and she counted Abraham Lincoln, Samuel Clemens, Angie Fuller Fisher, Celia Thaxter, and Alexander Graham Bell among her admiring readers and professional correspondents.

       As part of the Gallaudet Classics in Deaf Studies Series, Sweet Bells Jangled is subtitled A Deaf Poet Restored, and the timing is perfect to reintroduce the war poet to American political, literary, and cultural life. The volume contains 82 selected poems, some that address themes of war, gender, and disability in ways that shed an odd light on America’s current state of affairs.

       “In Time of War” describes the same dread of daily headlines that we have come to expect when we read the newspaper:

The ‘Extras’ fall like rain upon a drought,
    And startled people crowd around the board
Whereon the nation’s sum of loss or gain
    In rude and hurried characters is scored (p. 38).

       Many of Searing’s war poems express relational intimacy, addressing a fallen soldier as “my hero love” in “Left on the Battle-Field” (p. 39) and building narratives around women who struggle to reconcile battle victories with their own losses.

       While her Civil War poems and reportage brought her the most fame, Searing continued writing poetry for six decades until her death in 1923. For editors Jones and Vallier, the project of restoration centers around the title poem, “Sweet Bells Jangled,” which they reclaim with a modern understanding of women’s epic poetry. Vallier writes, “The poem tells the story of a journey that allows the traveler to bring home tales of conquest and defeat that lead her to a changed definition of self.” (p. 24) With emotional virtuosity and formal breadth, the poem transmutes girlhood into womanhood, using a strong, subjective narrative style to articulate the conflicts between the young woman’s literary ambitions and romantic yearnings.

Judy Yaeger Jones is an independent scholar and educational consultant in multicultural, disability, and women’s history in St. Paul, MN.

Jane E. Vallier is an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of English at Iowa State University.

ISBN 978-1-56368-138-7, 6 x 9 paperback, 224 pages


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