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:
Prairie Lights
Grammercy Books
Barnes and Noble

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 

Shame on the NY Times for Perpetuating Disability Stereotypes

In a review of the theatrical staging of Jose Saramago’s novel “Blindness” Maya Philips can’t resist telling readers that the hackneyed trope of vision loss as catastrophe is “stimulating and immersive.” As Philips is a poet one expects more than this. Ableism remains as inauthentic, cliched, and destructive as racist depictions of Black folks or trivial displays of weakened femininity. But because the play employs blindness as metaphor the implications of the offensiveness are overlooked. Beyond Philips, this violation is overlooked by every sighted audience member of this specious, distasteful production–a play which invites people to sit in the dark, listen to disembodied voices, and hear a tale of ophthalmic contagion where the entire world is afflicted by the loss of sight.

Blindness is the perfect trope for smug ableist treatments in the arts. A few years ago the summer performance series at Lincoln Center offered up a musical version of Metternich’s “The Blind” which is a similar affair, with lost blind people groping in an existential wilderness. I wrote about that travesty here.

Blindness lends itself to paltry and derisory metaphors–psychic imminence, vaticism, despair, death, compensatory talent, and of course utter hopelessness. These things have no genuine connection with blindness save that figurative influence holds a strong place in the public imagination. But you see, bad art does real damage to the blind: it reinforces the ancient idea that there’s something sinister and even predatory about blindness in particular and disability in general. 70% of the blind remain unemployed in the US. In many countries they’re still hidden away from the public. Fear-metaphors are out of date, appalling, and deeply offensive yet they go on.

And poets like Maya Philips who should know better, who would be horrified by a contemporary revival of Amos & Andy where white men play black men with every known racist stereotype attached, well, they’re AOK with medieval presentations of blindness as COVID art.

If you think my Amos & Andy analogy is too harsh, think again. The blind do not grope, stumble, howl, beat their fists on walls while declaring their cosmic misfortunes. How can artists in this day and age still dine out on this offal?

I’ve spent the last thirty years writing poetry and nonfiction and occasional journalism about disability, art, epistemology, human rights, and yes, the poetry of difference. Like many disabled writers I argue alterity of the body is just another human feature like being left handed or having funny ears. And yes, there’s more to disability than this of course but let’s not throw nets over the cripples and re-inscribe all the ugly symbolisms of the past.

Shame on the New York Times.


Everyone has time to be kind but some don’t take it. There’s no data about those who do and do not take time for kindness.

Yes and there’s no uniform or get up for spotting kindness.
To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, if you’re on a street at night in a strange land and three holy men approach you should probably run.

Still I love the riddle of kindness on the plain street, that it’s all around us despite the phony costumes.

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” (Franklin D. Roosevelt)

It’s a tough kindness one wants in today’s United States. I think this means being kind without expectation of reward.

I think FDR was onto something. That’s the stamina of kindness. Right there.

A Man Climbs in and Out of Himself, Almost Successfully


I was a blind kid watching the tv and who had to put his nose on the screen to see with one eye the Gemini astronaut make his space walk tethered like a practicing acrobat and I thought, “that’s what we want! To climb in and our of our bodies!” And I wasn’t a big thinker at the age of ten I was just a kid who was bullied at school and whose mother was a drunk.


Success is a different thing. It’s a sharp object. One grows older. You cut the grass. Write sentences. But one still wants to climb in and out of the body.


The Romantics could do it. Well, maybe not. But they thought they could–you can’t fault their ambition. And boy oh boy did Ahab want to be Jonah. And you know, the shadow always seems more real than the body.

I watched a clumsy man who resembled a baby in a snowsuit floating in space.


You want to be an anti-moralist but can’t really get away with it.

You want out of the body-house but this is infantile as Jung said…and you want out of the story but it’s Lilliputian strings are everywhere; you want the animals to rescue you but they’ve got their own problems…

And the love dilemmas, the money narratives, the sadnesses of one’s children…

No wonder the poet James Tate wrote “fuck the astronauts” and actually meant it…


No wonder two truths approach one another inside this flesh.
No wonder right now it’s ten minutes to all that’s coming.
No wonder we fantasize about a dark ship that floats away on the sea.


In a split second of hard thought I manage to catch myself.

Lamento (After Tomas Transtromer)

So much that can neither be written nor kept inside!
Such thin wrists; such brittle feelings.

