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April 12, 2012


This is a wonderful post Jenny. I've suffered! And one reason why reader's block is so devastating is because it's a loss of a previously reliable source of comfort. I love the idea of re-reading an old book. That's it! Thanks for these great solutions.

Yes, I like that. It seems right. Just like you's a loss of an old comfort. For me, there's an abandoned feeling to it. So 'comfort-loss' makes sense.
thanks for the encouraging words about the post--j.

"Reader's block" is a felicitous phrase for an all-too common ailment these days. I fear that reading anything on a screen limits your involvement in the text, but that is just one subsidiary reason for why we're reading less and more lazily.
Jenny, I wonder whether you would favor us with a column on reconciling the aims of great writing and the pursuit of social justice in the context of an MFA program and the practical curriculum decisions that go into the teaching and administration of such. -- DL

David, I'm glad for your comment. That's such an important discussion, and I hope my post wasn't unclear. I don't think I meant that generalized-thing, that thing Dana Gioia's NEA study of reading several years ago was intended to explore...a kind of shallowness of attention that impedes focus on a flat page alone. (David Ulin, of the LA Times and Antioch, as well as UC Riverside) actually has a great book on this subject. And I feel hopeful these days that actually the mind, the heart, the introspective "self" of our public world is adjusting. That we are not societally on our way into a reading-page-silence.

I think I meant something much more short-term in the life of a single otherwise happily-reading person, something more individual, and about which I have real compassion. It's not the tone of that person's life, it's just more of a single dissonant chord. And it always seems to accompany some short period of time when the person's head is simply too full--from changes, or losses. Oh I don't know.

And I believe--truly I believe--that Reading is a series of mental-motions--a kind of kinesthesia of thought. My suggestion of "strategies" generates from my experience finding that the more different motions I call "reading"--whether it's the "arguing with the page" motion (Mortimer Adler's "how to mark a book"), or the "reading multiple very different texts right next to each other" motion, or the "single poem again" motion, or the old book at a new life-stage motion--the more of these motions one uses, the easier it is to start to flow back into reading when the life is jangling off, and out of it. And--above all--for poets who are suddenly not reading to get back to a place where one can again look at a poem as an act of language with duration in time, where there is silence and expectation before the first words sputter out, and then a mental image or an idea or a connotation brought on by the words, and then more silence and then the next motion of reading....until the poem has happened for you, for us, as a jangly alive act in space and time.

And thank you for the suggestion on the blog post. I'd LOVE to do that. It's too late to start a post tonight, but I'll aim to say something about the intersection of literature and social justice before my week is up!

but perhaps I've just been unnecessarily argumentative. I do often wonder if there is something to a screen, something problematic about a screen.

(Maybe something happens inside us, in terms of focus and neurons, from holding a book --in our hands--as we read it. That tactile piece. A screen is colder and more distant and more visual.)

This is a fabulous, wonderful, fill-in-the-blank-with-your-favorite-superlative post. And what you suggest is also terrific advice for someone at the end of a long semester of teaching composition and reading draft after draft of not-good-writing. Like me. My focus is gone from sheer exhaustion. A poem a day I can do.


Thanks, Laura! This means a lot to me. (If you DO want to pick an every-day-for-a-week poem, I'd be happy to do that with you. It's just a really rich activity for me.)


oh and I thought of one other kinesthesia that helps reader's block....reading aloud TO the flip side of listening...talking.

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That Ship Has Sailed
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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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