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
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