Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Looking for Inspiration Before the Holiday Rush Hits?

For those who are seeking some inspiration for poems, I'll be leading two online workshops in November:


Online Poetry Workshop IIBegins: 3 November 2014 (4 weeks) via "The Writer's Center"With the same structure as Online Poetry Workshop I, this workshop will provide different topics for generating new poems. Lessons will be posted weekly, featuring example poems and links to additional reading. Participants will share and comment on each other’s work and will receive individual feedback from the workshop leader. Completion of Online Poetry Workshop I is NOT required for Workshop II. US$195.00 (members of The Writer's Center receive a discount). For more info or to register, visit
https://www.writer.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=353&__nccssubcid=69&__nccsct=Online+Workshops&nccsm=21&__nccspID=3805.

Poetry Exercises to Jump-Start Your Muse - II
Begins: 10 November 2014 (4 weeks) via "Women on Writing"
Are you tired of sitting around waiting for the muse to bring you the gift of an idea for a poem? Jump-start your muse with this workshop. For four weeks, you will receive inspiration for generating new poems, ideas you can return to time and time again to reinvigorate your writing. Themed lessons will be posted weekly, featuring example poems, articles, essays, and links to additional reading. Participants will submit drafts weekly for thoughtful, individual feedback from the instructor. (NOTE: This workshop is similar in structure to Poetry Exercises to Jump-Start Your Muse - I, but features four different thematic exercises.) US$100.00. For more info or to register, visit

http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/classroom/BernadetteGeyer_PoetryExercisesToJumpStartYourMuseII.php


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Want to Write in Berlin? -- Fellowship Opportunities for Writers

Have you ever wanted to travel to Berlin to write? Funds for Writers newsletter has published my article about the fellowships available to writers who want to come to Berlin. There is a fantastic English-language literary scene here and I'd love to see some of my writer friends apply for these.

You can read the text of the article on the Funds for Writers web site at:

http://archive.aweber.com/fundsforwriters/7Dj8T/h/FundsforWriters_September.htm


Monday, September 15, 2014

Contests for Already Published (Poetry) Books - Updated

Because this list still gets a lot of page views, I'm updating it with new links and new awards. If anyone knows of additional contests for already published books (or galleys), please post a comment and I will add to the list.

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Recent additions:  Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards, Minnesota Book Awards

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BOOK AWARDS FOR POETRY BOOKS

Note: advice of most of these contests is to submit book as soon as possible during submission period.

ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards – poetry category
sponsor: ForeWord Magazine
cost to enter: $60, plus 2 copies of book
prize: publicity of being first, second or third place in category. Money only awarded to one best “fiction” and one best “non-fiction”
submission/entry by: publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: not specified
deadline: January 15
http://www.forewordmagazine.com/awards/

Levis Reading Prize (1st or 2nd book of poetry)
sponsor: Virginia Commonwealth University, Dept. of English
cost to enter: 1 copy of the book
prize: $1000 & expenses paid to give reading at VCU in Richmond
submission/entry by: author or publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: no vanity presses
deadline: January 15
http://www.has.vcu.edu/eng/resources/levis_prize/levis_prize.htm

The Eric Hoffer Award for Independent Books (includes poetry)
sponsor: The Eric Hoffer Project
cost to enter:  $50.00
grand prize for independent books: $1,500; other awards & distinctions given as well, including the da Vinci eye award
submission/entry by: publisher, author or others
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: January 21
http://www.hofferaward.com/

The Balcones Poetry Prize
sponsor: Austin Community College
cost to enter: 3 copies of book plus $20 nomination fee
prize: $1,000
submission/entry by: publisher, author or others
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: January 31
http://acccreativewriting.com/category/balcones_poetry_prize/

Paterson Poetry Prize
sponsor: The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College
cost to enter: 3 copies of book
prize: $1,000
submission/entry by: publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: minimum press run of 500 copies
deadline: February 1
http://www.pccc.cc.nj.us/poetry/Prize/2005/2006_Paterson_Poetry_P.html

Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award in Poetry
sponsor: Southern Illinois Univ. Carbondale & GRASSROOTS
cost to enter: $15.00 plus one copy of book
prize: $1,000 & reading at Devil’s Kitchen Fall Literary Festival
submission/entry by: publisher or author
POD or self-publishing restrictions: no vanity press or self-published books
deadline: February 1
http://grassroots.siu.edu/dkawards.html

