Featured

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.

*****************************************************

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 

I can’t tell you how to live your life…

I can’t tell you how to live your life
Though I’m overloaded with it

Life, I mean—the sparrows
Inside me; the glowworms

Behind my eyes; my fingers
Signaling to the moon—

Life, I mean, unpredictable
Rain loving, silver

And green
In poor photographs

Life that can’t tell you
How to live

Life where we must work
And run

Without direction
I can’t say

Though the white sun
Follows, though

I touch my face
Lie down

At mid day
Dream just a little

Feel the power of circulation
Feel the world

Journey

Who was the composer who heard apples in a basket
Can’t remember this morning
Spend time with a barn cat
Talk to the blind horse
Much of what I do
Is insignificant
I write myths
A troll who loves geese
Protects the lost animals
Down valley the river
Has frozen again

Morning Harp

No one today calls out to the diseases
Not like Vainamoinen
Who made the birches listen

**

Kalevala:

Wrought from iron
four sided word—
mill
forest
bird
boat

one word
boat-forest-bird-mill
how else
to tell it?

**

My roots give off a sound
That’s not like anything else
Blind, I still close my eyes
Just to hear

**

I used to have an iron crow
It stood in the garden
One day a real crow
Rubbed her feathers on it

Mozart

Improbable yes but I dreamt of him
And though we were indoors
Rain fell and it was beautiful
Water coursing down walls

“We only get so much”
He said—“opera is for the young,”
“String quartets, for dying”
He was alive alright

The dream is an antiquated device
Driven by voices and water
Its parts so ingeniously assembled
We rise and fall through elements
But he kept writing

Disability Access, Brooklyn Poets, and the Collective Struggle

Last night I had a “Zoom” with poet Jason Koo who directs “Brooklyn Poets” a literary collective in, you guessed it, Brooklyn, NY. Also joining us was renee kay the BP Deputy Director. To be frank I wish more folks in the arts–and who necessarily are “on” social media–could have conversations like the one we just had.

At issue: Brooklyn Poets has opened a new performance space at 144 Montague Street which is on the second floor of a mixed use building and isn’t wheelchair accessible. I raised the question about the accessibility of the space on their Facebook page and they confirmed the problem.

So we began our convo talking about Hemingway’s “iceberg” theory. The biggest parts of a story are always hidden–the writer hints at things unseen. Stay with me here.

I can’t speak for all disabled artists. But I “am” a disabled poet who publishes disability poetry and speaks about disability rights. I said disability is everywhere once you learn to look for it. Even if you don’t think it’s close by, it is.

Jason Koo made the initial mistake of responding to my Facebook query about accessibility with irritation. He said, quite rightly, that he didn’t know who I was and he doesn’t respond quickly to people he doesn’t know.

Full stop. Jason is a Korean-American poet who has the emotional candor and critical thinking to admit his mistake. Me? I shared with him that our preliminary FB exchange happened on the heels of my having been denied two Uber rides because I travel with a guide dog and even though this is against the law, shit like this happens to the disabled all the time. Living in the civic square as a cripple is a high gravity affair. So: Jason had been flippant and I was already in a kind of neurological hijacking. I called the BP a bunch of ableists.

There it was. Jason and I were both caught on the horns of a dilemma. Brooklyn Poets needed a new space, was under time pressures to find one, tried to locate an accessible venue, and then signed a five year lease for an inaccessible space, hoping they could fix the problems–and as most disability activists know, suddenly there were roadblocks–the Landmarks Preservation people, the landlord, etc. Brooklyn Poets had hoped they could fix the problems. And indeed, even now, they’re working to solve the inaccessibility issues. And yes, every event they’re hosting will be online simultaneously.

But here’s where the Zoom got really interesting. I mentioned Sascha Costanza Chock’s book “Design Justice” which argues that design should be a reflection of community values. If you’re a trans person or a guide dog user you’re always going to cause a problem with the TSA people. We talked about having community spaces that are truly welcoming for all.

Suddenly, where before, and in part because of the fight or flee endorphins of social media, I found myself in a rich and encouraging dialogue with two social activists who understand the future can’t be like the past. Jason is a Korean-American poet who’s experienced the alienating dynamics of white lit culture. renee is a trans activist. As we talked we realized how for each of us, this business of writing and advocating from the margins is truly intersectional.

