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 

From a notebook/ a crude comic…

Nietzsche: “All truth is simple…”

Is that not doubly a lie?

Not if you can get away with it.
(As if “all truth” is what? A glass of water?)

Can you imagine serving on a submarine with Friedrich?

**

An old shell am I, O Lady of Zephyrium…

**

When winter comes from the radio you know tragedy.

**

In this notebook, which is its own crude comic, we laugh as Batman steps on a fat frozen turd. Robin says: “Oh, that’s going to take some scrubbing!”

**

OK. Meanwhile:

I want the owl’s peace…

Hunger over for the day

Gibbous moon

Sleep…but not yet…

**

Ding Dong.

“Who’s there?”

“The Baba Yaba!”

“What do you want?”

“I’m here to collect your breeze of inspiration.”

(Sound of chicken legs….)

Thoughts one has during a respiratory pandemic.

**

Poem discarded:

Walking Around

Did I know this? Blind strolling
Through Houston passing
An open window (who knew
Windows can be open
In the Texas summer?)
And a piano and someone
Playing it
And Franz Liszt the composer.
I have to ask
Did I know?
Lyric in the inhospitable.
“Tre sonetti di Petrarca”
Broadens
From a house
I cannot see.
And Liszt with his cataracts
His dropsy, a failing heart
Asthma, insomnia
Places his performer’s hands
On my shoulders.

Sunday

We manage so much without the poets
As for instance washing our hair
Or listening to houses—

It’s all a lark this living.
Me? I see and do not see
As blind people do.

Yellow bird I don’t know
What you are—this morning
Early, you were here

Poised like a dream face.
Though nothing in your life concerned me
I touched the window.

Life continues this way.
Many years ago
I met a shaman in Lapland.

He smelled like smoke
Though he did not smoke.
No poems for a hundred miles.

Slow Crawl

I spent the winter of 1977 reading Nietschze and though I was merely 22 I understood I was in the presence of an unattractive mind. It was stuff like this that did it:

“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.”

I wrote “bullshit” in the margin. I understood already that primitive sophistry wasn’t for me.

Schlegel was better: “In actual life every great enterprise begins with and takes its first forward step in faith.”

It snowed for days. I huddled in a Vermont cabin and wrote poems, read copiously and talked to my cat.

That season was the beginning of the adult Stephen.

**

Disability vs. the Wide World

Childhood: I remember those Finnish houses with their tall white tile ovens—they stood in the corners of rooms like spies. Adults of course believe these things give a home character. This is the difference. Some days the horror of adult life is enough to drive one under the bed. My little boy, the one who became me, knew those stoves stood between wakefulness and dream. And years later, when I was in college and reading Edgar Poe, I felt the hypnogogia as he called it, and saw that disability was in fact the tell tale heart—the life that goes on under the floor; the life that’s been operated on; the one on the tip of your tongue but never uttered.

Here’s the thing: there are days when you don’t want to go outside. The adult world is filled with stove makers. You stay home and drink tea. You think about all the creepy doctors. The spies.

You think about all kinds of things. You promise to get strong presently. By the afternoon you’re ready to go outside. You take your indignant, nail studded wheelchair, guide dog, hobby horse and go to the grocery. And though all the customers and employees stare at you, stare as if you’re the skeleton in a morality play, you roll or walk a most strange course straight for the olives with pimentos. Lord knows, sometimes happiness slowly crawls into you.

Ha Ha Factory

In last night’s dream Freud slumped against a wall and warned it could all sink deeper and I said “fair enough” so we slipped below into the industrial kitchen of a ruined asylum. It looked like a storm had blown through. The old switch board stood like an ox but with a hundred wires. I asked the good doctor: “What is it about the “soul” that it needs prepositions?”

**

Of or from the soul constitute our relational understanding, our separateness, for souls are always understood as being transitive extracorporeal rhetorics. Sometimes we get silly and say “Come Soul clap your hands,” by which we mean, “c’mon, say something” as if perhaps, in a final reduction, the soul is like a horse counting numbers with its hoof.

**

Surely “of or from” the soul will always be easier to say than “with” as soulful accompaniment is mystic and evades phenomenology—with the soul is like the hue of heaven, unfounded and pious. Now I’m on this humorless path because I believe in the soul—that green force of the sea—and because hugging it, loving it, turning with it, it’s impossible to tell who is my teacher. I am “with” for certain.

**

When the soul is kidding it says it’s sad. When it’s having a riotously good time it listens for oncoming rain. Wind blows darkness against your cheek. Soul is admiring.

So I wake this way.

My soul was convinced that it loved me. In my life I sat in the grass, knitting it a failed sweater.

Sometimes we get silly and say “Come Soul try this on.”

**

In the dream Freud and I talked into the dead telephones.

Happy, Happy, With a Side Order of Happy

Note: this is dedicated to the rebarbative and noisy figure of Christoper Ruffo

No one gets a mega-theric prescription for happiness in America no matter the nonsense we’re forced to swallow. We’re not going to be unhappy! We’re told happiness is our calling! Happy happy!

But where’s the magic document, the one from the doctor? It turns out the doctor isn’t happy either. Only in the USA can a vast population be inculcated to believe in false happiness because it’s our duty–and meanwhile the corporate deciders are doing everything possible to screw us.

Enter right wing hysteria over critical race theory. Rather than confront our national shame about brutal and structural discrimination and all its atrocities, let’s scream that the “woke” people are going to steal, wait for it, steal our non-existent happiness! Aha! It’s just what I suspected! White Privilege is dependent on being willfully, nay aggressively opposed to both conscience and consciousness. Wasn’t it Carl Jung who said achieving consciousness is painful? Screw that, cry the Republicans, let’s have happy happy and a side order of happy.