Library of Virginia Literary Awards (VA writer)
sponsor: Library of Virginia
cost to enter: 4 copies of the book
prize: $1,000
submission/entry by: publisher or author
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: February 5
http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/litawards/index.htm

Milton Kessler Poetry Book Award (book in previous calendar year)
sponsor: Binghamton University
cost to enter: 3 copies, plus entry form
prize: $1,000
submission/entry by: publisher or author
POD or self-publishing restrictions: minimum press run of 500 copies
deadline: March 1
http://www2.binghamton.edu/english/creative-writing/binghamton-center-for-writers/binghamton-book-awards/kessler-poetry-awards.html

Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY)
sponsor: Jenkins Group Publishing Services
cost to enter: $75/title/category (early entry), plus a copy of the book
prize: Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals in each of 72 categories
submission/entry by: author or publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: March 15
http://www.independentpublisher.com/ipland/ipawards.php

Grub Street Book Prize (for a 2nd, 3rd or beyond book)
sponsor: Grub Street, Inc.
cost to enter: copy of book, CV, synopsis of proposed craft class, $10 fee
prize: $1000, reading/book party in Boston, all-expenses paid trip to Muse and the Marketplace conference to lead a craft class for Grub Street members.
submission/entry by: author or press
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: March 15
http://www.grubstreet.org/index.php?id=24#bookprize

Debut-litzer Prizes (for a first work of fiction or poetry)
sponsor: Late-Night Library
cost to enter: 2 copies of book plus $25 application fee
prize: $1000 plus featured appearance on Late Night Conversation; winning books will be discussed on Late Night Debut.
submission/entry by: author, agent, publicist, or publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: published in North America in English
deadline: April 30

Brockman-Campbell Book Award (poetry book by NC-born or NC-resident poet)
sponsor: North Carolina Poetry Society
cost to enter: 1 copy of book, bio, $10 for non-members, free for members
prize: $200 plus invitation to read at fall meeting of NCPS
submission/entry by: author
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: May 1
http://www.ncpoetrysociety.org/bcaward/

James Laughlin Award (2nd book)
sponsor: Academy of American Poets
cost to enter: 4 copies of the manuscript
prize: $5,000
submission/entry by: publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: published by a press with at least 4 previous books of poetry
deadline: May 15
http://www.poets.org

Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize
sponsor: American Academy of Poets
cost to enter: $25 & four copies
prize: $25,000
submission/entry by: author
POD or self-publishing restrictions: minimum press run of 500; self-published not eligible
deadline: January 1-May 15
http://www.poets.org/page.php/prmID/108

Oscar Arnold Young Contest for the Book (NC resident or former resident)
sponsor: Poetry Council of North Carolina
cost to enter: 2 copies of book plus $10 entry fee
prize: 1st Place: $100 plus trophy w/name engraved to keep for one year; 2nd Place: $50
submission/entry by: author
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: May 22
http://poetrycouncilofnc.wordpress.com/

Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award (not only poetry books) (must reside in greater Kansas City area – Jackson, Cass, Clay, Lafayette and Platte counties in Missouri; or Johnson, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties in Kansas)
sponsors: American Association of University Women-Kansas City Branch and the Kansas City Public Library
cost to enter: 2 copies of book
prize: $500 check, certificate of recognition, and listing on the library’s website
submission/entry by: anyone
POD or self-publishing restrictions: No text books, guide books, or how-to manuals. Previous winners not eligible.
deadline: June 1

National Book Award
sponsor: National Book Foundation
cost to enter: $100
prize: $10,000 top prize for poetry book; $1000 to each finalist
submission/entry by: publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: self-published is okay only if the "author/publisher also publishes titles by other authors"
deadline: June 14
http://www.nationalbook.org

Pulitzer Prize
sponsor: Pulitzer
cost to enter: $50.00
prize: $10,000
submission/entry by: author
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadlines: June 14 (for books pub’d 1/1-6/15); Oct 15 (for books pub’d 6/15-12/31)
http://www.pulitzer.org