I want to lie down behind the furnace in this old house
While outside the early spring fusses with leaves.

I can tell you more—like how the weeks go by
And how the little kit of my heart beats

Or what avails from morning studies,
Two moths on a sill with messages.

I see how it is to not have much.
I hear a winch groaning in the next street.

What is this whistling, birds or wires?
I want this season to hurry.

I write things like: “weeks go by,”
“Apple trees have sorrows too,”

“Don’t lie about your writing…”

Decadence is a peculiar subject…

Decadence is a peculiar subject. Simon Heffer’s book “The Age of Decadence: A History of Britain 1880-1914” starts with the frivolity of late Victorian England because pomp is always both catchy and tragic. The Empire is dying but no one knows it yet. We understand this is tragic and we’re lead to summon sufficient irony to ask what rough beast is coming in our time. Decadence is a two-for like a single price double header ticket.

If this was all there was we’d forget it but there’s the peculiar optimism of decadence which is its calamitous part.
(One remembers the Titanic’s first class passengers playing ice hockey on the fore-deck.) Early in Heffer’s book he describes Victoria’s “Diamond Jubilee” in 1897:

“When the Queen reached the Palace her vast European family awaited her, and showered her with diamonds. At dinner for the family, foreign potentates and ambassadors that evening – she sat between the ill-fated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the Prince of Naples – she wore ‘a dress of which the whole front was embroidered in gold, which had been specially worked in India, diamonds in my cap, and a diamond necklace.’ 9 A band played in the ballroom while she was pushed around in her wheelchair – she could not stand for long – to greet her guests. So that the splendour could be taken to the people a force of 2,400 officers and men marched from the City of London on the Saturday before the Jubilee pageant, parading through the East End to Bethnal Green and Victoria Park and back. The event also ensured that the city’s lowest classes would be impressed by the power and glory of their nation, would identify with it, and have their patriotism stirred.”

This paragraph has everything we need to know about anticipatory decadence–mortar is shifting but no one must know. But “we know” and so a clear understanding of extravagant collapse depends on our own capacity for comic irony–from our place in the audience we can see the players heading toward their doom. We want to cry out: “don’t do it!”

I remember a friend from graduate school who scotch taped an article about Ronald Reagan’s inauguration on his refrigerator. The headline read: “They Came to Party” or something like that. Of course the Marxists got it wrong! Glitz is the opiate of the masses. The nation is collapsing but look at that parade! And one certainly remembers George H.W. Bush putting on a military review after the first Gulf War while the nation was in a steep economic recession. There he was in his bullet proof triangular review stand waving as the tanks rolled past, all the generals with their scrambled eggs smiling sheepishly. Nothing good comes of political decadence.

I also recall telling a friend in 1991 that the U.S. lost the Cold War because our true enemy wasn’t communism but domestic racism.

Heffer’s book is terrific. He shows how decadence can occupy a dying society’s imagination about the future and I found this passage especially revealing and chilling:

“The new century provoked great interest in futurology, with a sense of fear and hope about scientific developments, notably exploited in the fiction and essays of H. G. Wells. Concern for the future provoked interest in eugenics, and the idea that human perfection could be achieved by scientific means. And there were other speculations about things to come: the newly popular genre of science fiction imagined aliens arriving from another planet; the influx of foreigners from Europe, including Jewish victims of pogroms in Russia and political dissidents from other parts of the continent, created a more cosmopolitan London; and the idea developed of a German threat to Britain, potent among a nation more aware of its possible vulnerability after the less than straightforward success of the Second Boer War.”

Inasmuch as we’re living in the age of Eugenics 2.0 and the decaying discourses of the internet age bring forward lizard people in the pizza parlor one may fair shiver.

The Saramago Syndrome

I’m reposting this because today’s Washington Post praises this awful play….

If you’re disabled you almost never get the microphone and if you do you’re pressured to squander the moment, telling the non-disabled there’s no such thing as disablement, there are only bad attitudes. Blind people like me are asked to reassure the sighted. This holds true for all disabilities.

Able-bodied-microphone-land (ABML) is a Lewis Carroll kind of place. As the Beatles once sang: “you know the place where nothing is real…” The latest version of this is a stage adaptation of Jose Saramago’s novel “Blindness” where the audience sits in complete darkness and hears a story of blindness as contagion. Yes. Blindness as COVID. Presumably sitting in darkness adds verisimilitude. “By God, Brother, this must be what it’s like!” I’m here to tell you: blindness doesn’t represent anything and real blind people don’t sit trembling in the dark.

