Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Reading Planet of the Blind

Reading Stephen Kuusisto's memoir, PLANET OF THE BLIND, about his coming to terms with his blindness. Kuusisto is a poet, and every line of the book is a work of art. Some of the language and allusions are lost on me, and I know I'm reading far too quickly, but I'll spot an illusion to Roethke or find myself entranced by a metaphor and suddenly an hour will go by and I'll lift my head amazed that I can see out the window and am not blind as I had imagined. I should also add that it's wickedly, laugh-out-loud funny.

I think I'm pretty cognizant of the world around me. But how well do I listen? How often do I smell? I have no idea how many stairs it is between my front door, the curve in the hallway, and my flat door. My descriptive powers are put to shame by a man who can't see. I mean, read this:

"A raccoon coat hangs in a doorway, a huge anthropoid black ghastliness stopping my breath until I inch forward and touch it. Dead moths fall like specks of tissue paper. There's a smell of spoiled rubber, and then I find them under the hanging coats, a pair of gutta-percha boots, the height of two umbrella stands. Inside the left one is a rolled newspaper, and inside the paper is a pair of broken horn-rimmed glasses, a memento of a fishing trip."

It's amazing, all that texture and smell and creepiness. A great challenge as a writer and as a human: use more of all my senses.

Also such a pleasure to follow the thoughts of a man who truly loves language and words and books. One last quote, my favorite because I can so identify with it:

"In the library's poetry archive an attendant hands me an 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass. I put my nose on the page where Whitman himself embossed the type, and I breathe."

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