I read somewhere recently that the poet Pablo Neruda had a disabled daughter who he ignored. Poets aren’t always reliable when the chips are down. Let me be specific—non-disabled poets who have Romantic ideas about their bodies aren’t reliable when…Ah, but grasshopper, who are those poets? They’re the poetry will cure you crowd—they have panels every year at the big writing conference about becoming strong at the broken places because trauma can be overcome with penmanship. Real cripples have obviously written the wrong poems, like shamans whose magic words weren’t up to snuff.
Not long ago so I’m told, a functionary of the AWP conference told disabled writers that the reason the conference doesn’t have keynote speakers who are disabled is that “your time hasn’t come yet.” That would rule out Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, James Joyce, Charles Olson, Laura Hillenbrand, George Bernard Shaw, D.H. Lawrence, Walt Whitman, F. Scott Fitzgerald—did their time “come” one wonders?
The creative writing scene in the US is so heavily predicated on the idea that the role of the writer is to either eschew disablement or “overcome” it that the MFA industry fails to see the full dynamics of embodiment, preferring sexy alterities, which in general means healthy looking people who hail from historically marginalized backgrounds. MFA programs are largely extensions of pilates classes.
Meanwhile our time has always been central standard.
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.
(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