Thank you, Christopher Bowsman

Thank you, Christopher Bowsman, for your kind words  ~sk

Steve Kuusisto on Poetry and Disability Studies

The Blackwell Inn was a big lavishly decorated hotel, and the conference was held in the ball room. I saw Steve Kuusisto moving up to the podium and talking to his dog “Come on, girl.” Moving in unison with the dog up to the podium. He introduced himself, his guide dog Nari, (Who “by the miracle of frozen sperm” is from his last dog), and began to explain disability as a mode of perception. The ability to re-claim “embodiment” (How our bodies are perceived.) is as ancient as language, he argues.

Steve was funny, articulate, and poetic. Frequently, he made allusions to other poems, or modes of perception that “re-claim embodiment.” That is, he examined the inner world of disability, its lived experience, in contrast to being defined as reified (lacking. Blindness being the absence of light. Deafness being the absence of hearing, etc. In his poetry, he describes his dog as being much more than a dog; that sometimes they are one being. This is actually how I feel about my wheelchair too. He tells stories of watching drunken men in wheelchairs eating flowers, and wrote about that poetically. Through poetry, Steve gains insight and a unique epistemology.

Continue reading post on Christopher Bowsman’s blog, Through Alien Eyes, The Sci-fi Worldview of Chris B.

Insights from the Planet of the Blind: An Interview. Part 1.

After reading Planet of the Blind, Kathleen Avery, Senior Director of Marketing at Cleinman Performance Partners, had occasion to talk with the author (Stephen Kuusisto) about his story and all that he’s come to understand.  Thank you, Kathleen, for allowing us to share this with our readers.

Kathleen:  Your book is so rich with visual metaphor, just the most vivid descriptions.  I’m curious how you are able to reference such diverse imagery.  Comparing a man in a rain coat to the sails of Tristan’s ship or an elephant’s ear, for instance…

Stephen:  Well, the first answer to that question is about language.  All nouns are images.  If you say strawberry…or horse…or wheat field…or lighthouse in Maine – you automatically see these things in your mind.  This is why ancient people believed that poets were magical.  They could make you see things.. They once had a radio advertisement on NPR: “Listen to the Theater of your Mind.”  That’s how poetry works.  It throws off powerful nouns and the reader sees them; they’re called power nouns.

Kathleen:  But how do you know what a lighthouse in Maine looks like?

Stephen: I either do or do not (laughs).  And that’s the second answer.  There is a way in which imagination approximates things.  You can actually create things with language that don’t exist.  The poet Charles Simic says, “Go inside a stone, that would be my way…”  He takes you inside the stone and it is the universe all over again.  The truth is you can’t see that at all, but you can trick the mind into seeing what can’t be seen.  This is also why ancient people thought poets were magical.

And, of course, people describe things to me.

You know, people think that blindness is like living in a vacuum.  The general public tends to think that blind people are trapped inside the stone.  They will ask me how I could possibly go to an art museum.  Well, you pick your friends.  You go with friends who will describe what they see.  Is it an immediate experience?  No.  But I like it, because there is poetry in it.  It is mediated.

Kathleen:  Oh, how interesting would it be to listen to different people describe the same Picasso?

Stephen: That would be a fabulous NPR piece!

You can read Kathleen Avery’s interview in its’ entirety by visiting www.cleinman.com/insights-from-the-planet-of-the-blind

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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, is scheduled for release in October 2012.  As director of the Renee Crown University Honors Program and a University Professor at Syracuse University, Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy. www.stephenkuusisto.com, www.planet-of-the-blind.com

 

What a Dog Can Do: An excerpt

No one knows when the forerunner of today’s guide dogs first appeared. Drawings of blind people accompanied by dogs date back to the 17th century. Those early pairings were most likely memorization teams, one pictures the dog leading its partner through the village square.  It’s clear no substantial training was involved. But we can imagine the tremendous bond with dogs that developed between the uncharted and lonely blind people of prior ages. It is a safe bet that dogs solved the puzzle of solitude for blind travelers who lived in a time when sightlessness was a great calamity. (The idea that blind men and women could be taught to read was a late development in cultural history, as Diderot’s essay Lettre sur les aveugles published in 1749 offered the first speculation that raised letters might be possible.) The world of the blind has been a dismal place throughout much of history. It’s possible to say, along with the poet Pablo Neruda that pure faith cannot withstand the assaults of winter, but your survival is more likely with a dog. Sometimes when I think about the ancient blind with their lives of begging and fiddle playing, their relentless wandering, homelessness, sickness, I weep to imagine the righteous loyalty of those early dogs.

From: What a Dog Can Do: A Memoir of Life with Guide Dogs, by Stephen Kuusisto, forthcoming from Simon and Schuster

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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, is scheduled for release in October 2012.  As director of the Renee Crown University Honors Program and a University Professor at Syracuse University, Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy. www.stephenkuusisto.com, www.planet-of-the-blind.com

