What a Dog Can Do

So I’m writing a book about my decade spent with “Corky” my first guide dog. When you live with a dog every day and travel everywhere with her you ask yourself questions.

I thought she was heroic. She thought I was hopeless. Question one: “what was Corky really thinking while guiding me?”

I could only surmise what was in her head. This would become a habit.

I imagined the exercise of man-to-canine dialogue was good for the mind. If you play the game properly it means you’re tough minded. For instance, a man thinks his dog is always looking out for him—she’s valiant, non-distractible. This isn’t entirely correct but he chooses to believe it. He needs to think it. After all he has his insecurities.

But he also knew his dog was a dog.

And so, walking in strange cities I thought about my investment in ideas about Corky versus Corky’s likely thoughts.

She watched cars. We were in Wichita, Kansas. I said “forward” and she didn’t budge.

A bus roared past and then a truck.

How had I not heard them?

She’d done her job—had stopped at a curb and had scanned all movement.

I was thinking about all the summers that might remain. How long might I live? What oceans had I yet to swim in?

Oh heroic dog! Who’d saved me! She was “Lassie” and “Rin Tin Tin” rolled into one.

We walked a few blocks and entered Wichita’s Botanical Garden and I asked Corky directly if she felt like Rin Tin Lassie. She wasn’t paying attention to me.

“She’s watching butterflies,” said a woman. “You’re talking to her, and she’s got butterflies on the brain!”

She had a smoker’s laugh, big and phlegmy.

“We have a lot of butterflies here,” she said. “This is the “Butterfly Garden”.”

“Ah,” I said. Smoker woman went away.

“Butterflies and trucks,” I thought, “are equally compelling in a dog’s eyes.”

A bright flash of color. Each appears at the margins of vision. Both warrant full attention. They create amplitude—both ends of the motion spectrum are the same.

“Dogs aren’t heroic,” I thought. “but they are alert, quick, and certain.”

Dogs say: “That’s motion and it’s mine.”

Sitting there amid the Wichita butterflies I saw that it takes some bravery to understand your dog’s view of things.

Once you understand this there’s a purity to it.

A dog sees all the dizzying, big eyed sparks of dailiness.

And doesn’t worry about it.

 

 

 

 

Jim Ferris, Laurie Clements Lambeth and Stephen Kuusisto Reading at Syracuse University

Disabilities as Ways of Knowing: A Series of Creative Writing Conversations: Part II

The Disability Experience and Poetic Verse

Reading by Poets Jim Ferris, Laurie Clements Lambeth, and Stephen Kuusisto

March 28, 2013
Reading 7:00 to 8:00 pm at Watson Theater
Reception and book signing from 8:00 to 9:00 pm at Light Work
SU Campus

Jim Ferris, Laurie Clements Lambeth and Stephen Kuusisto will be reading from a selection of their poetry, followed by a reception and book signing, for all members of the S.U. community. While this event is geared specifically to raise and support awareness among undergraduates, everyone is welcomed to participate in this exciting set of opportunities. This event will feature works from Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability (Cinco Puntos Press) and launch Letters to Borges (Copper Canyon Press), where “best-selling memoirist Stephen Kuusisto uses the themes of travel, place, religion, music, art, and loneliness to explore the relationship between seeing, blindness, and being. In poems addressed to Jorge Luis Borges—another poet who lived with blindness—Kuusisto leverages seeing as negative capability, creating intimacy with deep imagination and uncommon perceptions” (from http://www.stephenkuusisto.com).

American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation will be provided during both the reading and the reception/book signing. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) will be provided during the reading.

If you require accommodations or need information on parking for this event, please contact Radell Roberts at 443-4424 or rrober02@syr.edu.

This event is made possible through the Co-Curricular Departmental Initiatives program within the Division of Student Affairs, and cosponsorship by the Disability Cultural Center, the Renée Crown University Honors Program, the Center on Human Policy, Disability Studies, the Burton Blatt Institute, the Dept. of Women’s and Gender Studies, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Slutzker Center for International Services, the Creative Writing Program, the Disability Law and Policy Program, the Disability Student Union, the Beyond Compliance Coordinating Committee, and the Disability Law Society.

As aspects of variance and diversity, disability cultures and identities enrich the tapestry of life on and off the SU campus.

