About skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

I didn’t exactly begin my life. I suppose I was always riding out
From the big bang; show time dust; the carbon democracies.
Vedas say we’ve been here before but I don’t think it.
We were here and then gone and there’s no analogy.
This morning on the first cold day of autumn
I “saw” (the way blind people do….very close….
On hands and knees….)
A tiny wasp emerge unsteadily
From a frost apple—
Though I was only in the grass
Looking for my keys
Sorry for myself.

The Cage We’re Forced to Watch

My neighbor is eating good ham. He drives a nice car. He voted for Trump. He’s a stand up guy. Just ask him. He’ll tell you he loves America. In fact he loves it more than you do. You describe problems with the USA. He only sees timeless verities: cowboys and Indians; slaughter on behalf of the railroads; local jobs based on environmental destruction. While the Colorado River basin runs out of water he says global warming is a hoax.

Sleeping he dreams of a wide cushiony bed where no one has sex, it’s a white, protestant cloud if you will.

When he wakes he turns on Fox News and tells himself America is great again because “those people” are getting their comeuppance.

**

Yesterday I hosted film maker Federico Muchnik and poets Doug Anderson and Preston Hood at the 15th annual Syracuse International Film Festival.

Federico’s film “Hunter in the Blackness: Veterans, Hope, and Recovery” details the experiences of American soldiers—veterans with traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and other poly-traumas. Doug Anderson and Preston Hood, both veterans of the Viet Nam War are featured in the movie alongside vets from America’s involvement in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It is a haunting film. The lack of awareness of civilians is a recurring theme. We send boys and girls to wars while America shops at the mall. When troops return with grievous conditions many Americans don’t want to know.

22 veterans commit suicide daily in these United States.

Last evening, after I bid farewell to my new found friends, I took an Uber home. My driver was a veteran of the war in Iraq. He has PTSD and traumatic brain injury. He told me how his best friend from his time in the military recently committed suicide.

And there we were, riding in a Dodge pickup, through the gritty nighttime rainy streets of Syracuse, NY, and it was impossible for me to blink away the machinations of my country. My driver told me about his TBI, his facial disfigurement, his stress condition, and the ongoing difficulties he has had with the VA to get the help he needs.

Rain spattered the windshield.

**

Swedish poet Lars Gustafson writes: “And a cage/which never held a bird can easily give/a feeling of disorder.”

I’ve not been to war. But I know the cage we’re forced to stare at.

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 for pre-order:
Amazon
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 

A Valediction of Fainting

The surgeon plucked at my eye with a forceps. I said I was fainting. Then I fainted.

It was a textbook instance of the “vasovagal reflex”. You can ask the CIA. Touch the lenses of the eyes and you can induce loss of consciousness.

Reader: perhaps you’re a frequent fainter and are familiar with the poetry of the matter. I doff my hat to you.

I woke in a chair. Although I couldn’t see I heard a nurse say: “I can’t hear his pulse.”

The neo-cortex (mine) which thinks fast (yours does too) said inwardly: “Merd! Je suis mort!”

(The neo-cortex it turns out, speaks only French, as it was in fact discovered by Denis Diderot. You don’t have to know French to understand the neo-cortex. The translation process is automatic. It does not matter if you are a Finn or a Croat or Laotian.)

(Theory: the French language was invented by and for dead people.)

(Proof of above: Diderot: “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”)

The nurse said next: “Okay. I can hear his pulse but it is very faint.”

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 for pre-order:
Amazon
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 

Blank Landscape

Irony—a live crow carrying a dead one
Flies into a house you might say
“Nature” and you’d be right.
Up river beyond the city
People die at the same rate
Some singing at the end—
You might say “nature”
And you’d be right.
My neighbor comes to me
With his old books.
He’s a lonesome man
Who believes words matter.
Sometimes I want to end a poem
Too soon, what with the pain.

Stop With Your Ableist Lazy Rage

Over the course of the last two years (post election and the year prior) I’ve watched people throw ableist insults. From the right the favored term is “libtard” and from the left one hears “moron” “idiot” and “imbecile” all echoing eugenics both in Germany and the United States when the disabled were marked for elimination.

When disability must be employed to register rage then its nothing more than lazy rage. Rather than call a Trump supporter an imbecile why not say: “there’s a person who doesn’t understand his shadow.” Not so much fun as ableizing him or calling him a pig or weasel.

