Franzlations [the imaginary Kafka parables], Gary Barwin, Craig Conley and Hugh Thomas
2011, New Star Books, Vancouver BC
$19, 978-1-55420-062-7, 98 pages
reviewed by rob mclennan
Franzlations (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2011), a poetry collaboration between the writers Gary Barwin, Craig Conley and Hugh Thomas, subtitled “[the imaginary Kafka parables],” read like an illustrated translation or even continuation of Kafka’s work. As the back cover attests, the collection “takes the parables and aphorisms of Kafka as a starting point and steps a few places to the left in order to reinvent them.” Throughout the collection, poems react to Kafka’s own legendary ouvre, a collection of work that was unpublished throughout his life, and supposedly meant to be burnt upon his death. In Franzlations, the three authors work through parables-as-koans, extracting wisdoms from other wisdoms, such as: “They were offered the choice between becoming kinds or servants. As everyone would, they said, ‘KINGS!’ Therefore, there are only kings in this world, who hurry about shouting to each other—since there are only kings—orders that have become meaningless. They would like to put an end to this miserable royalty of their s but will not because of the other kings.”
You are in a large chair, reading. Through the thin walls of your apartment, you can hear the voices of those in the adjacent rooms, those in the rooms above and below. A television, a boy practicing piano. Someone is speaking on the telephone, arguing with someone else, perhaps across the country. A dog barks. There is a long sigh.
Night falls and you discern other voices, each less distinct as they become more distant, like the ripples of a single dropped stone. After midnight, the moon rises. You listen even more closely. There are the voices of shadows, voices like the bones of the body. There are writers on the roof of the building, preparing to jump. Will they be inscribed onto the pages of the sidewalk, or will they float forever?
It is difficult to know. You have only these words.
There are more than a couple of examples of two Canadian poets working together to compose collaborative works, but very few examples of three, Canadian or otherwise, and the only example I can think of is when poets, collaborators and husband-and-wife Kim Maltman and Roo Borson brought on Andy Patton as a third in 1990 to become Pain-Not-Bread, producing the collection Introduction to the Introduction to Wang Wei (London ON: Brick Books, 2000), another book produced around the idea of an individual and his works. The three authors work absurd movement, incredible wisdom and clarity, reading nearly as an extended essay-as-response on the work of Franz Kafka. What might Kafka scholars think of such a work, I’d wonder?
Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2011, and his most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011) and kate street (Moira, 2011), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com