Notebook: “Ding-an-sich”

Notebook: “Ding-an-sich”

Hegel’s term: “Thing-in-itself”

1.

Though I’m blind, yes, I go to art museums, often with my dog, many days just the two of us, and passersby are astonished—more by my presence than the paintings. “Why would a blind person wander the art museum?” they wonder, as if sight was all of life. They’ve no idea I’m listening to them. I follow and eavesdrop. The public can’t hold its tongue, especially in the museum. “Look darling, that’s a Jackson Pollock,” says a mother to her son, who must be about four. “They used to give brushes to monkeys and let them do whatever they wanted!”

2.

One thing is like another until it isn’t—a pine doesn’t resemble a coffin though as a boy I saw men inside each tree, my way to be less alone, talking as if I could force resemblance.

3.

D.H. Lawrence: “Moby Dick, the Great White Whale, tore off Ahab’s leg at the knee, when Ahab was attacking him. Quite right, too. Should have torn off both his legs, and a lot more besides.”

4.

I often read far into the night. Last evening—early morning really—I found myself thinking about the word “equivocation” which emerged in Shakespeare’s time and is an early modern neologism—to half speak, parallel speak, hedge speak. The word itself is a barometer of how literacy affected the public nerve. Once people could read they could engage in irony. To equivocate became a crime in some cases as Shakespeare knew. Talking at cross purposes was a newfangled thing. Oh people had always been liars. But equivocation was unique—a conspiracy within the self if you will. Shakespeare’s late plays are concerned with this. Dr. Faustus perfects the matter later.

5.

Olav Hauge:

“Don’t give me the whole truth,
don’t give me the sea for my thirst,
don’t give me the sky when I ask for light,
but give me a glint, a dewy wisp, a mote
as the birds bear water-drops from their bathing
and the wind a grain of salt.”

“You’re getting on my nerves,” cried Uncle Sam

“You’re getting on my nerves,” cried Uncle Sam. “You’re supposed to love me no matter what!”

“Well,” said the children, “we hate your jokes.”

“What jokes? All I do is talk about the American Dream!”

“Exactly,” the children said as they rode away on their motor scooters which resembled insects.

Braille for Giuliani, a Micro Essay

See all the apparently whole people walking around in their hidden half bodies. The joke is they’re temporarily “not” disabled so they get to pretend they’re complete. Compared to them the cripples are Odysseus or Wonder Woman.

At least the folks in my tribe fully understand the shifting vicissitudes of the inner life. Andrew Solomon put it this way: “Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair.”

Being disabled is the only “whole” condition there is.
Being disabled is to laugh and cry simultaneously.
Being disabled is to wish always to free the zoo.
Being disabled is the truest quality of happiness.

Throw off whole-person costumes you able bodied types!
Dance with us!

**

Meanwhile, a memory from 1994:

I was at the guide dog school and it was Sunday. I did some unrehearsed and ridiculous dances with my dog. I had a blues harp and I played and lunged around the room and she jumped and wagged. My hair was crazy. I was a Viking beserker, the stranger you don’t invite home to meet your mother. I was cross-eyed and happy and unkempt. I was blind Enkidu. And that’s when a knock came at the door and I opened it and there before me was the Mayor of New York City and his family—his wife and children and a photographer, and the president of the school. “Hi,” said Rudolph Giuliani, “I’m Rudy Giuliani.” It was 1994. Rudy wasn’t yet “America’s Mayor” and he hadn’t yet cashed in all his political and PR capital as “the man who cleaned up New York” but he was working on it. Instead of his daily charcoal Armani suit he was wearing a “Members Only” aqua baseball jacket and blue jeans. He was having a day in the country. Life was “tres sportif” and photogenically arranged, save that now the Mayor was meeting Volroth the Hairy whose forest green cable sweater was covered with dog fur; whose hair was pure electrolysis—his hair almost on fire with weirdness. To better understand this moment, you must know I’m a lifelong Democrat, without reservation and I wasn’t certain I should touch Giuliani, for I am truly a primitive; he might have had cooties; but his kids were there, and my dog Corky was poking her head into the hallway and Giuliani’s little daughter had come forward and was reaching out and so I shook the man’s hand because what else could I do—and I said something about the wonders of the guide dog school and its amazing dogs and staff. And the Mayor smiled. He had one of those glacial smiles. Its chief asset was its largeness. And the entourage moved on.

**

The invention of a tactile alphabet produced the promise of literacy for the blind, which sounds significant enough, but I think it’s also useful to think of literacy as Peter McClaren describes it: “an animated common trust in the power of love, a belief in the reciprocal power of dialogue, and a commitment to ‘conscientization’ and political praxis.” The blind appear in a communitarian sense when they’re given books and the means to read them. Books, especially in Braille represent a common faith in the power of community.

Someone should have taught Braille to Rudy.
The poor bastard. Like everyone in the Trump circle, he’s just a half human walking pretend-whole-person charade.

Disability and the Fourth of July

I remember how my late friend, the disability activist and scholar Bill Peace was attending a conference at Yale University. The event was about bio-ethics. Bill was a wheelchair user and he had a sudden cardiac emergency. He was taken to Yale Hospital where, believe it or not, he was shunted to a corner of the emergency room and left alone for 7 hours.

Bill died two years ago in yet another instance of medical neglect. He was in his early fifties.

I’m thinking of him on this Fourth of July. I know he wouldn’t mind my employing him as a device in the literary sense since his dying came as a direct result of medical neglect driven by ableism. He represents in his passing a national disgrace: our nearly wholesale indifference to the disability community in matters of healthcare.

So today while the able bodied stuff themselves with hot dogs I am taking time to say that until health care is a right in this country no one is free.