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Professor Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir Planet of the Blind, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. His second collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, “Letters to Borges has just been released. Listen to Steve read “Letter to Borges in His Parlor” in this fireside reading via YouTube. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled What a Dog Can Do. Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy. www.stephenkuusisto.com, www.planet-of-the-blind.com

Just Released! Letters to Borges by Stephen Kuusisto (Copper Canyon Press)

Stephen Kuusisto Reads from Letters to Borges, His New Book of Poems

JUST RELEASED!  Best-selling memoirist Stephen Kuusisto uses the themes of travel, place, religion, music, art, and loneliness to explore the relationship between seeing, blindness, and being. In poems addressed to Jorge Luis Borges—another poet who lived with blindness—Kuusisto leverages seeing as negative capability, creating intimacy with deep imagination and uncommon perceptions.

If you enjoyed this reading and would like to listen to several more poems from Letters to Borges, it’s easy enough to arrange.  This FREE recording is yours to enjoy at your leisure, preferably from your favorite cozy chair with a cup of coffee or a nice glass of wine in hand. Simply fill in the “Join me for a cozy ‘fireside’ poetry reading…” form found to the right of this blog post or make your request below.

REVIEWS:

Seth Abramson Seth Abramson, Poet

Kuusisto’s is a life one wants to know, detailed sparingly by a man one wants to know, inscribed in a generic form one finds oneself not merely compelled but honored to read. Letters to Borges is highly recommended for those who still find honor and beauty in both simplicity and–can it be?–actually having something to say.  Read more of Seth Abramson’s reviewfrom the Huffington Post,  Huff Post Books, November 2012


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If we account for Kuusisto’s restricted sight, the brilliance of his verse acquires deeper resonance, for his work imagines a realm between sight and sound composed of the sensory stimuli we all know and recognize, but split, fractured, and juxtaposed to inhabit the mind’s ear of his readers, a feat unique to this truly gifted poet. — Diego Báez, Booklist Advanced Review

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Professor Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir Planet of the Blind, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”.  His second collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, “Letters to Borges has just been released.  He is currently working on a book tentatively titled What a Dog Can Do.  Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy. www.stephenkuusisto.com, www.planet-of-the-blind.com
 

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The Memoir on Steroids

The New York Times reports that there is a new memoir scandal afoot in American publishing.

At issue is the discovery of what appears to be an entirely fictionalized memoir by a young woman who purported to have grown up in foster care and then to have lived a sub-rosa life among teen gangs in Los Angeles. Like the scandal involving James Frey’s notorious false memoir it turns out that this gangland narrative is simply fiction. 

As a teacher and writer of literary nonfiction I want to hold my head. My first instinct is to feel alarm for the art form that I love. Literary memoir is a genre that could be irreparably tarnished by repeated disclosures that something smells rotten in Denmark.

I worry especially because as a teacher I aim to encourage younger writers to write sophisticated and brave nonfiction. I worry because we live in an era when commercial publishing is in serious trouble. I fear that the avenues for the publication of autobiographical nonfiction could be significantly narrowed by the kind of malfeasance we’ve been seeing lately.

What’s worse in my view is that the “trouble” doesn’t lie with the genre. Though it’s tempting to blame “the memoir” in much the way we blame major league baseball for the steroid scandal, the problem doesn’t rest with the “game”—the difficulty lies in the demand for instantaneous and sensational profits.  Commercial publishing is driven today by a relentless, starving shark: a shark like all sharks—its momentum driven by sensation and the promise of instantaneous rewards.

It costs too much to run a baseball team or a publishing house nowadays. So you have to get a juiced up superstar to break a time honored record or you need a shocking and quasi-lurid book to make fast profits. Today’s corporate business model is entirely built on fast quarterly earnings.

Book publishing wasn’t always like this. In the good old days publishers could receive tax credits for the unsold books in the warehouse. But in the Reagan “go go 80’s” the tax laws were changed and publishers found that they couldn’t afford to keep books in print. In turn, the industry went from “publishing” to “producing”—and until the incentives are changed this is the way it will stay with literature and with baseball. 

Memoir isn’t the same thing as a Hollywood “kiss and tell” story. While an artful memoirist may disclose painful or disturbing facts about the personal past, the larger aim of literary consciousness is largely concerned with ambiguities of all kinds.

Another way to put this is that the true writer of memoir doesn’t overcome anything. A true memoir isn’t a self-help book any more than a poem is a manual on how to build a boat.

Yet in  commercial culture the Reagan go-go 80’s lead to the “Oprah 90’s” and both circumstances call for a tabloid friendly form of personal narrative—what I have come to call the “memoir on steroids” which, like the suspicious record keeping in baseball is entirely a function of fast profits.

No one would say that the memoirs of James Baldwin or Mark Twain or Mary McCarthy were sensational narratives about overcoming a singular and crippling one-sided misfortune.

Don’t blame the memoir for contemporary greed.

S.K.