Why We Need TV and Movies That Include People with Disabilities: Part 104

So there I was today on NPR’s “On Point” program with two terrific blind professionals and I was feeling like the school kid who has to use the bathroom and can’t wait any longer to announce the matter. I needed to say that the reason blind people are so woefully unemployed and the reason that the public marvels at the accomplishments of exemplary blind professionals like Gordon Gund or David A. Paterson is that the film and TV industries continue to make blindness look horrible.  Who wouldn’t imagine, after seeing that dreadful movie “At First Sight” (with Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino) that being blind isn’t  a minimal life? That movie came out at the same time as my memoir “Planet of the Blind” and it reinforced every cliché about blindness that I was trying to conquer. If the human resources professionals saw a prime time television show in which a blind person confidently uses state of the art assistive technology—heck, even showing the non-disabled characters a thing or two about the gizmos, well that would be as big a step toward changing the climate of unemployment for the blind as our well intentioned celebration of Governor Paterson’s oath of office. Let’s face it: the public thinks that blind people are scarcely able to navigate their living rooms. How could they possibly serve as good employees? That Ph.D. or Master’s degree must be some kind of a trick. That’s it! The “brainiac” blind woman or man is probably “faking it” just like those guys you see  begging for money with the phony sunglasses. Yep! That’s gotta be it! How do I know this at (insert company name here)? Because I just saw Disney’s film version of Mr. Magoo. Now there’s a blind guy for you! Ha! I laughed til  I dropped my popcorn on my plaid shorts. Boy Oh Boy  was that ever a good movie!

In case anybody’s wondering, I was once interviewed by a producer of ABC’s television program “20/20”about the possibility of an interview associated with the publication of “Planet of the Blind”. What did I do to ruin the deal? I mentioned that ABC is owned by Disney and that the new film of Mr. Magoo was a disgrace. They were very nice as they showed me to the door.

S.K.   

Professor Stephen Kuusisto
Department of English
The University of Iowa
308 EPB
Iowa City, IA 52242

Links:

Remembering Mr. Magoo

Cross-posted on Blog [with]tv

Thank you, Guiding Eyes

Back in 1998 a book reviewer at The Boston Globe suggested that I am a shill for the guide dog schools. What he meant is that my first book of nonfiction is richly devoted to sharing the experience of training with my first guide dog “Corky”—a life changing event for me and the glue that holds together my book.
I didn’t mind being called a shill. I’ve been called worse.

Today as I was walking in the Iowa snow with my third dog from Guiding Eyes I remembered that old Steve Martin joke where he says to his audience “I want to thank each and every one of you” Then he proceeds to say over and over: “Thank you thank you thank you thank you” etc.

Occupied in this way it dawned on me that Guiding Eyes for the Blind is worthy of every thank you I could pronounce. Guide dogs are expensive creatures to breed, raise, train, and then pair with a blind person. Despite the fact that each dog and person team costs well over 40,000 dollars to create, Guiding Eyes absorbs all the costs through its non-profit program of charitable donations.

I am a comparatively lucky blind person. I have a good job and a wonderful wife and family. Yet I can assure you that if I had to pony up 40K for my street mobility would be very hard pressed indeed. This in turn gets me to my point. Some will doubtless think of me as being too sentimental. Thanking those who have helped you is perhaps, in the minds of some “too old fashioned” or “too caught up in the charity model of disability”.

I believe that as I walk safely and in most cases euphorically that I have a big team behind me. Donors, puppy raisers, puppy breeders, veterinarians, fund raisers, construction and buildings and grounds personnel, volunteers, guide dog trainers, orientation and mobility specialists, dietitians, nurses, folks who work in the kennels, and the blind men and women who have trained alongside me with their new dogs.

Today, walking in the snow I heard in memory the voice of Steve Martin thanking everybody.

S.K.

Greetings from Guiding Eyes

After two canceled flights and a long day’s journey I arrived back at Guiding Eyes for the Blind last evening. I’m embarking on a fabulous adventure, training with a brand new guide dog. In twenty minutes I’ll be heading to my first full day of training–a humbling process for although I’ve had two previous guide dogs, the training has evolved and the dogs nowadays are trained to follow some new commands. Can an old blind guy learn new tricks? We shall most certainly find out.

Guiding Eyes is one of the nation’s premier guide dog training schools and my wife Connie and I used to work here before we moved to Ohio and then westward to Iowa City. The school has undergone some significant changes since Con and I were last here in 2000, most notably there’s a brand new student residence and a fabulous new dining hall and a beautiful new multi-purpose room for classes and events.

There’s also the "march of time" because of course the new guide dog trainers are ever younger. And they have new training techniques and I already feel like a slightly disreputable uncle whose  manners need to be seriously improved.

As always, the other students come from every corner of the United States and they are made up of new guide dog users and old timers; young folks and those of us who are middling old. There’s a nice camaraderie and I know I’ll be hearing  all kinds of disability related stories over the next 10 days. I’m immediately reminded that disability is entirely democratic in its discriminations: we are a diverse group from all kinds of backgrounds and we have only blindness in common. And soon we shall have dogs in common and that’s a beautiful fact. We will get our new guide dogs on Wednesday.

Photo
I got my first dog "Corky" when I was 39 and now I’m 52 and the veteran staff keep telling me that I look good and haven’t changed and aside from the decency of that premise, maybe in a small way I’m lucky to have had two good dogs to work with and travel alongside as a principle means both of being safe and staying young. Dogs after all are important for human physical and emotional well being.

I must go now into the busy day with its lessons and unimagined astonishments. Here’s to the good dogs and their human pals. 

S.K.

Photo description:  Black & white of Steve and yellow Labrador "Corky".  This is the photo that was used on the cover of Steve’s memoir: Planet of the BlindWhile we only see this "headshot", Steve is actually lying on his left side with his face propped against his left hand.  He’s wearing tinted glasses.  Corky is sitting next to him in such a way that we see her profile, and because her head is higher than Steve’s because of their positioning, it almost looks as if she could be resting her head on top of Steve’s. Many have said that Steve looks like a young Paul McCartney in this photo.  Photo Credit: Marion Ettlinger