The folks at Brooklyn Poets made a mistake. But then I made a mistake. They are good people and the future is going to be more just, theirs and ours.

A Graphic Novel for the Blind

Each day I set pen to paper
The pen is entirely in my head
Paper is far away in the future
I say think what you want
Release the crows
From their cages

**

I feel sorry for the sighted
Scanning tiny boxes
Looking to break free
From tyrannies of plot
Like owning a bust of Stalin
Which you have to explain

**

Now an old man comes down the street
A kind of scrawny angel
Pushing a bent bicycle
Spokes flashing in the sun
He’s a Korean war veteran
Compared to him
Everyone else
is motionless

**

Then again it’s just me: “Trace
The veins of a barberry leaf
That’s Braille enough…”
In sidelong darkness
When the day is insufficient
Minutes not feeding me
Up river go the words
The outcast words
Oh anything will do

**

Here come the dancers, half Greek half sky
Fragrance of goat’s milk and iron—
All day, blind, alone, talking to myself
(For that’s how it was
Lonely kid telling stories to no one
In a bomb shelter, 1960
Already in love with Hercules
Who must have had friends.)

**

As I grow older
My hands open more slowly
Maybe they know more
What’s empty turns its face to us
Said a good poet, long ago
My left hand agrees, longs to touch her
My right is stoical
Leaves fingerprints
Like tracks of deer in snow

Disability Access, Brooklyn Poets, and the Collective Struggle

Last night I had a “Zoom” with poet Jason Koo who directs “Brooklyn Poets” a literary collective in, you guessed it, Brooklyn, NY. Also joining us was renee kay the BP Associate Director. To be frank I wish more folks in the arts–and who necessarily are “on” social media–could have conversations like the one we just had.

At issue: Brooklyn Poets has opened a new performance space at 144 Montague Street which is on the second floor of a mixed use building and isn’t wheelchair accessible. I raised the question about the accessibility of the space on their Facebook page and they confirmed the problem.

So we began our convo talking about Hemingway’s “iceberg” theory. The biggest parts of a story are always hidden–the writer hints at things unseen. Stay with me here.

I can’t speak for all disabled artists. But I “am” a disabled poet who publishes disability poetry and speaks about disability rights. I said disability is everywhere once you learn to look for it. Even if you don’t think it’s close by, it is.

Jason Koo made the initial mistake of responding to my Facebook query about accessibility with irritation. He said, quite rightly, that he didn’t know who I was and he doesn’t respond quickly to people he doesn’t know.

Full stop. Jason is a Korean-American poet who has the emotional candor and critical thinking to admit his mistake. Me? I shared with him that our preliminary FB exchange happened on the heels of my having been denied two Uber rides because I travel with a guide dog and even though this is against the law, shit like this happens to the disabled all the time. Living in the civic square as a cripple is a high gravity affair. So: Jason had been flippant and I was already in a kind of neurological hijacking. I called the BP a bunch of ableists. They are not.

There it was. Jason and I were both caught on the horns of a dilemma. Brooklyn Poets needed a new space, was under time pressures to find one, tried to locate an accessible venue, and then signed a five year lease for an inaccessible space, hoping they could fix the problems–and as most disability activists know, suddenly there were roadblocks–the Landmarks Preservation people, the landlord, etc. Brooklyn Poets had hoped they could fix the problems. And indeed, even now, they’re working to solve the inaccessibility issues. And yes, every event they’re hosting will be online simultaneously.

But here’s where the Zoom got really interesting. I mentioned Sascha Costanza Chock’s book “Design Justice” which argues that design should be a reflection of community values. If you’re a trans person or a guide dog user you’re always going to cause a problem with the TSA people. We talked about having community spaces that are truly welcoming for all.

Suddenly, where before, and in part because of the fight or flee endorphins of social media, I found myself in a rich and encouraging dialogue with two social activists who understand the future can’t be like the past. Jason is a Korean-American poet who’s experienced the alienating dynamics of white lit culture. renee is a trans activist. As we talked we realized how for each of us, this business of writing and advocating from the margins is truly intersectional.

The folks at Brooklyn Poets made a mistake. But then I made a mistake. They are good people and the future is going to be more just, theirs and ours.