This play with its audience participation trick really troubles me. I’ve spent the last thirty years traveling the world talking about disability as lived experience. Disability is just like anything else–left handedness or having big feet. When it’s metaphorized it becomes a superstitious fiction designed to frighten the temporarily normal.

I’m not going to tell you that the blind can do anything the sighted can. You wouldn’t want me operating on your brain, at least not with our current technology. But it should be clear–blindness is no obstacle to living a full and rewarding life. The public doesn’t understand this. When I’m on a bus with my guide dog someone invariably approaches and wants to pray for me. Strangers want to give me coins. They can’t conceive that I’ve a professional life, a family, that I’ve been known to water-ski.

Saramago’s blindness is not only silly, it contributes to ever more superstition. I think we can all agree we need less fear and nonsense in our lives. As I write this it’s estimated that 70 per cent of the disabled remain unemployed in the United States. Accommodations to help them in the workplace are inexpensive. What’s holding them back? Well, alright, I’m going to call it the “Saramago Syndrome.”

Early Silence

Typically I write blog posts early in the morning. Today I woke and brewed some coffee and walked out into the yard, my American suburban plot and stood under the old apple trees and I wept. (Picture a man in his sixties wearing only a bathrobe crying in a remote corner where it was likely no one could see him.)

My father died on Easter Sunday twenty one years ago and how I miss him. We must talk to the dead in quiet and shy ways and like everyone else I do. But the tears come without warning as they did today with the first sun on my face.

When I returned to the house I decided to put writing aside. I chose to sit and serve my father well with my silence.

Out of this silence come bells.

Such early bookish delights…

Such early bookish delights: Christopher Robin dragging his stuffed bear and bumpity bump. Later it was the best of times and the worst of times and bumpity bump.

I play Haydn on the stereo and feel warmth as if whiskey spreads through my torso.
The sea lies so still at dusk. If you have good eyes you can see the lights from ships.

When I say I prefer Keats to Shelley I must say why, at least to myself.
That’s the way with art. Shelley wasn’t much of a man. He was really Holden Caulfield.

The God of books is in the process of transforming me.
Look, some of the bookish creatures have gotten free.

Hemingway? His Office is Just Down the Hall…

This week PBS will air a three part documentary about Ernest Hemingway produced by Ken Burns. Much advance commentary exclaims how toxic, cruel, alcoholic, sexist, and racist old Papa was. None of this is news. It’s certainly not news that the man was a big deal.

So I’ll say it. I’ve traveled widely in American literary circles for most of my adult life and I’ve seen cruelty, vanity, racism, sexism, homophobia, alcoholism, and every kind of perfidy on display from coast to coast. Moreover diversity doesn’t offset the miserable character flaws of writers. I have observed women treating other women with raw contempt; people of every background making homophobic “jokes”; able bodied writers sneering at cripples; and yes, the toxic masculinity of Hemingway’s ghost drifting through writing workshops. I once saw the poet May Sarton humiliate a young woman for saying she liked the intersection of dance and poetry. I’ve seen male poets who were openly predatory toward young women. I’ve watched the moue of disgust on a novelist’s face when asked about the work of another writer–the vanity, lying and the striking of ugly attitudes is appalling. So yes, let’s “have at” Hemingway. He deserves a three way mirror.

As for me I’ll watch the series. I generally watch anything by Ken Burns. But I won’t imagine today’s writers are nicer people. I’ve been to too many college campuses and academic conferences.

I’m writing this on Easter. I’ve still got forgiveness muscles above my neck. People are harmed by a thousand things. They struggle ahead wounded and tired. I merely wish to note Hemingway’s flaws are widespread. Why? Because creative writing doesn’t make us better human beings. If this was true Hemingway wouldn’t be so relevant.

From a Notebook…

Here come the philosophers clomping up the stairs, hot-headed while praising dispassion. (If you had the proper spectacles you’d see their superegos resembling old undersea diving suits with iron helmets.)


Forget the comic books sonny.


Psychologists can’t decide if we have memories or not. You only think you remember being abused by your parents. But your parents are too mysterious for you to remember. Yes, your little brain is just a seed on the wind.


If I was as bitter as you I’d be a behaviorist too.