Not your average poet

Maureen Nagg

Blind author performs with the help of adaptive technology

Blind poet Stephen Kuusisto recites one of his poems last night at the Student Center. Kuusisto was accompanied by his headphones and his seeing eye dog, Vidal.

Credit: Andrew popik

Apart from the dog napping behind him, the headphones he wears while reciting are one of the few signs that Stephen Kuusisto is different from other poets.

Kuusisto, a blind poet and author, read his poetry yesterday evening in the Student Center.

Kuusisto was joined by an audience of about 50 people and his Seeing Eye dog, Vidal, a 6-year-old Labrador retriever.

Kuusisto uses adaptive technology to perform his poetry.

“I can download my poems on to this Palm Pilot from files on my computer,” he said. “Then it reads the poetry to me, and I listen through the headphones.”

David Hassler, coordinator of the event, said the Wick Poetry Center was happy to have Kuusisto because he is both a poet and a memoir writer.

“He writes prose like a poet, and at the same time, his poetry is informed with the knowledge of a prose writer,” Hassler said.

Kuusisto said he has a slight advantage by being blind.

“I listen to what’s going on around me, and usually the casual sounds are the most interesting,” he said.

Jenna Gerling, freshman English major, came to see Kuusisto after reading his book Planet of the Blind.

“He is interesting, and I wanted to see what he had to say,” Gerling said. “I wanted to hear his poetry compared to just reading the book.”

“He has a very active, lively imagination,” Hassler said. “His wide range of reading has enhanced his writing tremendously.”

Many of Kuusisto’s poems are inspired by people other than himself, such as colleagues, Ray Charles and fellow poets.

Kuusisto’s memoir Planet of the Blind was a best-seller and named a notable book of the year by The New York Times. He has a new book coming out in the fall called Eve’s Dropping: A Life by Ear.

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Maureen Nagg at [email protected].