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Thank You Jeffrey Brown of PBS News Hour

Stephen Kuusisto to appear on PBS News Hour
Image: Logo of PBS News Hour

Tonight the PBS NewsHour will air a segment about my new book Have Dog, Will TravelThe piece features an interview with Jeffrey Brown whose reporting on literature and poetry is well known to book lovers across the nation. Jeffrey is also a poet whose first collection The News is available from Copper Canyon Press. In our time together we talked about poetry, civil rights, disability culture, dogs for the blind, the field of disability studies, and the power of literature to bring people together around social justice movements. And yes, there’s a lovely dog, Caitlyn, a sweetie pie yellow Labrador from Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

The program airs locally, in Syracuse at 7 PM. Check your local listings.

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Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available:
Amazon
Prairie Lights
Grammercy Books
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

The old tree has died…morning notebook…

The old tree has died—
She lived for seventy years
I hold her last apple

**
In general its always morning for me
Even in middle of the damned night

**
“What’s morning like for the blind?”
“It’s opportunity you dumb fuck.”

**

If I telephone you later
I’m going to say the same thing
The lepidopterist has bad breath

**

Canio’s laughter as rendered by Caruso is bitter and sinister. No one has equaled that laugh on subsequent recordings.

**
The freedom of notebooks:
No more diurnal hernias

**

Ezra Pound who was a loony as a bag of fleas
Said “The Metamorphosis” should be read
As a primer on narrative—
Poof!

I woke early and drank a glass of water…

There was a village in Finland when I was a boy…
You can’t escape intravenous comedy…
Now and then someone recommends a book…
Kid gloves should be “kind gloves”…
A friend called yesterday and shared an aria…
It’s been years since I last stood on my head…
It was in Berlin
Right there on the Alexanderplatz…
No one saw it…
Silly to think on it—
But I’ve always been happy
Even in the psychiatric hospital…
It’s a faint taste at first
Behind the tongue…

Thinking of Rousseau on a Rainy Morning

If like me you’re disabled you’ve probably thought about being cured. As I’m blind this would mean having 20/20 vision. I don’t think about it much, but when I do I picture myself on a motorcycle, letting it rip. This is a personal version of fool’s gold.

The idea of “cure” is painful for the disabled. Medicine says we must be fixed or be seen as permanent defectives. Most of us cripples have been told we’re faulty over and over. It’s not “cure” one wants, its freedom from being flawed and suspect in the village square. If I could see and take off on a Harley I’d still remember the struggles of this disability life.

**

Jean Jacques Rousseau had a dog named Sultan who accompanied him to England when his life was threatened in France. Poor broken Rousseau with his malformed urinary tract, cloying hypochondria and hot paranoia–also poor in cash, resolutely poor in friendships. Sometimes we think we understand him–we, the descendant cripples–those who spent fortnights alone in childhood and more than once. We who occupied our attentions with flowers and seeds. Rousseau had the triple whammy: his mother died when he was very young, then his father ran away. He was forced to learn the baleful adolescent art of beseeching strangers for protection and love. He was easily tricked into churches and bedrooms. And he was easily discarded. The cripples understand this.

No wonder he discarded neo-classicism for what others would call the romantic. No wonder Shelley and Byron adored him–passions of betrayal and resolution always feel the most authentic. Rousseau’s enemies substituted “savage” for “authentic” and prided themselves for calling him “uppity” which is of course what is generally done to passionate cripples. Small wonder Rousseau took up the matter of social consent among the governed.

**

Sultan lead him into the English countryside where he seldom encountered another soul. I love knowing this. A dog can stir and extend solitary human concentration which is the reward of stigma, but you must understand it in a canine manner–pay attention to what’s here and here; not yesterday; never tomorrow; and yes, a dog looks the other way when you take from your pocket a handful of French seeds and push them into British soil.

“So here I am, all alone on this earth, with no brother, neighbour, or friend, and no company but my own. The most sociable and loving of human beings has by common consent been banished by the rest of society. In the refinement of their hatred they have continued to seek out the cruellest forms of torture for my sensitive soul, and they have brutally severed all the ties which bound me to them. ”

He was in fact disabled by malformations of his nether parts and he had profound depression. Being a liminal figure owing to these conditions he was caste out by the congealing engines of 18th century normalcies. On this the aristocrats and the bourgeoisie could agree—the salon, the atelier, the coffee houses were not places to be troubled by the inconveniences of broken embodiments. Having a troubled body meant staying away—meant the asylums and hospitals. It meant living in the poor houses. Good bodies meant public bodies. Rousseau’s solitary journeying on foot is disability journeying. He was Basho, a travel weary skeleton.

Poor Roussea! He had porphyria which lead to abdominal pain and vomiting; acute neuropathy, muscle weakness and seizures; hallucinations, anxiety, paranoia—and as if these weren’t enough he had cardiac arrhythmias. He was by turns aggressive, provocative, contrarian, and yes, he was always ill.

