"David Foster Wallace said somewhere that writer’s block is always a case of the writer holding artificially high standards for herself. Because, when you think of it, nobody gets Typer’s Block. The block starts when you start judging what is ABOUT TO COME OUT and you go: Oh, no you don’t. That = block. So I think one good antidote is just to type a bunch of shit, basically, knowing that you can (and must) go back through and edit all of that, and find some gold in it - even if it’s just a phrase…"

George Saunders on writers block and his writing process

Questions? → Ask George Saunders

George Saunders is one of the nation’s best-known writers. His new collection is “Tenth of December,” 10 stories of biting social satire and deeply felt takes on contemporary American life. He’s the author of six previous books, received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006 and teaches creative writing at Syracuse University. Watch Jeffrey Brown’s interview with Saunders above.

On Tuesday at 12 p.m. ET, Saunders will join us for a live chat. Do you have questions for the acclaimed storyteller? Leave them in the comments section or tweet them to @NewsHour using #SaundersChat. Tune into the chat at 12 p.m. —>  

Dr. John Ross:

The only medical fact known about Shakespeare with certainty is that his final signatures show a marked tremor. Compared to other Elizabethans, Shakespeare had an unhealthy obsession with syphilis. D. H. Lawrence wrote, “I am convinced that some of Shakespeare’s horror and despair, in his tragedies, arose from the shock of his consciousness of syphilis.”

According to contemporary gossip, Shakespeare was not only notoriously promiscuous, but was also part of a love triangle in which all three parties contracted venereal disease. The standard Elizabethan treatment for syphilis was mercury; as the saying goes, “a night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury.” Mercury’s more alarming adverse effects include drooling, gum disease, personality changes, and tremor. (In the eighteenth century, mercury was used in the manufacture of felt hats, leading to the expressions “hatter’s shakes” and “mad as a hatter”). Did Shakespeare’s writing career end prematurely due to side effects of mercury treatment?

Milton, the Bronte sisters, Melville, Yeats, Joyce and Orwell — How disease may have infected your favorite books

"My verses are in fact no verses
They are simply Life’s sobbings
Dark prison cells opening and shutting
The dry cough of two caving in lungs
The sound of earth coming down to bury dreams
The exhumation sound of hoes bringing up memories
The chattering of teeth in cold and misery
The aimless contractions of an empty stomach
The hopeless beat of a dying heart
Impotence’s voice in the midst of collapsing earth
All the sounds of a life not deserving half its name
Or even the name of death:
No verses are they!"

— “My Verses” from the late Vietnamese Poet Nguyen Chi Thien

Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky reads Elizabeth Bishopa’s Columbus Day poem on discovery

Columbus Day has become a time when we try to balance elements of horror and glory in the coming of Europeans to this hemisphere.

"I’m not sure anybody’s imagination has gotten that balance quite right, but Elizabeth Bishop, looking at the mystery of the Brazilian landscape, catches the splendor of that landscape and the mystery that drew the first invaders in toward a sexual or imperial conquest that the invaders never quite attained.

First, Bishop describes the fabric of the Brazilian forest, a dense tapestry.

Every square inch filling in with foliage-
big leaves, little leaves, and giant leaves, 
blue, blue green and olive, 
with occasional lighter veins and edges,
or a satin under leaf turned over;
Monster ferns
in silver-gray relief,
and flowers too, like giant water lilies 
up in the air— up rather in the leaves— purple, yellow, two yellows, pink,
rust red, and greenish white;
solid but airy, fresh as if just finished
and taken off the frame.

That’s the fresh woven fabric that the European cannot quite attain, though they invaded. The ending of Bishop’s poem evokes the paradox of Portuguese soldiers glinting like little nail heads lost and transformed, even as they seem to conquer. The hemisphere, Bishop seems to say, eludes our attempts to know it.

in creaking armor, they came and found it all, 
not unfamiliar: n
o lover’s walks, no bowers, 
no cherries to be picked, no late music,
but corresponding, nevertheless,
to an old dream of wealth and luxury
already out of style when they left home- 
wealth, plus a brand new pleasure.
Directly after Mass, humming perhaps 
L’Homme arme or some such tune,
they ripped away into the hanging fabric, 
each out to catch an Indian for himself-
those maddening little women who kept calling, 
calling to each other, (or had the birds waked up?)
And retreated, always retreating behind it.”

"

Little man, I said, keep the wolf
from my door: one more night,

one more wretched night and day.
The wolf said wait and the season

was packing its bags, but it would
not leave and it would never leave.

"

Joseph Campana is a poet, critic and scholar of Renaissance literature. He is the author of two collections of poetry, “The Book of Faces” (Graywolf, 2005) and "Natural Selections," which won the 2011 Iowa Poetry Prize.

(Source: pbs.org)

Tags: poetry poems lit

"If you start adding up the hours that you spend in imaginary worlds you get to a pretty astonishing figure. We spend four hours a day watching TV, our children make believe, we spend hours and hours, actually about eight hours per day, lost in day dreams. We dream in stories. When you add all this time up, for me it was a startling conclusion, that humans aren’t really Earthlings. We’re more like citizens of this weird omni-dimensional world called Neverland. We spend most our lives wandering inside imaginary worlds."

Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal

'Watcher'

— After Katrina, 2005

At first, there was nothing to do but watch.
For days, before the trucks arrived, before the work
of cleanup, my brother sat on the stoop and watched.

He watched the ambulances speed by, the police cars;
watched for the looters who’d come each day
to siphon gas from the car, take away the generator,

the air conditioner, whatever there was to be had.
He watched his phone for a signal, watched the sky
for signs of a storm, for rain so he could wash.

At the church, handing out diapers and water,
he watched the people line up, watched their faces
as they watched his. And when at last there was work,

he got a job, on the beach, as a watcher.
Behind safety goggles, he watched the sand for bones,
searched for debris that clogged the great machines.

Riding the prow of the cleaners, or walking ahead,
he watched for carcasses - chickens mostly, maybe 
some cats or dogs. No one said remains. No one

had to. It was a kind of faith, that watching:
my brother trained his eyes to bear
the sharp erasure of sand and glass, prayed

there’d be nothing more to see.

Natasha Trethewey, the new U.S. Poet Laureate. Her book “Beyond Katrina” chronicles the personal accounts of how people of the Gulf Coast region, including her family, have lived with the treat and consequences of natural disaster for generations.

"You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them."

Ray Bradbury

Bradbury, the author of “Fahrenheit 451,” has died in California. He was 91. 

"We were trained as writers with the idea that literature is something that can change reality. That it’s not just a very sophisticated entertainment, but a way to act. Today these ideas have disappeared practically among the new generation. Now the young writers consider that it’s too pretentious to think that literature can produce this kind of thing. But when I was young, when I started to write, we were totally convinced that literature was a kind of weapon,” Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa
—What do you think the role of literature is today? How has it changed?

"We were trained as writers with the idea that literature is something that can change reality. That it’s not just a very sophisticated entertainment, but a way to act. 

Today these ideas have disappeared practically among the new generation. Now the young writers consider that it’s too pretentious to think that literature can produce this kind of thing. 

But when I was young, when I started to write, we were totally convinced that literature was a kind of weapon,” Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa


What do you think the role of literature is today? How has it changed?