by Jaime Rodriguez, RDPFS Intern
April is National Poetry Month, a time to recognize the important role poets and poetry play in our culture. National Poetry Month has become the largest literary celebration globally, with tens of millions of people celebrating annually. In recognition of this occasion, we are highlighting two talented poets who are visually impaired:
Stephen Kuusisto is a poet, author, professor, and advocate in the areas of diversity, disability, education, and public policy. He is also blind, having been born three months prematurely, causing “retinopathy of prematurity,” where the eyes’ retinas do not fully develop, as well as nystagmus and strabismus. Growing up with blindness was difficult during a time when information wasn’t widely available regarding how to raise a blind child or instruct blind children in the classroom. Despite these challenges, through Kuusisto’s mother’s advocacy, he was placed in a standard first-grade classroom, 30 years before people with disabilities were legally guaranteed civil rights in the United States. After graduating from Hobart and William Smith Colleges and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Kuuisto taught at the University of Iowa and began writing his memoir, “Planet of the Blind.” His first book’s success jump-started his career, and his poems and essays were published in Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Partisan Review, and other periodicals. He has also published two memoirs and several poetry anthologies. For more information, check out his website, StephenKuusisto.Com.
Dave Steele, a famous, award-winning poet, author, public speaker, and singer, is also an advocate for the blind, having been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) in 2014 and losing his sight to the genetic eye disease. When he began to have significant vision loss, he struggled with unemployment, debt, and loss of independence, turning to social media for support. There he met people from all over the world who expressed their experiences with vision loss. One of those individuals, learning about Steele’s singing ability, invited him to perform at an event for people living with retinitis pigmentosa and Usher Syndrome. This inspired him to write the song “Stand By Me RP,” he conveyed his feelings about losing his sight. As his vision worsened, Steele began writing poetry, up to three poems a day, expressing his experiences and struggles living with blindness, which was therapeutic. After amassing a number of poems, he published his first book, “Stand By Me RP Volume 1” in February 2016, which quickly became the number one poetic release in several countries. Since then, Steele published volumes two and three of the “Stand By Me RP” trilogy, won multiple awards, and went on a three-week American Book Tour, traveling to major cities for book readings and signings, and giving keynote speeches. He has now written more than 700 poems, and says that his mission, through poetry, is “’to help those who are being isolated by a condition that strips us of our independence, let them know that they aren’t alone, and help educate loved ones on how we feel.’” For more information about Dave Steele, check out his website TheBlindPoet.Org.