Life with diabetes may not always bring poetry to mind, but for prolific writer and type 1 diabetes (T1D) advocate Kerri Sparling, it’s a natural part of the equation.
Sparling has just published her second book, a collection of diabetes poetry that she’s penned throughout her years living with T1D, having been diagnosed at age 6 back in 1986.
Published in January, “Rage Bolus & Other Poems” is a 90-pager with an intro from Dr. Korey Hood, a Stanford endocrinologist who lives with T1D himself and is well-known for his work on the psychosocial aspects of living with diabetes.
For those who don’t know Sparling, she’s based in Rhode Island and is most well-known as one of the first-ever diabetes bloggers, starting her much-loved SixUntilMe blog in 2005.
She wrote there regularly until 2019, before devoting herself to other writing ventures and her continued advocacy work with organizations like Children with Diabetes (CWD), where she now serves as editorial and operations director. Her first book, “Balancing Diabetes: Conversations About Finding Happiness and Living Well,” was published in 2014.
“Our words create stories, and the stories we share about life with diabetes have created connection points between people around the world,” Sparling writes in her introduction. “This community is massive and global; knowing we’re not alone makes all the difference in the world.”
DiabetesMine interviewed Sparling recently about her T1D POV, poetry and writing this book in the brief Q&A below. But first, a few words about the new book.
The book contains 35 poems, divided into three categories: those that rhyme, those that don’t, and “homage-ish” tributes recognizing poets, writers, songs, and book titles.
Seriously, it’s tough to read some of Sparling’s poetry and not be impressed by her creative parodies of beloved classics from Dr. Seuss and Edgar Allen Poe, or to find yourself singing aloud to her poem inspired by REM’s “Everybody Hurts” song.
Her words paint pictures and make you want to read more. Some rhyme, while others don’t; alliteration and metaphor are welcome elements. Of course, they bring a range of emotions — from smiles and laughs, to frustration and even hand-wringing at some of the more serious issues like outrageous insulin prices in America.
“You may see some of your own diabetes experience reflected in the rhymes,” Sparling writes about the poetry she’s shared. “You’ll definitely hear the influence of some of my favorite writers… I’m proud of each piece in this book, from the one about the pizza bolus to the one about insulin affordability, and everything in between.”
Indeed, reading through the poems, we found ourselves nodding in recognition with that sense of “I get it, too” — about the incessant alarms, the unwanted sugar we often have to eat, and so much more.
Certainly, a favorite is the title poem, “Rage Bolus.” The definition of that particular term is included in the first pages of the book, after the table of contents: “an aggressive correction dose of insulin administered most often after experiencing prolonged and frustrating high blood sugars. Often results in a hypoglycemic event. Does not always include math or reason.”
Importantly, many of the diabetes “terms of endearment” used in this poetry book became commonplace due to the power of the Diabetes Online Community (DOC); social media has changed how we people with diabetes (PWDs) discuss this illness, as well as how many healthcare providers and researchers view this chronic condition. Terms like “rage bolus” express our frustrations so well.
This book of poetry certainly enforces a sense of community and peer support. Sparling also weaves humor and emotion into her writing at every turn and makes it enjoyable to flip to each new page and line.
“This book of poems is like a big hug from Kerri,” says Dr. Bill Polonsky, a diabetes psychologist who founded the Behavioral Diabetes Institute in San Diego. “She speaks the truth about diabetes from a personal place of hope and warmth that will (or at least should) touch your soul. Even after all these years, Kerri is still kicking ass!”
Our team has known Sparling since the inception of DiabetesMine in 2005, and we were excited to reconnect with her after this poetry book published. Here’s what she had to say:
Why write a book of diabetes poetry?
I have always written poetry. When I was a little kid, I was constantly making up rhymes about our cats, or our neighborhood, my siblings… whatever struck me. And as I grew older and started to use writing to wrangle some of my emotions around diabetes, poetry became part of that emotional management tool. I appreciate how words help me make sense of diabetes.
Did the pandemic play any role in your motivation?
No, the opposite. Living through this pandemic has been an exercise in trying to do 100 things at the same time. My family has been fortunate in that we’ve been working remotely for over 10 years, so the switch to full-time working from home wasn’t jarring.
What was jarring, however, was having some unexpected co-workers. My 10-year-old and 4-year-old have been doing virtual schooling and preschool since March 2020, so we’re all here together all the time.
There are blessings and challenges baked into this circumstance, for sure. But in terms of meeting deadlines and keeping the creative juices flowing… man, the pandemic has sort of been a buzzkill in that way.
So you experienced some delays?
Yes, the timeline for finishing this book was pushed out by about 6 months as a result of the convoluted schedule, so I’m really proud and also happy to have it out in the wild. Finally.
Do you find poetry allows for more creativity than other types of writing?
It was nice to flex this muscle, the poetry part of my brain. It felt good to sit and write, especially after taking some time off from writing after I stopped blogging in 2019. Also, not much rhymes with “pancreas” or “diabetes,” so it was fun to find other ways to turn a phrase.
Any inspiration from earlier diabetes poetry books?
Yes! I helped to edit the “No Sugar Added” poetry book from the Diabetes Hands Foundation years ago, and I was so inspired by my fellow writers in the Diabetes Community. Our DOC is full of artists of all kinds, and I have loved seeing diabetes influencing and reflecting in people’s art.
Diabetes is a common thread that we all understand, to a certain degree, but how we talk about it, how we process it, how we use it to fuel our creative process… that’s so unique for every PWD. And I really love what people have taken the time to create.
You can find “Rage Bolus & Other Poems” in paperback format on Amazon for $9.98.
But before you buy, consider entering our DiabetesMine giveaway.
Interested in winning a free copy of “Rage Bolus & Other Poems,” autographed by the author? We’re excited that Kerri has agreed to give away a free signed copy to TWO lucky readers.
Here’s how to enter:
- Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the codeword “DM-Poems” in the subject line to let us know you’re hoping to win. Or you can ping us on Instagram, Twitter or our Facebook page using the same codeword. For shipping purposes, we must limit the giveaway to those with mailing addresses within the United States.
- You have until 5 p.m. PST on Friday, March 12, to enter.
- The winners will be chosen using Random.org.
- Winners will be announced on Monday, March 15, via social media, so please be sure to keep tabs on your email/Facebook/Twitter messenger box, since that’s how we contact our winners. If winners don’t respond within a week, we select an alternate.
We’ll update this post to announce the winner.
Best of luck, everyone!