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« "Famous Last Lines" [by David Lehman] | Main | Deems Taylor introduces Frank Sinatra on V-Disc "for the men overseas" (1944) »

July 21, 2022


thanks for sharing this draft, mitch! can't wait to see it after a few revisions.

Hi, thanks for your message! I think Kafka's writing benefitted
from his work at the insurance institute where he acquired a
skill for rendering complicated circumstances such as accidents
with a clinical precision and perfect economy of language. It
can be seen, for instance, in 'Die Verwandlung' (have you read
Kafka in German?) when he describes the creature trying to open
the door of his room.

But also -- and this is what has really inspired me -- there's
a scene in 'Der Prozess' where K finds himself alone in a
courtroom from which the judges have departed. He had noticed
that during the just concluded hearing the judges had been
looking closely at a volume on the raised bench before them.
K assumes it was a law book but when he approaches the bench
he sees that it's actually a book of pornographic pictures.
The pictures are crudely drawn but k notices that somehow
the artist's lack of skill endows the drawing with a
unique power. The artist is trying to do something that he can't
really do, but the trying is what really comes across,
as when the creature tried to open the door of his room.
Obviously Kafka had given some thought to the issues
between a perfectly rendered seemingly effortless
work of art and a very imperfect work in which
the the imperfection becomes the real subject. I try to
get something of that effect in poems like 'Limbo.'

I like to imagine the author as someone with limited
language skills but also very incomplete awareness
of his limits. On the contrary, he's highly confident
in what he's trying to say and his ability to say it.
He's not unintelligent and in fact he's somewhat of an
intellectual in his vocabulary and his reference
to thing's like Hobson's Choice. He's different
from Kafka's description of the porn artist
because he's into highly skilled you don't feel
him struggling. He's struggling without knowing it.
And sometimeshe comes up with some good stuff.

I want the effect to be funny but also not
entirely without substance. What I really
want to avoid is any kind of winking at
the reader by pushing the character's
awkwardness too far. In the end there
should be a bit of mystery.

The bottom line is, the character doesn't see
this as a first draft and neither do I. He's
made what's difficult seem easy, and he's
made what's easy seem beautiful at least
to himself.

Thank you for the spirited comment, Mitch, spiked with wonderful observations of what Kafka was doing in "The Metamorphosis" and "The Trial."

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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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