Why Donald Trump Can’t Have “This”

I am a small “R” romantic and I’ve a few mottos I live by and more than a few I’ve given up. Of the first, my favorite is: only talk to trees that talk “back” and I’m firm about it. No Ariel, no yakkity yak. And I do talk to trees. It’s a Finnish thing. I even know a banker in Helsinki who talks daily to a birch. (He also talks to stones.)

Concerning the small “r” I’m more of Coleridge than Wordsworth. I don’t think we achieve tranquility. We can only imagine it. Buddha had the strongest imagination in history. John Keats may have been second.

Donald Trump destroys trees, rivers, mountains, waterways—kills wildlife, harms the vulnerable in every quarter. Against this my “r” is infinitesimally small.

I’m animated by the minuscule nature of my “r” for I’ve William Blake on my side. My grain of sand is ineluctable.

Because I know what is true I am healthy. Strong. Flexible. Loving.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “He is the best physician who is the most ingenious inspirer of hope.”

Coleridge: “Poetry has been to me its own exceeding great reward; it has given me the habit of wishing to discover the good and beautiful in all that meets and surrounds me.”

If this sounds like “paper wraps stone” (and it does) one has already given away phenomenology, has bartered it if for meager coins—the junk bonds of aspirational happiness. My students want instant careers. Deep in debt, terrified for their futures, they’ve little time for Coleridge’s “exceeding great reward.”

My banker friend in Finland talks to a certain tree on his way to work.

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 

Lines Written in the Algonquin Hotel

I’m in New York for a gala.
I wonder what this means.
I’m not feeling like a “gala”—
Something something
What’s the phrase?

“Gala” from Arabic
A festive robe
Given in presentation.
Do we need more robes?
Do the saints have galas?

How about whales
Or children everywhere?
O I fear I’m the toothache
Of the gala set,
Unceremonious, twiggy.

**

I must get in the mood!
First I should admit my consciousness is an instinct, nothing more seeking shelter in a rain storm. O but all the smart people like getting wet! And that’s my difficulty. I fear smart moist people.

**

Oh c’mon Kuusisto, everyone needs a dance, a rouse, a collective giggle.
BTW I dreamt last night my father was back from the dead and doing standup comedy.

nie Kuusisto :
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 

Sam Hamill

Every poet in the United States lost a mentor and exemplar when the poet Sam Hamill passed away this past Sunday. Translator, publisher, poet of conscience, Hamill stood both for truth and beauty—indeed stood for them above the easy and all too familiar conventions of academic poetry writing in the U.S.. I was lucky to have known Sam and even luckier to have had the opportunity to talk with him about literature on more than one occasion.

This is not an obituary. Nor is it a dinner toast. My goal, such as I might have one, is to invoke a great poet’s thrilling intelligence and contrarianism, as Hamill cut his teeth studying informally with Kenneth Rexroth who saw no distinction between protecting Japanese immigrants during World War II and writing a clean, clear headed poetry driven by a profound affection for the world.

So it was with Sam who fought for human rights and human dignity throughout his long career—but don’t mistake me—he fought as a poet with discipline, intellect, and yes, with soul. He was the pacifist’s pacifist. An ex-Marine, Hamill grew to quicly see the imperial disdain of America—North America—and he wrote about our incontrovertible and malignant destruction of innocents around the globe. Over dinner he’d never talk about literary prizes, campus gigs—the careerist piffle that poets all too often share over wine. He talked about human rights.

I’ll have much more to say about the work of Sam Hamill in the coming months. Let me leave you with some lines of his:

True Peace

Half broken on that smoky night,
hunched over sake in a serviceman’s dive
somewhere in Naha, Okinawa,
nearly fifty years ago,

I read of the Saigon Buddhist monks
who stopped the traffic on a downtown
thoroughfare
so their master, Thich Quang Dúc, could take up
the lotus posture in the middle of the street.
And they baptized him there with gas
and kerosene, and he struck a match
and burst into flame.

That was June, nineteen-sixty-three,
and I was twenty, a U.S. Marine.

The master did not move, did not squirm,
he did not scream
in pain as his body was consumed.

Neither child nor yet a man,
I wondered to my Okinawan friend,
what can it possibly mean
to make such a sacrifice, to give one’s life
with such horror, but with dignity and conviction.
How can any man endure such pain
and never cry and never blink.

And my friend said simply, “Thich Quang Dúc
had achieved true peace.”

And I knew that night true peace
for me would never come.
Not for me, Nirvana. This suffering world
is mine, mine to suffer in its grief.

Half a century later, I think
of Bô Tát Thich Quang Dúc,
revered as a bodhisattva now—his lifetime
building temples, teaching peace,
and of his death and the statement that it made.

Like Shelley’s, his heart refused to burn,
even when they burned his ashes once again
in the crematorium—his generous heart
turned magically to stone.

What is true peace, I cannot know.
A hundred wars have come and gone
as I’ve grown old. I bear their burdens in my bones.
Mine’s the heart that burns
today, mine the thirst, the hunger in the soul.

Old master, old teacher,
what is it that I’ve learned?

