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 

Hate at the University

The trouble with haters is they force you to think about hate. Whatever passes for immunity to the virus of bigotry breaks down. You have a head cold suddenly. You can’t think about the beauty of spring. You’re too busy thinking about the Neo-Nazis or the hateful videos produced by the fraternity at your university, or the anti-Muslim graffiti sprayed on a mosque. The birds are singing real pretty but you’re sealed up. At a remove from joy.

This is how I’m feeling as a member of the Syracuse University community. Thousands of us who study or work at SU are feeling this. No matter your background you have to be deeply disturbed by the hatred that has leaked out around us.

Now I’m an old hand at hate. Disabled, bullied in childhood, discriminated against in education and employment, I’ve lived a long time in hate-ville. Here’s the thing: able bodied white people don’t understand that if you’re from a historically marginalized background you have to put yourself together anew every day. I don’t mean putting on your makeup or shaving. I mean a full scale, internal, hot to the touch assembly of hope, aspiration, belief in the future, and a reserve of irony—you’ll meet people who don’t get you all day long and you’ll manage them with humor, forceful insistence, passion, and compensatory self-regard. Able-bodied white people don’t need to do any of this. The worst thing they can imagine is a bad day in junior high.

A robin is walking across the top of a hedge outside my window. And I’m having to think, to engage with hate. “Big deal,” I say, “it’s nothing new.”

So here, frat boys, ableist staff and administrators, smug warriors of privilege, I’m handing back your hate. Look. I’ve put it in a little basket, like the one Moses floated in. It has a little blanket on top. When you bring it ashore and look inside you’ll find nothing at all. That’s what your hate is. It’s just moist, empty air.

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 

Thoughts on the AWP, Christopher Hitchens, and Jefferson’s Idea of Happiness

Last evening I spoke with several scholars who are researching histories of confinement among the disabled. This morning I’m reading about the latest failure of the AWP (The Association of Writers and Writing Programs) which just concluded its annual national conference having once again treated disabled attendees miserably. Confinement means the asylum or special hospital but it is also the product of disdain—find a conference site with insufficient elevators, no shuttle service, make sure no one answers the accessibility helpline, make public your indifference to disability inclusion and you’ve got what the leading consortium of academic creative writing programs thinks is OK where the cripples are concerned. Maybe they’ll go back to the institution—and we don’t mean the Ivory Tower.

**

“Imagine that you can perform a feat of which I am incapable. Imagine, in other words, that you can picture an infinitely benign and all-powerful creator, who conceived of you, then made and shaped you, brought you into the world he had made for you, and now supervises and cares for you even while you sleep. Imagine, further, that if you obey the rules and commandments that he has lovingly prescribed, you will qualify for an eternity of bliss and repose. I do not say that I envy you this belief (because to me it seems like the wish for a horrible form of benevolent and unalterable dictatorship), but I do have a sincere question. Why does such a belief not make its adherents happy? It must seem to them that they have come into possession of a marvelous secret, of the sort that they could cling to in moments of even the most extreme adversity.”

Excerpt From: Christopher Hitchens. “God Is Not Great.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/god-is-not-great/id357657047?mt=11

I’m a fan of Hitchens’ book “God is Not Great” as it forces me to play with aspirational circuits in the spiritual Neo-cortex. The “SNC” is where creative optimism fires its fastest signals—listen to Beethoven’s sixth symphony for an example of its art—so here, thinking of the above, lets just say that Christopher Hitchens has planted a red herring and I suspect he knew it. In truth all people are sad. It’s possible melancholy plays a role in human evolution for no matter what you may say about it, it’s the precursor for growth. Religious people are human too—their sadness is in no way different from the miseries of atheists. Thank you Mr. Hitchens for reminding me of this. There’s no secret among the sincerely religious—only what I’ll call muscular hope and a willingness to not give up on decency. And you bet there are bad Christians.

**

You see, I’m able to say, though it may be un-American, that I often wake up unhappy. My job as I see it is to work it. I say un-American with irony, as I think Jefferson’s pursuit of happiness long ago morphed into the expectation of happiness. I’m in the Jeffersonian camp. And you bet: I won’t mind the help of others as I lift my portion of weight.

 

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 Forehead Egg, Biopolitics, Disability

When I was in my early twenties I read a lot of poems by James Tate. If you’re an American who’s interested in poetry and you’re over forty there’s a good chance you’ve visited Tate’s poignant, Da-da universe where dark alleys and cemetery willows remind a man to have a cigarette; where Sam Beckett’s people enter cereal naming contests; where only a dish of blueberries can pull you out of a lingering funk. Somewhere in my reading I saw a line about a man who feels like a fried egg has been glued to his forehead, which is to say, he walked around that way. There I was, blind, in college, cross eyed, the streets before me erasing themselves as I moved, lonesome, stamped by the U.S. Department of Alienation, hyper-aware that a cutting remark would be coming my way any moment. I knew Tate’s fried egg was my third eye, my sunny side up stigma. Disability can feel like that.

