On The Level: Poems on Living with Multiple Sclerosis | signed by author


With humor and insight, On the Level: Poems on Living with Multiple Sclerosis, cuts to the reality of living with disability. Fear and courage make their appearance, along with family trauma, invasive examinations, constantly moving medical targets, and accessibility barriers. Yet here, Bryan R. Monte proves to us that life and joy push through and beyond limitations imposed by others and by oneself.

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Like too many others, Monte is thwarted by an indifferent world: doorways too narrow, ramps ill-placed behind brand-new buildings, a meeting located on the fourth floor. Despite unimaginable physical and emotional challenges, each loss endured seems replaced by his ability to perceive with irony, his wry observations as sharp as a glinting scalpel. Each obstacle he surmounts—or accepts—creates a victory for his intelligence, wit, and resilience of spirit. In a perfect world, Monte’s book would be required reading for the course that the poet Denise Duhamel calls “Humanity 101.” — Italian Americana (full review here)

This is a brave book in which Monte presents a series of poems that confront head-on the problems that he faces:  getting around; enduring pain flickering like flames around his legs; missing out on simple pleasures; being treated as a ‘nobody’; the petty humiliations brought by other people’s insensitivity – especially the last of these. In spare language [Monte] speaks directly, on the level, in a plea for understanding on behalf of all those who are similarly afflicted.The Friend: The Quaker Magazine (full review here)

Gifted narrative poet Bryan R. Monte turns medical anthropologist in this transfixing exploration of his four-decade brawl with multiple sclerosis, meeting his disease’s “tongues of fire” with wit, erudition and insight. On the Level is not only a deft exploration of the author’s life as patient, but also a daring foray into the nature of illness, the limits of the medical profession and the boundless potential of the human psyche to transcend its physical shell. In the spirit of Sarah Manguso and Porochista Khakpour, Monte transforms his own body into a literary landscape. An arresting debut. — Jacob M. Appel, MD and author of Who Says You’re Dead?

The extraordinary thing about this collection is its positivity. Not in a facile sense—these poems are unsparingly real, bringing readers as close as I dare imagine to the experience of MS in their own bodies as well as in the mind. But the grace of the writing, its tenderness and often humor, lifts us, as does its determination to look through sometimes harrowing details to wider perspectives, ones we can all use, simply being human, moving outwards and on. — Philip Gross, Between the Islands and The Water Table (T.S. Eliot Prize)

About Bryan R. Monte

photo of Bryan R. Monte
Author photo by María Minaya

Bryan R. Monte is an anthropologist, lecturer, and writer. In 2021, he was shortlisted for both the Hippocrates Open Category Prize and the Gival Press Oscar Wilde Award. His poetry has appeared in The Arlington Literary Journal, Friends Journal, Italian Americana, Kaleidoscope Magazine, and the South Florida Poetry Journal, and is anthologized in Gathered: Contemporary Quaker Poets (Sundress Press), Voices from the Fierce Intangible World, (SoFloPoJo Press), and The 2021 & 2022 Hippocrates Prize anthologies (The Hippocrates Press). He edits Amsterdam Quarterly and is a member of the Amsterdam (Netherlands) Friends Monthly Meeting, the Authors Guild, and the Communal Studies Association. He lives in the Netherlands with his partner and their dachshund.



You unlock the big, blue, gymnastics mat
from the wall and let it slam to the floor
so we can practice how to fall.

You fall backward: twist and roll,
draining the energy that can break bones,
your feet, legs, and buttocks up in the air.

You fall sideways: your T-shirt lifts
from your waistband to reveal
the same tan as on your face and hands.

You fall forward: you head-tuck,
crumple, and roll twice. You ask
if I’d like to practice these moves again.

I shake my head, unable to speak
draw quick circles with my hand
to indicate I’ve lost my balance

not knowing if I can hold
everything in or down if I fall again
after you onto that soft rubber mat.

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120 pp | 6 x 9 in.
ISBN 978-1-939530-27-1 | paper | US $16.99
ISBN 978-1-939530-28-8 | hardcover, case-wrapped | US $24.99