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
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 

Disability, Resurrection, Poetry

It’s Easter Sunday and I’m thinking about human equality, disability, and the poetry uniting both. Strange really, the resurrection of Christ, equal rights, a poetics. Here’s what I mean: Christ rises from his grave, the very action the most extraordinary figure of rehabilitation in human history. All resurrection myths proclaim equality is not out of reach—that soon enough you’ll be unrecognizable to yourself, clean, bright, and favored like others.

Poetry may not always be concerned with religion or equality. The early modernist poets in their desire to rival the immediacy of photographs were at times dispassionate—see Imagism or Vorticism as practiced by Pound—yet poetry often is where we find empathy. I wept alone in my faculty office one afternoon when, after a day of pain, my legally blind eyes unable to keep up with the tasks before me, in the days before reliable speech technology, I read the following poem by Adrienne Rich with my left eye only a half inch from the page:

I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains’ enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running
up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your
hand
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.

–Adrienne Rich, from An Atlas of the Difficult World

Consider a “stripped” reader—consider her bent low. Stripped is vulnerability, a nakedness, and yet it’s also the first turn toward new language, one that allows us to tenderly imagine ourselves renewed.

It’s renewal that interests me. If equality is a moral concept, as I believe it is, than the broken body is also a moral agent; if “where you have landed” is neither a sacred or profane space, it is solely Jeffersonian—embodiment, whatever the circumstance is human, therefore fully, entirely human. In Disability Studies we often speak of resisting “overcoming narratives” by which we mean a resistance to medical persuasion—the idea that humans are only valuable insofar as they can be cured of their maladies. We call this the “medical model” of disability and many a disabled person has written a book touting his or her “miracle cure” often attributing it to a marriage of god and science. Sometimes of course it’s god alone or simply science. In either case the subtext of these books is routine: only a physically able and firm body has value. I think such stories are immoral for unlike Adrienne Rich’s poem which holds out the possibility of new directions in despair, overcoming narratives are steadfast in their insistence only the healthy body matters.

In his new book “One Another’s Equals” Jeremy Waldron observes:

“When we talk about equality, one of the most important distinctions we have to make is between prescriptive and descriptive equality. Descriptive statements tell us how things are, and prescriptive statements tell us how things ought to be and / or what things ought to be done. Crudely, we can say descriptively (or deny descriptively) that people are equal in some respect; we can say their opportunities are equal or that there used to be less inequality of income than there is now. Or we can say, prescriptively, that people ought to be equal. We can say that in general—for example, that they ought to be treated with equal respect—or we can say it in some particular regard, such as their income or opportunities.”

Excerpt From: Jeremy Waldron. “One Another’s Equals.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/one-anothers-equals/id1242543605?mt=11

He adds:

“Prescriptive statements call for something to be done that might not otherwise be done.”

This is essentially what poetry is or concerns itself with. And one thinks of Robert Kennedy’s famous declaration: “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Resurrection is prescriptive and whether its a fantasy or not matters less to me than its moral inference: we are equal in renewal which differs profoundly from being cured or healed. Jesus, risen, still had his wounds. He remains, even glorified, our physical equal, in flesh our aspirational moral equal.

The best disability poetry tends to work in these areas though it may not be overtly spiritual in nature. Embracing the equal status of the disabled body is invariably renewing.

In her poem “Future Biometrics” JILLIAN WEISE writes:

the body that used to
contain your daughter

we found it
behind the fence

It was in a red coat
It was collected

Is she saved
Is she in the system

You’re lucky
we have other bodies

to put your daughter in
Come on down

to the station

Weise combines the medical model, the curative, with a post-human vision of cyber-resurrection. The “it” daughter, not entirely human, dead behind a fence will be transmogrified through technological means, industrial means, one imagines a whole new shipment of alternative bodies arriving by train. A motto for the poem could read: “beware what resurrection you’re calling for” or the like.

Jim Ferris describes resurrection as survival—after eugenics, after Aristotle, the disabled actually dare to thrive:

“Tell Aristotle”

    As to the exposure and rearing of children, let there be a law that 
      no deformed child shall live.
            Aristotle, Politics

Tell Aristotle I lived.
    Tell him Dave did too.
Tell him the state has not
    yet fallen, though you know
kids these days. Tell him perhaps
    all our words are but
elaborations, repetitions
    of that crier’s claim.
Tell Aristotle, tell the Spartans,
    tell the legions of those
who think they can’t afford the difference
    that difference makes,
tell Montaigne, tell Hobbes,
    tell Dr. Tiergarten
and that off-key singer
    of sad and silly songs,
tell them the useless eaters
    have survived,
tell them there are more of us now
    than ever, disorderly,
imperfect, splashing out the gene pool,
    what a messy species,
tell them my brother Dave and I
    inhabit this moment,
tell Aristotle we are alive,
    tell them all we thrive
.

