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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 

Moth at a Lamp

Just one. A soul.
Window dark.
Circle of light.
I save her
By flipping the switch.

**

I am of course an inadmissable. Disabled upon arrival at the airline counter, at the cab stand, in the intellectual spaces of universities, on the common streets. All disabled experiences are a kind of Ellis island and there’s no help for it. As the old song goes: I just keep on travelin’ what have I got to lose?”

**

Here. I wish the moth well.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

There’s nothing wrong with a great nation deciding to be a lesser one. But British and American voters need to know what this means. Brexit has ushered in cascading erosions of English provenance in everything from global finance to fishing. Trumpism means lower health standards, poverty, ecological disaster, and a full scale retreat from the 21st century. People who vote for these things should get package labels warning them of the consequences. At present they vote for living in substandard nations as if grievance will protect them from a diminished future.

**

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, did you ever read “Treasure Island?” I’m Blind Pew, the sinister pirate. Yep. I’m creepy and I know secrets.

Once, twenty years ago, a cab driver in New York City refused to take my money because he said I was the victim of dark magic.

That was back when we used paper money in cabs.

I wonder if he’d refuse my voodoo debit card?

Let’s live as if, in addition to grievance, superstition will protect us from diminished futures.

**

Ding Dong.
“Who’s there?”
“Blind Pew!”
“Blind Pew Who?”
“Blind Pew who gonna make you blind too!”

**

How did I get from Brexit and Trump to Blind Pew? It’s a high school English lesson…darkness ye will always have with ye unless you stand up to it.

Liz Cheney is standing up to it.

**

“The key to all secrets is your own brand of flight.”
Line from a notebook.

**

Montaigne catches on your wrist: “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened…”

The wreckage that remains after superstition, that’s another matter. 500,000 Americans died while Trump was telling the nation to ingest Clorox.

**

There will be a day soon when old translations, flawed though they may be, will defy the odds and return to meaning—pages falling at the feet of reckless students, word-scraps carried on the wind. Cicero will get tangled in your hair: “a room without books is like a body without a soul…”

Fairness, Let’s be Fair….

When the National Review writes about “equity” you can be sure they’re not for it. I won’t offer a link to their latest complacent and rebarbative, nay repellent take on the yearning for American fairness. It’s a slick rhetorical trick to convince children ice cream isn’t in their best interests.

Fairness is equity squared and if you’re suspicious of it you’re also troubled by facts of all kinds. Candy and coconuts. Wild flowers beside a road. Or to put it another way the creator made these things but only for you.

To quote Thorstein Veblen: “No one travelling on a business trip would be missed if he failed to arrive.”

So it is with the NR.

Sneering at fairness is an old sport.

Plato: “…it’s better in fact to be guilty of manslaughter than of fraud about what is fair and just.”

Basho, Basho, Then He Flies

Under the ocean where the debris field of Stephen spreads like a comet you’ll find Basho’s words on stones but don’t give up on your own shipwreck–there’s plenty of travel weary skeleton-lingo to go around. “Real poetry, is to lead a beautiful life. To live poetry is better than to write it.”

You see? It’s ok to sink.

**

The Disabled are routinely disparaged; we often must leave the room to repair our wits; we return, wounded but renewed by patience—-for what else can I call it—this belief in personal and collective victory? Sinking is the nautilus, the “Basho.”

**

I am one of those who sorrows. When the sun shines—-neurasthenia
they once called it–if I tell you this you’ll not necessarily
believe me. It’s a guild, something tribal this business of hearing the dead.

My great grandfather
The wheelwright
Hammers
Infant coffins
From stray boards.

Basho writes, rock on rock.

**

I spoke once to the renowned Finnish poet Pentti Saarikoski by telephone. He was ill, dying in fact and receiving no visitors, but he said: “maybe we will meet one day in this mad world.”

I think of him often. I meet him. Yesterday a lonely man, today a teenaged boy walking in rain.

Saarikoski knew his Heraclitus. “Whoever cannot seek the unforeseen sees nothing for the known way is an impasse.”

Let this be our character.

