Tuesday, May 12, 2020

In memoriam, Isaak Grazutis.

My great-uncle Isaak died last night. I am honoured to have dedicated my forthcoming novel, centring around the Holocaust in Lithuania, to him. He was happy about that. A couple years ago, I interviewed him about his remarkable life.

In 1941 Lithuania, he literally walked away from the Nazis as an 11 year old. He and his aunt began walking out of Lithuania as the Nazis were arriving and the killing started. A truck full of Soviet soldiers told his aunt, "We only have room for one. Pass us the boy and we'll take him out of here." That was the last he saw of his family. (He did eventually connect with an aunt, years later, who had made it to Israel.)  My grandfather—his nephew—eventually found him in 1979 in Chicago where he was working as an illustrator/designer.

Here are three pictures. One (above) shows Isaak (on the left) this year, at 90 with his wife, Galina; my aunt, my mom and my father. Another is Isaak as a young man—he was a painter—painting a familiar face on the wall in a sports stadium. Art students were required to do this, as well as plough fields on Sundays. The last is a painting by Isaak of a street in Vilnius.

When I showed him my last novel, Yiddish for Pirates, he examined it very closely, thoughtfully, tenderly, intelligently noting and commenting on each design feature—from cover, colophon, chapter headings, fonts, and so on. He was, after all an artist and graphic designer all his life. This was his way of engaging with it, and with me, and his reading in English wasn't quite up to the novel.

Despite the hardships he endured, he was an exceedly warm, positive man alert to life's joys, humour, and beauty.

When I spoke to him, I asked him about returning home after escaping. He'd ended up in an orphanage in the Urals, then having caught a train from Vilnius to Moscow (climbing on the roof)  where he worked at a Yiddish language newspaper because of his facility with language. They noted his talent as an artist and he eventually started art school there. I wondered about the feeling of horror, of dread when he returned from the Urals, before he hopped the train. He said, he was young and with no family or expectations, the world was open to adventure and possibility. I found this hard to understand. This willingness to think of the future, to make the best of it. "Whatever it is, it is." In conversation, certainly he recalled his lost family with love, tenderness and affection. It wasn't for lack of that, I came to understand that it was something irrepressibly vital about him, something that held onto the roof of the train of life and let him make the best of things and be open to the possible.

And then there was that great story about when he worked as a graphic designer in a munitions factory where they manufactured guns and cars somewhere east of the Urals. He finagled a car out of the deal (they were exceedingly rare and expensive at the time in Soviet Russia.) And so, not knowing how to drive, he drove it the several thousand miles back to Vilnius, over frozen rivers and in deep cold. Also, without any windshield wiper fluid or heater, if I remember correctly, he used vodka.

I wrote more about him here 


Thursday, April 23, 2020

An actual rejection letter and a poem...

I received this remarkable rejection letter and posted it on Facebook, as one does. Then Lillian Necakov suggested that I made it into a poem, though it really is a perfect thing in itself. I had recently read this article in the Globe by Marsha Lederman and was inspired by what Marsha was writing about, including what Michael Christie had written above his desk.  Here's the rejection letter and subsequent poem.



Thank you for submitting five poems to __________.

We are unable to accept your work for publication this time around. The Poetry Editorial Board responded quite variably and strongly to these poems, admiring their craft and wit and tonal range, but disagreeing no less variably on which they preferred and why. The poems struck a bit like bowling balls, knocking different readers down in each case. Other readers elsewhere may well respond differently, too, and most of the poems will likely find good homes, so you should certainly keep them in circulation.

Image

Monday, April 20, 2020

A Transcreation of Der Lindenbaum (Schubert/Muller)


Paul Evitts over on Facebook asked if I would do a free translation of Müller's "Der Lindenbaum" (a poem used in Schubert's Winterreise (listen to this beautiful recording of it by Jonas Kaufman, here ) since I have been doing versions of others of the poems. My procedure is to run the text through a series of Google Translate operations (and sometimes a N+7 procedure) and then edit. I did this with this poem -- Zulu, Basque, Samoan, Macedonian. When I edit, I look to what I see in the changed text--and of course, what I see reflects how I'm feeling and what in going on in the world. Thus this poem suffused with grief and violence. 




Friday, April 17, 2020

HOW VISUAL POETRY WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE AND MAKE YOU A SNAPPY DRESSER: A WORKSHOP


A WORKSHOP/TALK WITH:

Gary Barwin
Dani Spinosa
Michael Sikkema


Kate Siklosi: She Bites (Two Visual poems)




For poetry makes nothing happen
it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth

      —Auden:  In Memory of WB Yeats


from OO: Typewriter Poems by Dani Spinosa
from OO: Typewriter Poems by Dani Spinosa


OUTLINE:

What is visual poetry?

What do you like about it, what interests you about it?

What does visual poetry do that more normatively textual poetry does or doesn’t do?

Do you think it is especially good in these times, or for the net?

What are some examples that excite or engage you (you could include a piece of your own.)

Something about your process or techniques.

An activity or prompt for viewers for making their own visual poetry.

All other business.


