Tonight the PBS NewsHour will air a segment about my new book Have Dog, Will Travel. The 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.
ABOUT: 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.
These lines by Emily Dickinson have long puzzled me:
“That Love is all there is,
Is all we know of Love;
It is enough, the freight should be
Proportioned to the groove.”
The first two lines are an assertion and express a sentiment older than Plato. The second two lines create a problem as while we dimly understand love and accept this condition, now there’s a simile dressed as a metaphor, we carry our inexact knowledge of love like freight (which we assume is heavy) and further, that freight is proportioned to the groove by which she means a furrow—so there’s a plough in this figure, we press down with our limited knowledge of love into the field of life. But what about “proportioned”? She means, I think, that our thinking of love should be in accordance to the lives we’re “in” and not according to the lives of others. In the end the effect is lonely. Love confounds. Keep ploughing according to your own understanding.
In his excellent book “Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief” Robert Lundin writes: “Dickinson realized that belief is an art that demands trial and practice. A product of the romantic age and a prophet of modernity, she comprehended more fully than most people in her day how much the human mind contributes to the process of belief. Art, after all, is about the making of things; and in matters of belief, the history of the modern world is the story of our increasing awareness of the extent to which we participate in the making of truth as well as in the finding of it.”
Are making and finding connected to “proportionate”? Are truth and faith? One has to conclude that faith has material effects much as Spinoza told us—God is in the gravity and answers no prayers. God in the Spinozan sense is not concerned with you but is nature alone. Proportoniate means in this sense a man or woman corresponds exactly to something else. We are each responsible for the proportioned making of our places in the world. Faith, as Dickinson understood it, is material.
I am today clinging to beauty for all its worth
Though the professors
Disagree about the value of Keats
Or Bartok—my god
They think its transactional
As in, “I hand you a rose
And you give me your hopes”
You see, I wish you
To keep them, your beauty hopes,
Inelegant or overused
As they may be
Wing shadow on the pond
That toothless folk tune
Going around again
Don’t kid yourself, they’re hanging from vines While railways run on And radios play from windows… Once, riding a gondola I heard Nina Simone from on high She was singing of her liver I had no one to tell Except my guide dog And the gondolier
Who was smoking
Fighting for something
I couldn’t name
The cripples making beauty
Before they drop
School kids were herded past and told to ignore what they didn’t understand.
“We have the most commodified kids in the world here,” said Dr. Tiptoe.
When I die I hope I can really taste the birch leaves.
My clothes traveled far. I didn’t always appreciate their faithfulness.
Tolstoy: “I wanted to run after him, but remembered that it is ridiculous to run after one’s wife’s lover in one’s socks; and I did not wish to be ridiculous but terrible.”
If you want to be terrible you have to practice by sitting still.
A dog month, is a pomegranate split, thirty days of seeds.
Only in New Hampshire can you vote for a Nazi by mistake.
Edith Sodergran: “Every poem shall be the tearing up of a poem…”
Oh my feet, you moth eaten grand seigneurs, keep talking. It’s OK.
Sitting in the railway station got a ticket for my destination, woo hoo, and the late December light falls over my hair from a high window though I can’t see it being visually impaired, woo hoo, but there’s heat on my dome, woo hoo, and because I read mucho poetry in my youth, I’ve got lines by Lorca: “A remembrance is moving down the long memory disturbing the delicate leaves with its dry feet…” Oh my bird, my dead singer, pal of my childhood, how good it is to have you back. And I am holding still without turning my head.