Resurrection is imperfect, splashing out of the gene pool, more of us now, and implicitly, firmly, prescriptively, morally equal.
The poet Laurie Clements Lambeth writes:

and then there are days when I can stride across the house
five times even, springing forward with an armful of laundry
 
as though I never forgot how, no longer offering the body
instruction in hip tuck or the proper undulation of each foot
 
(hold wall, heel first, steady now, lift the next). My gratitude
at such moments is not for the walking, that easy
 
grace. It’s for the shadow, that other gait hovering around
my frame, a faint, wavering outline, staggering dragged
 
water-edge purling behind. How can one measure time or space?
The miles I saw stretch across this little house unfurled a span
 
to heave through, now condensed to mere feet. I will see those
miles again, I know, and somehow now: I keep a foot in each world.

Embodied, prescriptive, we’re equally unknowable—the truest definition of equivalence and equality one may ever know. Disability as poetics, an epistemology is a resurrectionist school but not a school of overcoming or cure.

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 

From a Birthday Notebook….

Happy Birthday Stephen—

Sitting alone with Thelonious Monk

Aged fifteen

Solo in the attic

With a radio…

**

The Finnish poet Jarkko Laine once told me he lived on Deep Ditch Road.

The Egyptologist on the subway told me about mummified beetles in tiny sarcophagi.

**

Now and then I recall a certain turtle.

^^

Happy birthday.

The fence will not be fully repaired.

I fear my teeth have more wisdom than my hands.

This is also my Finnish grandmother’s birthday.

She was a devout Lutheran and therefore not much fun.

She did however send me photos of herself, not having much fun.

**

Just this morning, for a time, I became Heraclitus, the dark one, then, just as sudden, I was my father who when young imagined he would be a writer before World War II changed him, made him somber, until he believed literature was a childish thing. He’s gone now. The poems he loved are still on my bookshelf. I admit I try to read them as he did—mindful of another’s joy and curiosity and yes, apprehension.

**

On his birthday—I’m not sure which one—Heraclitus invented the string clock….

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 

Dog of the Morning

 —in memory of guide dog Corky

She brings me my shoes, separately, one by one

And drops them softly on the counterpane

As if to say: a day is here 

With all the colors of waking

Seeing I didn’t know

Knowing my tangled dream

A man in late middle age

Caught with Edgar Poe

His shadows moving to and fro

At windows

A day of high wind

So one by one

I slip my feet inside.

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 

The Dog Who Loves You

It’s always seemed to me that adults, by which I mean most adults, by which I mean many of those I’ve met, have difficulty giving thanks. I don’t mean just saying “thank you” when the barista hands you a latte, but worshipful thanks. I suppose I’m talking about praise where creation is concerned.  If you’re agonistic or an atheist you’ll see straightaway the predicament I’m in. I’m now standing on the thin ice of religious devotion and some might stop reading this because of it. But you see, what I’m really talking about is the love of dogs. Everyday I give thanks to creation for dogs.

The Dog Who Loves You Stephen Kuusisto

(Image: Young 10-year old boy, Stephen Kuusisto’s step-son Ross, is lying in the grass. Yellow Labrador and guide dog “Corky” is standing above him and is about to “kiss” his nose.”)

Tenderness, dog spirit, moves beside and within me. She has me talking to myself in the street. Stranger I am well. My hands, so often clenched fly open. I am loved by dogs.

This of course sounds ridiculous. The great dog spirit, Canis Tempus is walking me straight out of the profane world.

But this is so.

Shortly after I was paired with met first guide dog, a yellow Labrador named “Corky” I rode the subway to Coney Island.  It was April and cold but the famed Boardwalk was a great place for a brisk walk. Hardly any people were about. We pounded over the wood planks fronting the ocean and I talked to Corky softly. She held her head up, very high, to scent the Atlantic, and it was easy to imagine she was experiencing delight.

Aristotle defined happiness as “human flourishing” which he said involved activity and exhibiting virtue, and both should be in accord with reason. “Corky,” I said,“you are my virtue.” I wasn’t entirely sure what this meant.

“She can’t be my full virtue,” I thought. “She can only be the agent of my honor.” “But it’s lovely, Corky, walking this boardwalk with you and the ghost of Aristotle,” I said half aloud.

A policeman approached us and said, “Are you OK?”

“He’s seen my lips moving,” I thought. “He probably thinks I’m lost.”

“I’m just happy,” I told the cop who was taken aback.

“That’s a first for me,” he said. “I mean, no one ever says that, even at Coney Island!”

“You know,” I said, “I grew up blind in the middle of nowhere and never learned how to travel. Then I got this incredible dog! I just can’t tell you how happy I am.”

Of course I was more than happy. I was thankful. Now, 24 years later, I’m still mindful and full of praise for the dogs in my life.

The dog who loves you turns up in your dreams. Last night she was a woman on a train who said her name was “Evensong” (I kid you not) and she was old and dignified.

The dog who loves you is part of your soul (I kid you not) and she insists that mirth never dies. That is, as they say, how things stand.

Carl Jung had it wrong: the anima or animus is not the man or woman inside you but the dog who loves you; the one who first loved you; who loves you now. Sorry Yeats, here’s how the poem should go:

“Young man lift up your russet brow,

And lift your tender eyelids maid,

And brood on dogs and dogs who love…”

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