Poetry / Sara Lynne Puotinen
:: Two Poems ::
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From the writer
:: Account ::
Four years ago, I was diagnosed with cone dystrophy and told that all of my central vision would be gone in five years. I began to document the process of this vision loss. These poems are part of that documentation. They are inspired by Georgina Kleege and her description of finding the large blind spot in her central vision by staring at a blank wall.
One day, during the early stages of the pandemic, I went to a blank wall in my living room, stood still, and stared at it. Soon I saw something strange. It wasn’t a full spot but a dark ring with a light center. I taped a piece of paper to it at eye level, closed one eye, and then traced the blind ring that appeared, first with a pencil, later with blue crayon.
I was delighted to see this ring. Finally evidence of declining vision that I could observe! I knew I was losing central vision by how much harder it was to read, how people’s faces were fuzzy blurs, how I never noticed mold on my food, but my brain was compensating remarkably well and I often wondered if I was imagining my vision problems.
Before seeing my blind ring on the wall, the main method I used for monitoring my vision loss was to stare into an Amsler grid, which is a grid with a dot in the center used to detect damage to the macula. I would notice how the lines were wavy instead of straight, soft instead of sharp, how they faded a few blocks from the center. I could reassure myself that I wasn’t making up my failing vision.
I decided to use these forms—my blind ring and the Amsler grid—to create poems about my moods while living in the in-between state of not quite seeing, not yet (legally) blind. It seemed urgent and important to try to identify these moods and then find ways to express them, partly because I needed to work through my feelings, and partly because I wanted to give attention to something that wasn’t discussed enough: what it feels like to be in the process of losing sight, not after it is lost or before, but during.
I created a grid and fit 3 poems describing a mood into it: a main poem that was in the form of my overall working vision, a smaller poem that was in the form of the central vision within the blind ring that I still have left, and a hidden poem with words filling in the boxes in the space of my blind ring. Each box in the grid contains one character (a letter or space or punctuation) and I use a monotype font to keep it evenly spaced.
Sara Lynne Puotinen lives in south Minneapolis, near the Mississippi River Gorge, where she reads and writes and tries to be upright and outside as much as possible. She earned a B.A. in religion, an M.A. in ethics, and a Ph.D in women’s studies, which all inform her experiments in paying attention and her playful troubling of what it means to write while moving, to move while writing, and to do both while losing her central vision from a degenerative eye disease (cone dystrophy). Her writing has appeared in Poemeleon, Hearth & Coffin, and Longleaf Review, among others. Currently, she is working on a series of poems that use Snellen Charts and Amsler Grids to describe her experiences with vision loss.