Book Review: Have Dog, Will Travel

In March, blind poet and writing professor Stephen Kuusisto released Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey — a memoir about his life with his first guide dog, Corky. This is an exceptional book that will resonate with a wide audience beyond the obvious blind people and guide dog handlers. Kuusisto was featured on the PBS News Hour; you’ll enjoy this preview of the book!

I reviewed the book for Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature, and the essay went live today. Here’s how it begins:

Corky, a singular yellow Labrador, transforms the gossamer existence of a blind poet. The extraordinary dog bounces in with generosity and poise, what Stephen Kuusisto calls her ‘keen affection.’ This is the shining through-line of Kuusisto’s latest book, Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey, released by Simon & Schuster in March, 2018.

Readers of Kuusisto’s earlier essays will recognize some of the themes he invokes here: the mother in denial, the hostile or incongruous strangers, the need to accept and remake himself. But Have Dog, Will Travel offers a perspective that is more optimistic than Planet of the Blind or Eavesdropping. It is a book that relentlessly pushes old ideas aside. The reader can feel Corky and Kuusisto’s forward motion, a consistent meter that rewrites Kuusisto’s whole life.

Read the full review here! And don’t forget to check out the rest of the wonderful content in the summer issue.


Book Review: Suites for the Modern Dancer

I am excited to share my latest publication, a review of Jill Khoury’s Suites for the Modern Dancer. Khoury’s book is a full-length poetry collection, published by Sundress Press in 2016. My review was published in Issue #5 of The Deaf Poets Society. Here’s how the review begins:

I indulge in the fantasy of maneuvering effortlessly to a shady oak, slim volume of poetry in hand, and losing myself for an afternoon. With birds and breezes for companions and sunlight unproblematic on white pages, my escapism thrives on the act of reading, rather than the text itself. In reality my reading of standard-print texts is mediated by real and artificial voices. I can’t follow the text visually unless I enlarge it myself, so I download books to my phone and use VoiceOver’s text-to-speech features. Such readings are mechanical but precise. If I follow along with a large-print version of the text, I almost forget that I am reading collaboratively.

But I prefer real human voices. My friend and I settle down at the kitchen table with two copies of Jill Khoury’s Suites for the Modern Dancer. His is the 2016 paperback edition, and mine is a manuscript copy in 18-point font. Since I can’t skim the collection by sight, I use adhesive red flags to mark each page I write on.

Read the full essay here.

Review: BIstro AIX

Tonight I am dining at Bistro AIX for the first time. While making the reservation through OpenTable, I inserted a note about needing an out-of-the-way table to accommodate my guide dog. I’m curious to see how the restaurant will interpret my specifications.

Javier and I arrive at Bistro AIX for our 6:30PM reservation, confirmed by an amiable hostess. She escorts us through the restaurant; we make a few turns, passing occupied tables. The most noise seems to be concentrated in the first seating area, but our guide leads us to the farthest possible table—the last in a series of half-booth, half-chair four-tops. Our table glows with evening sunlight, pouring through the glass door to our right. I slide into the booth side, and Javier takes the seat across from me. Behind him, the pastry case beckons. Despite the glare, the table suits us well—plenty of room for York to stretch out underneath.

After an initial conversation with our server, we decide to order the fried calamari appetizer. It arrives on a large oval plate with a cup of intriguing dipping sauce. Described on the menu as “red pepper and feta dip,” the sauce complements the calamari’s slightly salty batter. The dip is thick and spicy, and its flavors seem to linger on the tongue. The calamari are crispy and tender—no hint of rubbery rings.

With the appetizer, we’re enjoying Bistro AIX’s thick rustic bread and sweet butter. The bread has a heavy crust and a fluffy, porous crumb. Each slice is larger than the palm of my hand.

Each time our server returns to the table, he improves in my estimation. Not only is he friendly and helpful, but he readily narrates his actions: “Some more water for you?” or “Here’s some bread in front of you, butter in s small cup inside the breadbasket.” He must have experience with visually impaired patrons; his descriptions are brief, accurate, and willingly deployed.

We receive other visitors as we polish off the calamari and bread. Each employee is courteous and helpful, and all are concerned about the sun’s zealous attention to our table. Everyone wants to make sure that we’re still comfortable as we wait for the late sunset.

Dinner arrives: Ahi tuna for Javier and mushroom-fontina pizza for me. My pizza has a one-line description: “Sautéd wild mushrooms, truffle oil.” Its flavors are equally poetic. The pizza is large and round, cut into several squares and triangles. The crust is extremely thin—almost like a pita pizza. The toppings are strategically arranged: thin slices of mushroom and delicate mounds of melting fontina, all drizzled with the pungent truffle oil.  The pizza is light, and the portion is generous. I’m saving room for dessert, so I finish about half of it.

The dessert menu is an exercise in exquisite misery. I’m torn between three of its seven options: the Provençal meringue, chocolate gateaux, and vanilla bean crême brûlée. Perhaps because I’ve been reading so much Peter Mayle lately, I choose the Provençal meringue: it seems the most unusual option. The menu offers these inviting syllables: “Lavender-Thyme meringue, lemon curd, mint basil oil.”

After being flambéed (we catch the tempting smell of caramelizing sugar), the dessert arrives looking like a small campfire. The meringue is concealed beneath its blanket of lemon curd. Strawberries and blueberries mark the meringue’s perimeter, and a few mint leaves are nestled into the delicately browned peaks.

The dessert is a celebration of textures. Soft warm lemon curd, slightly crunchy meringue, and crisp berries—in some bites all three textures dissolve. The flavors are equally symphonic: I feel like I am chasing the lavender and thyme through the lemon curd, and the berries brighten everything. The mint sounds a clear, clean note, and works best with the lemon. I don’t really taste the basil, so I will have to return and try it again.

I consider this edible adventure a success, and I am already dreaming about another visit. Bistro AIX offers what I’m looking for in a restaurant: delicious food and empathetic servers.