“The most beautiful arrangement is a pile of things poured out at random…”

In this mad world…

Basho. Rain. Unforeseen flight.

Of A Different Kind

“My purpose is to tell of bodies which have been transformed
into shapes of a different kind.”

—Ovid, Metamorphoses

1.

I think about my purpose after a hard couple weeks. Two friends have passed, one a man and the other a dog and I’ve beheld their ashes. Bodies now shapes of a different kind. And I thought of Ovid, that stricken cartoonist, who saw men and women trapped within trees and animals, who knew the cruel gods and goddesses. In other words I cursed my education.

What else can you do?

2.

Foolish to think we have purpose. And equally silly to imagine we don’t. As the poet said: “curses on those who do/and do not take dope.”

Holding my little dog’s ashes last night I reminded myself I’ve a reason to be here. And I’ve no idea what it is.

My friend was what we’ve come to call a “failed Catholic” who, by my lights, was a success as he left a cruel church and practiced lovingkindness all his days. His motto would have been had he shared it: “be good, be kind, get on with it.”

Ovid, who didn’t think creation was kind would not have understood this. But the Sermon on the Mount is, like the Declaration of Independence, a game changer. Dare to be kind, dare to think for yourself. Dare to know love is the purpose.

3.

I repeat this to the ashes.

Elegy For A Little Dog

        --Harley, a Lhasa apso

Under the dream eyelids where you live now
I see you beneath birches standing watch
Good traveler with your plumed tail
Head high, your Tibetan smile
(That way you had of hinting
Next joy and next)
I promise we’re still in love
Here between waves
In the stones of the field
O still in love with you
So not forgetting
Your unbounded prance
Which was silly
In the way of those
Who truly live

How to Live, What to Do/ Notebook Entries

I can’t tell you how to live or what to do but literary history is jammed with this expectation, indeed its often the subject of great novels and poems. Who after all is Dorothea in “Middlemarch” but a barometer of sorts—a soul in suspension whose works and days are a struggle for Epicurean good?

Me? I’m a weak fellow. I have for many years tried to be decent. This has meant not worshipping easy satisfactions but learning to use life with an eye toward assisting others. And yes I can’t tell you how it’s going. I don’t have enough vanity to pretend I’m anything much. Still I’d like to be a barometer of sorts like Dorothea.

As the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelof wrote: “you see your life for what it ought to be,/and ought to have been.”

**

The prose above is vatic and bordering on sanctimony. Here is where I need to pull a handkerchief from my pocket—one of those Harpo Marx hankies that keeps on coming.

**

In the Way of Poets I Was Sad All Day

For each person is a world
Peopled by blind creatures in revolt
As Ekelof said—though
I know a horse without eyes
Who’s gentle and who
I’m certain has a thousand souls.
Of sadness I know so little
Though I just read about
A scientist who makes music
From the strands
Of spider webs
And cold voices
Rise and fall there
And tonight in my absentmindedness
I listen to the wind
Which is a way
Of sensing things
I’ll never hold—
That audible cemetery.
Whenever I say peace I mean something different.

**

When I was young I thought poetry would fix everything. I was a real fool. But I had a saving grace or two. I didn’t think my wounds were significant. I wouldn’t bend your ear about them.
Of sadness and goodness I know so little. But I know this much. I know.

Elegy

I lost a good friend today and it’s snowing.
What does it mean to write such things?
My friend knew why we ask
He loved the life to come
Though I only know dimly
This body and the one tomorrow—
Strange garment wishing
It will fit—Lord our protector
May we by chance or grace
Feel the day after with heart
As we depend on you
Not in heaven but here
In April snow
No birds singing.

Emily Dickinson

It wasn’t much, just a small journey.
You knew the one.
You put ink on it.
I was the small blind boy
Down the street.
They didn’t let me out either.

I think of your dashes as the marks
Of failing eyes. Of course
That’s me—you saw farther
And more often
Which is the way of those
Who lean at northern windows.

Let’s play a game
The one where we throw buttons—
The first to hit the mirror
Listens to the other
You know, tell a story
About the trip we’re going to take.