Visual poem by Michael Sikkema


LIST OF RESOURCES

Electronic Literature CollectIon
https://collection.eliterature.org/

Train Poetry Journal
http://trainpoetryjournal.blogspot.com/

Languageye: Series on Visual Poetry by Gary Barwin
https://jacket2.org/commentary/its-poetry-it-aint

OO: Typewriter Poems by Dani Spinosa (Invisible Publishing, 2020)

Luke Bradford: Four Paths (poems as labyrinths)
https://timglasetcom.files.wordpress.com/2018/0
7/Four-Paths-Free.pdf







Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Blur, after lines by Joe Fiorito & Andrea Bennett



After HOW NOT TO READ CELAN by Andrés Ajens (trans. by Erín Moure)




After "How Not. to Read Celan" by Andrés Ajens (trans. by Erín Moure) published in Dispatches from the Poetry Wars and dedicated to @ErinMoure who has been a constant poetry inspiration#translation #duduk http://DispatchesPoetry.com

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Typewriter Music for Dani Spinosa




I made this piece of typewriter funk in celebration of Dani Spinosa's new book of typewriter poems, OO

And here's the eye "catching" video:

Sunday, April 05, 2020

WORSHIPFUL COMPANY, a story for a time of Covid-19

UNION OF HOUSEBREAKERS OUT OF WORK DURING COVID 19 BECAUSE EVERYONE IS STAYING HOME. ASKS FOR HELP FROM GOVERNMENT!

Julie Tepperman, through Convergence Theatre, created this amazing thing: she organized people to commission artwork from artists, including writers, who lost have lost work due to Covid-19 cancellations. The artists would create work based on prompts that these patrons provided. It's a fantastic initiative. You can read about it
here.  I was delighted to be commissioned to write a story.  The prompt that I received from someone called Peter was basically something like the headline above (he recorded it.) It was a hilarious bit of satire. Below is the story that I created from the prompt. Thanks very much to Julie, and of course, to Peter for commission the story. 

WORSHIPFUL COMPANY
Gary Barwin

Jimmy, my neighbour, duckwalks down the front steps with a big flatscreen, puts it on the curb and goes back in. He emerges with a laptop and places it beside the TV, then leaves and returns with a couple of his fancy watches and puts them down, too.
            “Morning, Jimmy,” I call across the street.
            “Morning.” I get the paper and go back inside.
We’re safe inside a house. It’s where we have our corn flakes, our sandwiches and our yelling matches. Where we dance in the kitchen or smooch on the stairs. Where homework gets done, or scrapbooking. Where we fall asleep on the couch or watch another episode of Star Trek.
It’s where the whole family drama occurs.
But sometimes we go out. To restaurants. To visit our nans, our dads, our children. Sometimes to go on holiday. To the pub. To work.
That’s why we signed the agreement with the Worshipful Company of Home Burglars. We go out, they get to work. They burgle our things. It’s like a tithe. They don’t steal everything, just the appropriate amount.
We return and some of our things are gone. Like my wife.
They have their work, we have ours. Together we keep the economy going.
And then the Plague. I was planning on taking my boys to Nova Scotia this summer, but then everything changed. We’re not allowed to travel. We’re not even allowed to leave our homes. So, there goes that plan.
I’ve been satisfied with the burglars. They’re clean and always leave things as they found them, except of course, for what they’ve removed. They’re efficient. They jimmy the door or cut the screen in the upstairs window neatly, don’t cause unnecessary damage, are in and out in no time. And they don’t do anything strange—like dancing around in my wife’s underwear. When her underwear could be found in my dresser. I’d know if they did. It’s a feeling. Only once did they finish the orange juice, but the guy left a note. It had been unseasonably hot and he’d been working all day. He promised it wouldn’t happen again. It hasn’t.
They could filch the dark, or hope, take a bit from the boys’ future dreams, but they don’t. They leave my musicality and my wit. It’s only the simple things: laptops, jewelry, TVs. Fair enough. People got to eat. And they’re fully insured. They leave what’s essentially us. You can always replace the things. They’re only things.
Time was, you might surprise a burglar going downstairs at night for a glass of milk. Or rather, they’d surprise you. Things didn’t always end well. A knife attack. A bullet hole though your favourite pajamas. Someone cleaved in two by a regimental sword.
But since the agreements, all that’s past. They only work when we’re out. They watch the front door and the back. They check the garage.
It’s win-win. They have daytime shifts. And there are less deaths. Not once have either of my boys woke to a burglar in their bedroom snagging their PlayStation or the collectable coins Grandad gave them.
I’ve considered joining. It’s an honest day’s work. It keeps you active. You can work with friends. And there’s room to advance your skills, even move into management. Jimmy was a member of the Worshipful Company for a while, but that was before he met Carol.
The Plague. It’s been rough. I’ve been lucky and my ma and da are ok, though they’re in isolation out in the country. My ex’s new husband was taken to hospital and had to be put on a machine. They say he’ll live. I’d say good riddance but he’s a good man and treats the boys well.
I keep a list of the things I’ve lost. My wife. My brother to cancer. A whole series of dogs, jobs, friends, months, girlfriends. My buddy Nick in a car accident. Jamie to a gun. And, of course, TVs, silverware, computers, cameras, VCRS, golf clubs. I wonder where they are. The people. But also, the things. Some guy like me out there on the links, a real duffer, using my 5-iron and ending up in a sand trap, maybe Facetiming his boss from a holiday in Cuba with his new girlfriend. That list. It’s my life. What I had. What I lost. Reading it, you could imagine what I still have. What’s still possible for me. At least, I hope so.
Since the Plague, everyone is stuck inside, and the burglars are out of work. They tried to get compensation from the government but they’re proud of their trade. So they struck a deal. Each day a homeowner or resident is to carry a selection of their things to the curb. A team of licensed burglars arrives in an unmarked van and ransacks it. No one gets hurt.
Last week, I left a few old iPhones, a CD player and a computer monitor on the sidewalk. I slipped in a bit of sorrow and some kind of unsettled feeling that I couldn’t identify. I thought it was a good time to get rid of them. I know I shouldn’t have. I got a call. I had to take them back.
Or else.
My boys are coming to visit me this weekend. It’s the only place they’re allowed to go and when they get here, we can’t go anywhere. I’m thinking that we’ll haul the old filing cabinet out back and take turns smashing it with a tire iron. Then maybe we could watch a movie that we’d all like, maybe Star Wars or else Lord of the Rings.