Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kafka's Office Writings: a cage writes for the bird

or is that the bird writes for the cage?

Franz Kafka's Office Writings, now collected for the first time in English.

To quote, Carl Wilson, "I can't decide which I want to read first: "Petition of the Toy Producers' Association in Katharinaberg, Erzgebirge (1912)," "Measures for Preventing Accidents from Wood-Planing Machines (1910)" or "A Public Psychiatric Hospital for German Bohemia (1916).""

And to quote from the publisher: Franz Kafka: The Office Writings brings together, for the first time in English, Kafka's most interesting professional writings, composed during his years as a high-ranking lawyer with the largest Workmen's Accident Insurance Institute in the Czech Lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Franz Kafka (1883-1924) is commonly recognized as the greatest German prose writer of the twentieth century. It is less well known that he had an established legal career. Kafka's briefs reveal him to be a canny bureaucrat, sharp litigator, and innovative thinker on the social, political, and legal issues of his time. His official preoccupations inspired many of the themes and strategies of the novels and stories he wrote at night.

These documents include articles on workmen's compensation and workplace safety; appeals for the founding of a psychiatric hospital for shell-shocked veterans; and letters arguing relentlessly for a salary adequate to his merit. In adjudicating disputes, promoting legislative programs, and investigating workplace sites, Kafka's writings teem with details about the bureaucracy and technology of his day, such as spa elevators in Marienbad, the challenge of the automobile, and the perils of excavating in quarries while drunk. Beautifully translated, with valuable commentary by two of the world's leading Kafka scholars and one of America's most eminent civil rights lawyers, the documents cast rich light on the man and the writer and offer new insights to lovers of Kafka's novels and stories.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Blatter Blab: Leaves and Allograms

(two allograms: all the vowels)

a mountain can’t fly unless
the ground disappears


it’s not so much that Polly wants a cracker
but that the lark wants its small supper of sky
its late dinner of twilight among the blue leaves


I began counting the leaves of trees
there was one for each number
each number which soon will be gone
when winter comes

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Two people imprisoned in adjacent dark cells. One no longer remembers. One whispers. He cannot begin to know what to say so he describes the alphabet, letter by letter. A dark line rising like a mountainside, attaining the peak, then returning to the ground. A horizontal between these two lines, a bridge or shackles spanning the legs. This letter, a beginning, an open mouth, an oxhead inverted. From here, the alphabet goes on. It has to go on. From one stepping stone to another. Even in fear, it retains its order. A magnetic force pulling forward. Each letter a new day in an alphabetic month that will begin again. That will always begin again. That remembers.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sun Ra, Habitats, Cover bands, The Who, and Punctuation Funnies

adapted from a Peanuts strip which first appeared Oct 14, 1961. Thanks to Chris Piuma for inspiration.


I've been away in Algonquin Park on a canoeing trip with my school as part of an Outdoor Education course for high school students. It was cold but beautiful. The lakes were quiet and humanless. We saw remarkably little wildlife -- some ducks, a bald eagle, fish. It seemed like we were on the empty set of a science fiction movie where the natural world had been replaced by. . . the natural world. The natural world standing in as a cover band for the natural world. Except with the sound turned down a few notches. And eleven inches to the right.

And last night, I attended a performance by the greatest living The Who cover band: The Who. And the night before, I went to the amazing Sun Ra Arkestra at the Palais Royale with the Coleman Lemieux dance company. My friend, Peter Chin, was dancing with them. Here's Carl Wilson's comments about the whole pangalactic shindig. Or should that be sheebang. It was an amazing concert. It really struck me that the Arkestra were surviving exponents of an authentic tradition. When they played Fletcher Henderson's music from the 20s/30s, it sounded grungy, wild, gritty, and dangerous. The opposite of the sanitized Stage Band versions one usually hears. I realized how the original bands were playing this wild jungly music that existed in opposition to the prevailing white mainstream. Completely natural, from a different culture, and very subversive. There was a lovely link between this repertoire and the free jazz repertoire that is their mainstay. And some of these guys were in their mid-80s screeching and wailing away, walking the dance floor, surrounded by writhing. Let that be me forty years from now.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Punctuation Funnies 3

Chris Piuma sent Craig Conley and me some great Peanuts comic strips featuring characters holding up political picket signs on which there were punctuation. Here, he said. You'll know what to do with these. Never one to shrink away from such a challenge, I created the three recent strips from the Peanuts "source text."

