Writer Blocks


A block for every 5000 words written this weekend has now inevitably turned into an editor’s blockade.


Poetic Procrastination

I’m attempting to write a paper about mirror neurons, economics and literature and it is not going particularly well. Time is running out, but still I just want to retreat into poetry for awhile. When I was in San Francisco last year, I had the opportunity to visit City Lights Bookstore. And while the staff were the typical snobs that unfortunately frequent beautiful bookstores (something about working in a beautiful and famous bookstore makes these people take on a persona of achievement and success based entirely on their workplace. They’re kind of like those awful snobs that work in high-fashion retail, you know, the Pretty Women type?) it is true that this shop deserves its place in history. It’s an incredibly special place, and with the Brautigan and Laura Riding I brought home, I got hold of the latest Robert Hass. Almost a year ago and I still haven’t managed to read it! Such sadness. But I share with you this poem, one of my favourites from his collection, Time and Materials:

The Problem of Describing Color                                     

If I said – remembering in summer,                                 The cardinal’s sudden smudge of red                                In the bare gray winter woods –

If I said, red ribbon on the cocked straw hat                      Of the girl with the pooched-out lips                        Dangling a wiry lapdog                                                        In the painting by Renoir –

If I said fire, if I said blood welling from a cut –

Or flecks of poppy in the tar-grass scented summer air                                                                                      On a wind-struck hillside outside Fano –

If I said, her one red earring tugging at her silky lobe,

If she tells fortunes with a deck of fallen leaves                                                                 Until it comes out right –

Rouged nipple, mouth –

(How could you not love a woman                                                                                                         Who cheats at the Tarot?)

Red, I said. Sudden, red.

Death by Motorcade

In June, Robert Mugabe’s motorcade was involved in three separate accidents and killed at least 2 people. The most recent one involved an accident with a bus. The driver of the bus was of course blamed for not moving out of the way fast enough. A couple of weeks previously a motorcycle in the motorcade hit and killed a homeless man, he obviously didn’t move out of the way fast enough either.



These incidents recall to mind a moment in A Tale of Two Cities:

“With a wild rattle and clatter, and an inhuman abandonment of consideration not easy to be understood in these days, the carriage dashed through streets and swept round corners, with women screaming before it, and men clutching each other and clutching children out of its way. At last, swooping at a street corner by a fountain, one of its wheels came to a sickening little jolt, and there was a loud cry from a number of voices, and the horses reared and plunged.

But for the latter inconvenience, the carriage probably would not have stopped; carriages were often known to drive on, and leave their wounded behind, and why not? But the frightened valet had got down in a hurry, and there were twenty hands at the horses’ bridles.

“What has gone wrong?” said Monsieur, calmly looking out.

A tall man in a nightcap had caught up a bundle from among the feet of the horses, and had laid it on the basement of the fountain, and was down in the mud and wet, howling over it like a wild animal.

“Pardon, Monsieur the Marquis!” said a ragged and submissive man, “it is a child.”

“Why does he make that abominable noise? Is it his child?”

“Excuse me, Monsieur the Marquis—it is a pity—yes.”

The fountain was a little removed; for the street opened, where it was, into a space some ten or twelve yards square. As the tall man suddenly got up from the ground, and came running at the carriage, Monsieur the Marquis clapped his hand for an instant on his sword-hilt.

“Killed!” shrieked the man, in wild desperation, extending both arms at their length above his head, and staring at him. “Dead!”

The people closed round, and looked at Monsieur the Marquis. There was nothing revealed by the many eyes that looked at him but watchfulness and eagerness; there was no visible menacing or anger. Neither did the people say anything; after the first cry, they had been silent, and they remained so. The voice of the submissive man who had spoken, was flat and tame in its extreme submission. Monsieur the Marquis ran his eyes over them all, as if they had been mere rats come out of their holes.

He took out his purse.

“It is extraordinary to me,” said he, “that you people cannot take care of yourselves and your children. One or the other of you is for ever in the way. How do I know what injury you have done my horses. See! Give him that.”

He threw out a gold coin for the valet to pick up, and all the heads craned forward that all the eyes might look down at it as it fell. The tall man called out again with a most unearthly cry, “Dead!”

We all know what happened to the Marquis in the end. Maybe Mugabe should read more Dickens.


“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” One of the best lines from one of my favourite movies: The Princess Bride.

Other lines of perfection:

“There’s a shortage of perfect breasts in the world, it would be a pity to damage yours.”

“You have an overdeveloped sense of vengeance.”

“Do you want me to send you back to where you were? Unemployed, in Greenland?!”

Peter Cooke delivers an impeccable marriage ceremony as the Impressive Clergyman: “Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam”

And of course the timeless insult only possible bettered by calling someone “fuckitygums” is: “you warthog faced buffoon”

For other uses of Princess Bride quotes, go here: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/lines-from-the-princess-bride-that-double-as-comments-on-freshman-composition-papers

John Gray on Slavoj Zizek

A rather scathing critique of Zizek by John Gray:

“With its sweeping claims and magniloquent rhetoric, this passage is typical of much in Žižek’s work. What he describes as the premise of the book [Living in the End Times] is simple only because it passes over historical facts. Reading it, no one would suspect that, putting aside the killings of many millions for ideological reasons, some of the last century’s worst ecological disasters—the destruction of nature in the former Soviet Union and the devastation of the countryside during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, for example—occurred in centrally planned economies. Ecological devastation is not a result only of the economic system that exists in much of the world at the present time; while it may be true that the prevailing version of capitalism is unsustainable in environmental terms, there is nothing in the history of the past century that suggests the environment will be better protected if a socialist system is installed.”

Read the article in full here:


The Sexual Education of Gentlemen

Image“This is not to say that a young gentleman’s education in matters of sex is entirely neglected. His mother may mutter on about the birds and the bees but who wants to listen to all that rot when he can watch his pet guinea pigs in actions any day of the week? It is just that he cannot quite visualise himself doing the same thing and he secretly rather hopes that babies really are born under gooseberry bushes….

In more spacious days indulgent fathers used to have their sons instructed in the facts of life by introducing them to one of the many houses in London run by Madams who, so legend went, had hearts of gold. Nowadays, however, professional ladies find it more lucrative and less exhausting to devote themselves to comforting out-of-town businessmen, and young gentlemen find themselves relegated to the amateur league which operates around the coffee bars of the King’s Road, Chelsea. The enthusiastic free-for-all which has resulted has made London the envy of her continental neighbours.”

A. A. Milne’s detective wisdom

From the Introduction to The Red House:

“On the great Love question opinions may be divided, but for myself I will have none of it. A reader, all agog to know whether the white substance on the muffins was arsenic or face-powder, cannot be held up while Roland clasps Angela’s hand “a moment longer than the customary usages of society dictate.” Much might have happened in that moment, properly spent; foot-prints made or discovered; cigarette-ends picked up and put in envelopes. By all means let Roland have a book to himself in which to clasp anything he likes, but in a detective story he must attend strictly to business.”

“And now, what about a Watson? Are we to have a Watson? We are. Death to the the author who keeps his unravelling for the last chapter, making all the other chapters but a prologue to a five-minute drama. This is no way to write a story. Let us know from chapter to chapter what the detective is thinking. For this he must wastonize or soliloquize; the one is merely a dialogue form of the other, and, by that, more readable. A Watson, then, but not of necessity a fool of a Watson.”


Any volunteers to be my Watson? It would be most helpful