Today in the disability arts community we talk of disablement as epistemology. We know altered physicality and neurodiversity offer unique and valued ways of thinking. What’s different now from Rousseau’s time is that the disabled are not as easily caste aside, and though this can be done (one thinks of all the micro aggressions the disabled invariably experience even now, arguing for accessibility, making their point for inclusion and respect against structural ableism) it’s no longer possible to lock the gates of Geneva on that annoying cripple.

On the subject of micro aggressions much of the Reveries of a Solitary Walker tells of the slights and the disdain Rousseau absorbed and encountered. He was in fact an unpleasant man. I too some days am an unpleasant man. Human rights and their advocacy demand it. Seldom does progress develop for polite societies. But I’ll add also that in Rousseau’s time there was no language for depression—the term itself comes from an age when treatment and acceptance are commonly understood. Instead it was called “melancholia” and it was considered a form of madness. You don’t have to read Foucault to know what happened to the mad though why shouldn’t one recommend it? In any event Rousseau lived in an age when mental illness was believed to be a moral failing. This sub-Cartesian idea has never gone away.

I’ll let Rousseau have the last word:

“Always affected too much by things I see, and particularly by signs of pleasure or suffering, affection or dislike, I let myself be carried away by these external impressions without ever being able to avoid them other than by fleeing. A sign, a gesture or a glance from a stranger is enough to disturb my peace or calm my suffering: I am only my own master when I am alone; at all other times I am the plaything of all those around me.”

Still Don’t Know a Thing

Still Don’t Know a Thing…

I didn’t watch Gilligan’s Island
But I read Basho
The suicide kid in a psych ward
Read “The Narrow Road to the Deep North”
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes, and the grass grows, by itself.”

Outside the hospital
When the new grass came
His heart few up like a starling
And he read: “There is nothing you can see
That is not a flower;
There is nothing you can think
That is not the moon.”

Even now after fifty years
Not knowing the name of a tree
I know its sweet scent
And the bird flower moon
Of breath
“Hidden and unknown
Like the new moon
I will live my life”

If you dream like the blind…

You’ll see the Czar’s embroidered pillow
Gold and red by candlelight

The dreamer says: I can smother him
Just watch…and Boris Gudonov’s clock

Ticks just off stage
Like Braille

“C’mon,” says Carl Jung,
“You did it,”

“We gotta get back to the minotaur’s house…”
But the dream goes on

Alexander Palace
A hive, a loom

The despot growing cold, face up
Windows open

One can fly straight out

I woke early and drank a tall glass of water…

There was a village in Finland when I was a boy…
You can’t escape intravenous comedy but you can try
Now and then someone recommends a novelist
Kid gloves should be “kind gloves”—leave the goats out of it
A friend called yesterday to share an aria
It’s been forty years since I last stood on my head
I was in Berlin when I did it
Right there on the Alexanderplatz
No one noticed
“Nothing must happen to you / No, what am I saying, / Everything must happen to you / and it must be wonderful.”
—Bodil Malmsten
Silly to think on it
But I’ve always been happy
Even in the psychiatric hospital
It’s a faint taste at first
Behind the tongue

The fence falls over, wind rattles the house…

The fence falls over, wind rattles the house
Baking bread and the oven door groans
Don’t worry little dog, it’s just the entropy blues

**

Walking in a light rain
The word “cauterize” hits me
As in “cauterize” the poetry feet

**

My maternal grandfather built some of America’s first motor cycles and motor cars. He was wild. He aimed a shotgun at a porcupine and shot himself in the head. He said: “ricochet—just a flesh wound…”

**

Blind why do I like dusk so much?
Why does ether love morphine?

**

American happiness is a strange addiction, washed with medical narratives with their political and commercial directives to overcome what ails you, but you see, the psyche knows all along you can’t live that way.

**

Just the entropy blues
Good morning how are you?

If Dr. Seuss was Blind

Inside my shirt and under my skin you’ll find the crap the world put in:
“You’re blind you know—you don’t belong—you stay right here
Til mom comes along. Don’t mind the kids who taunt you so,
It’s just good sport, don’t you know?”
Worse: the teachers, feckless sorts
Dont want a kid who can’t play sports—
Can’t read chalkboards, do the math
Without some help to find his path—
How tireseome, the child who’s blind
Taking space inside their minds.
O but wait until he’s grown
And wants a job of his very own.
“You’re a burden with your demands
for access to things like any man
or woman working at Normal Inc—
you’re very presence makes us sink.
You’re a downer, bub,
Wanting the web,
Accessible notes and signs,
Or colleagues who are kind.
Go back to the the place where you belong,
Wherever that is, maybe Hong Kong—
Just don’t stay here and ask for stuff
We take for granted, enough’s enough.