By the way, if you haven't checked out Troy Lloyd's great images on his blog you should. He's always inventive and is constantly creating work that is different from itself, trying knew thinks. He recently did a little series of pieces bouncing off some images that I did bouncing off a comment that he left here. I like this dialogic process. Riffing off each other. Being each other's axon & dendrite. Never seems I have enough of either.

Punctuation Funnies 2

for Chris Piuma 2

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Punctuation Funnies

for Chris Piuma

Fish, BonFirefox of the Vanities & Google Goggles

FISH (beginning of a draft)


fish school like blood
beneath the skin of a lake

I am a small boy

there is a bridge between fish
and voice

there is a path between blood
and lake


two trees fight with axes
a third wears a mask

in the branches
a sparrow hawk chases a rat

water is blindfolded
you throw a knife at it


on my shoulders
the head of a youth

then like the last flash of a lightbulb
a book on a lectern
and I am looking to the beyond

marry me, the water says
lifts its veil

and mouths become waves


I read in the paper today that Google has created Google Goggles, a software which acts as a filter before you send an ill-advised email. You are asked to complete a few math problems. I guess this is like waiting several days before getting a gun license. Or like the Canadian Senate, ostensibly the house of sober second thought.

Perhaps I should install such a thing for this blog--or for my real life--to stave off impetuous posting of just-finished drafts. However, I do value the process of posting up-to-the-minute texts that I'm currently working on. An interested reader (my mom?) could follow the poem from its first fragmentary posting to its various online drafts and then perhaps an appearance in a journal and then to a book. Or alternately, could track the cul-de-sac evolution of the dead-end poetic species. The family branches that never made it. Sorry Ramapithecus. You're like that Bingo card that never came to fruition, but stopped at BIN.


And while I'm here: There's been some blogoflap over the recent Issue One (at conceptual poetry magazine event. Firstly, as I posted on Silliman's blog:

I found the whole project quite funny and actually fairly interesting as an intervention into the online world of poetry publishing. But: in order to consider the whole project, I think one has to consider the entire blog (and Google search where people found their names) as all part of this performance project /"intervention". There was the initial announcement and then the various kinds of reactions in the comments stream (the waiting for "Godot" jokes the "I didn't give you permission," the "WTF"? reactions, etc.) Then several days later, the actual PDF document arrived and there was again a variety of reactions in the comment streams -- from people puzzling over how to find their name or their friends' names, to their reactions over the texts, to anger, appreciation etc. The whole interaction (blog, first blog post, comments, links in other blogs, second blog post, comments, subsequent posts/commentary/discussion) is all part of the piece.) I don't think this is a hijacking. It's a media intervention. And I'm tickled to discover that my name as a writer (and the fact of me being a writer; ...and the fact of me searching my name on Google...) has become part of the flarfoverse. But then again, it's not "Gary Barwin", but some other guy named Gary Barwin as the editors are quick to point out. Even my legitimate flarfdom has been flarfed.

Secondly, I wanted to say something about "Vanity Searches," searching one's name on Google. I'd surmise, like picking one's nose, most people do it, at least sometimes, at least one nostril. However, I don't see anything wrong with it. Many have intimated that there is indeed something negative, self-absorbed, and navel-gazing about it. Except in moments of great insecurity, I don't search my name to be puffed up by my own importance. I'd need a whole lot more stuffing than is available online to be able to fix those moods of feeling insignificant. I think I'd have to find my name in the Bible or something. And even then, it'd have to be on the title page...

I follow Google to be in touch with readers, to follow where my writing has gone (kind of like receiving postcards from a relative), and to enter the dialogue that I hope my writing to be part of. I've encountered many interesting writers and their texts in this way. We often have some concerns, activities, or publications in common. Which is why we find our names there, or that the person has mentioned me. It's like meeting someone at a favourite section of the bookstore, or a beloved cafe. It's not the "are they thinking of me? Are they thinking of me NOW?" middle school wish to know what others are thinking about you at every minute. Nerd. Geek. I think I'll doodle his name all over my notebook.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Dumb and Dumber

frog pondtuation

(for Troy Lloyd)

