Saturday, May 21, 2005

Only Bread, Only Light

Stephen Kuusisto's book of poems Only Bread, Only Light is an amazing book in many ways. As Kuusisto explains in his acclaimed autobiographical work, Planet of the Blind, he was born with extremely limited sight - 20/200 in his best eye on a good day. Blindness is not always total blackness as many suppose; it is often an almost surrealistic vision comparable to living permanently behind a toy kaleidoscope that continually turns. What Kuusisto does, particularly in the first section of Only Bread, Only Light is to give us some sense of world that world is like and how it shapes his art. He says in the title poem:

At times the blind see light,
And that moment is the Sistine ceiling

Grace among buildings - no one asks
For it

As with Milton, light and grace are key players in Kuusisto’s poems, but music is never far away either,

the music lets me stand -
Freed from opinion into guess
A place I need as some need ends.

This sense of music and grace inform his understanding of poetry

As I get older
The incidental lyric slips
Through the dark trees
But honestly I can't tell
What it means -

As one reads these poems a certain feel, an aesthetic emerges that seems inseparable from the person writing. Like Kuusisto, I can't honestly tell what it means either, but it takes the reader into a world that I think only this poet could guide you through. Of course, any one who weaves Juliana of Norwich and Pascal into his poetry and comes up with a poem entitled "Dante's Paradiso Translates Poorly in Braille" has got me hooked from the start.


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