Michael Lerman on how assistive technology helped publish his new poetry collection, “Flow of Illuminati”
90 percent of proceeds of Michael Lerman’s “Flow of Illuminati” will benefit United Cerebral Palsy
This past June, Michael Lerman, 38, self-published “Flow of Illuminati,” the second book of verses in his Michaels Lyric series. He writes of sadness and lovesickness, joy and pain. His lyrics are raw, baring a life that is full of longing, alienation and hope.
But beyond his words there is an equally powerful story of how Lerman has been able to publish his verses at all. When he was 5 months old, still a baby in Moscow, Lerman was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The disorder left him physically impaired, unable to use his limbs or to speak clearly. Lerman recalls being enthralled by music as a child, but he was unable to sing or play a musical instrument. Instead he turned to books. He began reading at age 4, turning the pages with his nose and forehead. By the age of 6, he was dictating stories and poetry to his mother.
“I read hundreds of books, in Russian, of course,” he wrote in an email interview. “Poetry from Alexander Pushkin was my favorite. I was also into science fiction, authors like Jules Verne and Kir Bulychov. At the same time, I would never go too far from my radio and my cassette player.”
When Lerman was 13, in 1989, his family moved to Chicago, where he enrolled in a formal school for the first time. In Chicago, he was turned on to a vast range of music. “I was greatly influenced by hip hop, R&B and alternative rock,” he says. “Since 1998, much of my influence emerges from electronic music.”
His love of music and his drive to write lyrics escalated, and over the years Lerman experimented with technology to capture his thoughts. Since 1997, he has used a headset with a microphone and one earphone. The headset is plugged into his computer, which is then activated and controlled completely by his voice using assistive technology. “For the last 17 years, I have created music, graphics and websites all by voice.”
Both of Lerman’s books (he published “420 Flowers Behind XVI Bars” in 2011) were created entirely using vocal technology. “I am aware that many authors have used voice software to produce many books over the last 10 years,” he says. “The difference is that from the time my computer turns on, to the time it is shut down, (for me) it’s all voice. I cannot pick up a mouse and fix things. I cannot start punching that backspace key in frustration.”
But although it took him “16 years, six computers, four wheelchairs and many microphones” to write his books, Lerman does not want his work to be read as a reflection of his disability. “This book series is not about being disabled,” says Lerman, who now lives in Elk Grove, Calif. “It is about being the beautiful mess that is human. Only a few pieces refer specifically to my disability.”
Scott Glirbas, a Minneapolis poet familiar with Lerman’s work, says he finds hints of Shakespeare, Lou Reed and Eminem in his lyrics. “If one reads a good cross section of Michael’s writing, one can tell he’s studied principles of formal poetry as well as modern, but embraces current culture in his content,” he says. “Michael is skilled at lacing intense emotion into his pieces, leaving a gift for those who give the words consideration.”
Kristin Kloberdanz is a freelance writer based in California.
“Flow of Illuminati”
By Michael Lerman, self-published, 200 pages, $15
Ninety percent of proceeds go to United Cerebral Palsy.
Copyright © 2014, Chicago Tribune