Lazy rage is fun rage. Even in their discontent Americans like to have fun. Trump knows this. Its perhaps the only thing he knows.

We’re got rape culture to worry about; children in cages; wholesale destruction of the environment at hand; black men in the school to prison pipeline; eroding medical services for veterans and the poor; unending American involvement in ruinous wars; the collapse of public education; big Pharma slinging opioids in every corner of the nation; religious extremism attacking science; an outright war on the Americans with Disabilities Act—I’m just getting started.

And all I see on facebook is callow name calling with an especially able bodied smugness.

As John Lennon might say: here’s another clue for you all. You are as much the problem as the problem.

Read Carl Jung on “the shadow” and know your own deep despairs before saying someone else is “lame” and for god’s sake join a volunteer organization of some kind.

More About Hating Smokey the Bear

I don’t like Smokey the Bear. I’ve already written about it. He’s a slick defier of logic. Children are powerless to prevent forest fires and telling kids they’ve a singular moral responsibility fo forestall contagion is the kind of cartoon horse shit Americans are forced to grow up with.

Meanwhile the forests are being systematically cut down by Weyerhaeuser and fried by acid rain from “clean coal”—a phrase I’m sure Smokey the Bear would approve.

Now you will say: “But Kuusisto, is it Smokey the Bear you don’t like, or is it the fatuous, bloated, running dogs of the bourgeoisie who created him who you dislike?”

Of course I dislike Madison Avenue. But it’s the cartoon Bear I hate. He’s the kind of anthropomorphic dungaree wearing shovel toting ranger hat wearing dingus who will pick your pockets if you’re not careful. He’s out to mess with your conscience. He wants you to feel responsible when bad things happen in nature.

Only you can prevent hurricanes.

Only you can prevent global warming.

He’s anti-democratic and the purveyor of superstition.

Thomas Jefferson would have despised Smokey the Bear.

Why am I “on” about this?

Because when you make a woman who’s survived sexual abuse stand alone before a room fool of smug, pink, hostile men on Capitol Hill, you’re saying, “only you can prevent sexual assault”—the American social lie…the idea that the culture isn’t responsible, only you, only you.

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 for pre-order:
Amazon
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 

This is the Smokey the Bear Social Lie Complex.

The corridors of power depend on this.

I’ll Be Dipped Redux

Well I’ll be dipped! (White privilege of course, for being dipped means soaked in oil usually as punishment for running away when you were a black slave…sometimes poor whites were also dipped in oil but only to serve as examples to the poorer people.) Anyway, I’ll be dipped cuz believe it or not, someone wrote to say I’m too angry on this blog. What was her tipping point? I said Karl Ove Knausgaard, Anthony Doerr, and Jose Saramago were phony writers who use disablement or ennui to suggest they are more interesting than they really are.

Pfffffft! You’d think I’d said the Statue of Liberty wears a Victoria’s Secret thong stitched from a Russian flag. (She does.)

We’re living in an era of great literature and also a moment of terrible creative writing. Its not polite to say so and few are brave enough to even hint at the hornswoggling of taste. (Taste is automatically denigrated because it is “privilege” to have it and you bet taste makers have always been top dogs and by jinkies they’re university educated and generally white. (Think Rudyard Kipling.)

Taste rises from grass roots as much as the top. James Baldwin didn’t get invited to The MacDowell Colony in 1958 because the folks at Yale understood him. In America there’ve always been sharp readers in the underbrush.

I digress….

For all the sharp readers in the tall grass there are middle brow forces at work—in overdrive.

By this I mean middle brow which actually tends to low brow. Today’s literary reviews are essentially fifth grade book reports—even in the New Yorker. Its enough these days to say what happens in a novel or nonfiction treatment. Maybe toward the conclusion the ersatz reviewer will say: “I do with we’d heard more from Hitler’s chauffeur…”

So today’s mainstream creative writing is mostly TV pap and the reviewing industry is largely dead.

There are superb novels being written in our midst but you’ll seldom hear of them unless you read the Times Literary Supplement.

Meanwhile we’re forced to read in the NY Times about Knausgaard who’s contentless, talentless naval gazing is passed off as literature.

Min Jin Lee is a terrific novelist.

I don’t say she’s ignored.

I do say we’re awash in awful writing and we’re told to spoon it up.

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 for pre-order:
Amazon
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