frog meant
lake fragment

Tuesday, October 07, 2008



O inflatable house everything bounces
when Santa lands on the roof
but we can accommodate anything
in the spare room
an alphabet of almost forgotten sounds
wetnosed deer, electrocution lessons
dark roads which are what has happened to night
mouthless, hissing, leading we don’t know where
the signs say something, you know what I mean
but the front of real life has improper kerning
a gramma nibbled by some sort of prescience
so-and-so’s beautiful jewel veined between the sofa cushions
we are living in a golden age
and are all closely related
I promise to work harder with bacteria
to talk more earnestly
father, you are my father
a garden hose in the moonlight
there are no baboons here because
no baboons were required
they’d be like Hermes
extant if we needed them
I have no favourite flavour
trainwhistle, beanpod, moodring
a treehouse ageing as trees reach toward
future destinations
my feet like worlds are never too big because
they are my feet

Monday, October 06, 2008

Crank Phonecall from a Tree


a crank phone call from a tree
breathing, breathing, breathing



I make boats run through the sea I make boats run through the
sea I make it rain I boil the trees and the giraffes loud as
knives I raise babies pink between the slats of cribs I make
it rain I boil the trees and the giraffes loud as knives I
raise babies pink between the slats of cribs I make boats run
through the sea I make the boll weevils cry I make it rain
I boil the trees and the giraffes loud as knives I raise babies
pink between the slats of cribs I make it rain I boil the trees
and the giraffes loud as knives I raise babies pink between
the slats of cribs I make boats run through the sea I make
the boll weevils cry I make it rain I boil the trees and the
giraffes loud as knives I raise babies pink between the slats
of cribs I make the boll weevils cry I make the boll weevils
cry I make the boll weevils cry I make the boll weevils cry
I make a difference I’m a big stupid baby stuck between ground
and sky “you’re a no nothing” sky says to me “sky’s right,”
ground says but what do parents know? I take off my hat in
the river set my hair on fire.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

I kissed a squirrel and I liked it

A group of five boys in my Grade 5 music class were performing for the class a music & movement assignment. They sang a remarkable and very funny parody of "I kissed a girl" by Katy Perry. Their performance, incorporated moves such as the 'sprinkler' and the 'John Travolta,' and the two fingers drawn across each eye. It began:

I kissed a squirrel and I liked it
The taste of its squirrel lips
I kissed a squirrel just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don't mind it
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don't mean I'm in love tonight
I kissed a squirrel and I liked it
I liked it.

The whole thing was fascinating.

Firstly, these ten-year olds working with the song that relies on an understanding of sexual feelings and a sexualized notion of themselves. The vast majority of them are, as far as I can surmise, before this stage in their development, at least in terms of how they act socially. (Most of them are very resistant if I have the class sit boy/girl/boy/girl etc.--the 'cootie' effect.) And they were comfortable standing up and singing the song that was about sexuality, even if it was mild in its realization. And talking about 'their boyfriend,' even if only as a joke.)

Secondly, the song relies on their ability to negotiate notions of heterosexual norms. One girl, recently, when we were singing the song, Donkey Riding, a traditional Newfoundland song, balked at the idea that she had to sing --from the presumably male perspective of the sailors in the song--"Was you ever in Miramichi/ and 'the girls sat on your knee." She explained to me that she didn't wan't to sing the song because she was not a lesbian. I was pleased that she at least addressed her concern head on and didn't express herself in a homophobic manner. I had the opportunity to talk to the class about homophobic stereotypes and homophobia in general, and also to discuss the idea of singing or reading from another perspective. I did mention how often girls are expected to imagine themselves in the male voice, often as a default position. I didn't get into representations of sexuality. I thought it was enough for one class. I hope the conversation was a discussion and not a lecture from their teacher (me.)

Thirdly, the thing that always amazed me with my young students, is their finally developed sense of irony & the absurd.

I can imagine a phonecall my principal might get about this class from an irate parent. "See! Talking about homosexuality in class leads to strange things like squirrel bestiality!"

Really, I thought the whole thing was very interesting and really funny. Of course, as my son was joking, (after some guy in his Grade 10 class, desperate for money to attend a heavy metal concert, offered to 'let him [my son] kick him in the balls' for a $5 fee") "It's funny if you don't think too hard about it."


PS on Gender Stereocoach:

Football Coach to my daughter on an all boy tackle football league: "Hit 'em harder, sweetie."