When we, the disabled discuss the biopolitics of disability, which is to say, the economic and political performances and entrapments of disablement, it often seems, at least to me, we’re talking about eggs and foreheads as much as anything else. What kind of egg will it be? Will you cook it yourself or will someone do it for you? Just so, will you self-apply your egg or have it done professionally? (I’m not metaphorically describing disability but the stances one must take because of it.) And there’s more: will it be a free range organic egg or from a factory? Perhaps if you’re lucky it will be cooked just right.

The neoliberal egg-on-forehead (hereafter NEOF) is like the cereal naming contest above–you have to pay to win and while you may be named Estragon you’re reliably in the game because it’s now an inclusive economy. In the bad old days you’d have been forced to live in the NEOF asylum but suddenly you have putative value. A productive, non-normative worth has either been declared or assigned. You round up your pals who once lived in the ward with you and together you create a federation. You’re online. Christ, you even blog. You belong to a Single Condition User Group. You’re no longer just a person with egg on the unibrow, you’re informed, itchy, talkative, contrary, ardent if not militant.

In their groundbreaking book The Biopolitics or Disability: Neoliberalism, Ablenationalism, and Peripheral Embodiment, David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder point out that: “as medical citizens within neoliberal biopolitics we are expected to take active control of our health management regimes to a greater extent than in any time in history. This active control taking health represents the double-edged sword of biopolitics and results in the desperate necessity of participating in funding initiatives on behalf of physicians and researchers to provide the missing profit motive for future investigations of potential medical treatments for members of rare condition groups.”

You were in a special hospital not so very long ago but now you’re an anguished expert on forehead eggism because you must be. You must be because either you’ve a job and want to keep it (you’ll need an accommodation—you can’t wear standard issue hats) or you hope to have a job—or jobless, you wish to have community relevance, which means among other things you should have the right script memorized.

I for one commit to memory a lot of self-declarative language. Yesterday I went to the ophthalmologist. I told him all about my eyes. In ophthalmology land I’m a failure. You mustn’t imagine eye doctors view low-to-no vision patients as successful and autonomous citizens. I felt the need to take care of myself and control the medical narrative to the best of my ability. I wasn’t an uninformed blind person. I wasn’t in need of rehab. No. That’s not a laser scar on my left retina, that’s what it looks like. You see, I don’t need to be cured, and even if that’s something in the cards it’s not happening today. I like the eggs. Yeah you can call me Estragon.

 

 

 

Notes on Christmas Morning 

Those houses in Iceland like boats half buried

And their prows pointing to heaven

We were driving aimlessly

I was chattering about Snorri Sturluson

As literature students will do

My friend Gary wanted a good cigar

Saarikoski: “We were simply too simple.

Time went by, men and women, bellies and bird song.

We came to be old, we fluttered, that’s all.”

Wind in the chimney flu

Sun not up

Saarikoski: “The canaries on their way to the Faeroe Islands are lurking in their pleasures.”

**

When I was younger I complained about everything

E. Power Biggs on the radio

Gramophone shards in my boots

Poetry was like a yellow flower handed me by a strange woman

What I knew I really knew

Ice covered the pond like an illness on a pretty face

I was sad in my twenties

Sometimes I read the right things

Silly old Kalevala and John Donne

**

I love this Jesus who lets me stay blind

Thoughts and poems circulate

**

I love Pasolini’s Gospel According to St. Matthew

I would also like to be a Catholic-Marxist

 

From a Notebook, Again…

 

Autumn, or, Rain and a Lingering Soft Light of Sleep

 

I brew coffee while steam pipes talk

And my smallness in the scheme of things

Circles cat-like, though I have no cat.

**

Bride’s dress, goat’s wool, side by side in attic.

**

Here we walk now

My dead brother with me—

He’s the one (sensibly) wearing

White rubber boots.

**

Pawnshop in Athens

Not for from Syntagma Sq.

Saw I’d remain half crazy

For one more day…

**

The trick:

There are lots of blind people my age

Who don’t much like themselves

Zig-zag lines of darkness

Make you (on the inside) drift like a leaf

**

Just a bone in a larger collection of bones,

What I am…call it the body if you like,

I know better. Soon now,

Rocks will roll straight through….

**

Mahler’s Fifth.

Never got over it.

Seven years old.

Gramophone. Winter.