Housatonic Book Awards (for five categories, including poetry)
sponsor: Western Connecticut State University MFA program, in conjunction with the MFA Alumni Writers’ Cooperative
cost to enter: $25 plus a copy of the book and a completed entry form
prize: $1,000 for appearance at MFA residency in January, plus $500 travel stipend and hotel stay
submission/entry by: publisher, author, agent, or legal representative of author
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: June 15

Towson University Prize for Literature (for book by Maryland authors)
sponsor: Towson University
cost to enter: copy of the book
prize: $1,000
submission/entry by: author
POD or self-publishing restrictions: no self-published books
deadline: June 30 (submit nomination during June)
http://www.towson.edu/english/7.1%20Towson%20Prize%20for%20Literature/index.asp

Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award (1st books)
sponsor: Great Lakes Colleges Association
cost to enter: four copies of the book
prize: All expenses paid trips to several of the GLCA colleges, each of which pays an honorarium of $500
submission/entry by: publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: no self-published
deadline: July 25
http://www.glca.org

PEN New England Awards (poetry is one of several categories for New England-based writers)
sponsor: PEN New England
cost to enter: n/a
prize: n/a
submission/entry by: publisher, author, agent, or publicist
POD or self-publishing restrictions: n/a
deadline: Guidelines will be posted in August/September 2014

Eugene Paul Nassar Poetry Prize (for book of poems by an Upstate New York poet)
sponsor: Utica College
cost to enter: entry form, CV, plus two copies of the book
prize: $2000, reading at Utica College, meeting with students in master class
submission/entry by: publisher or author
POD or self-publishing restrictions: no self-published or vanity press
deadline: August 31

Kate Tufts Discovery Award (for a 1st book)
sponsor: Claremont Graduate University
cost to enter: 5 copies of the book
prize: $10,000
submission/entry by: author
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: September 15
http://www.cgu.edu/tufts/

Kingsley Tufts Award
sponsor: Claremont Graduate University
cost to enter: 8 copies of the book
prize: $100,000 and 1-week residency at Claremont
submission/entry by: author, publisher, or agent/rep
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: September 15
http://www.cgu.edu/tufts/

Hurston/Wright Legacy Award (books by writers of African descent, various genres incl. poetry)
sponsor: Hurston/Wright Foundation
cost to enter: $30, plus four copies of the book
prize: announcement at the annual Gala fundraiser
submission/entry by: publisher (self-published authors may nominate themselves)
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: November 12

Drake University Emerging Writer Award (1st books, 2013 is novels; check future for poetry)
sponsor: Drake University Writers & Critics Series
cost to enter: $15 plus a copy of the book, cover letter
prize: $1000 plus travel and lodging for a reading at the University
submission/entry by: author or publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: no vanity presses or self-published books
deadline: November 15
http://artsci.drake.edu/english/WritersandCritics
Send to: Drake University Emerging Writer Award,  c/o Nancy Reincke, Writers and Critics Series,  English Department, Howard Hall,  Drake University,  2507 University Ave,  Des Moines, IA 50311
email: nancy.reincke@drake.edu


UNT Rilke Prize (for a mid-career poet with at least two previous books of poetry)
sponsor: University of North Texas
cost to enter: two copies of book and completed entry form
prize: $10,000 plus travel expenses for trip to Texas to give readings at UNT and at The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture
submission/entry by: author or publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: no self-published books
deadline: November 30
 
Lambda Literary Awards (LBGT content relevance, not based on orientation of writer)
sponsor: Lambda Literary
cost to enter: $35 plus a copy of the book
prize: award and ceremony
submission/entry by: author or publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: December 1
http://www.lambdaliterary.org/awards/

National Book Critics Circle Award
sponsor: National Book Critics Circle
cost to enter: 1 copy of book to a board member, if they're interested, they will request one for each board member
prize: fabulous publicity, awards ceremony in NYC
submission/entry by: publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: no self-published
deadline: December 1
http://www.bookcritics.org

Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing
sponsor: Morehead State University
cost to enter: five copies of a book
prize: $1000
submission/entry by: publisher or author
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: December 1
http://www.moreheadstate.edu/content_template.aspx?id=4944

Pushcart Prize (for individual poems from published poetry collections)
sponsor: Pushcart Prize
cost to enter: none (up to six entries from a single publisher)
prize: publication in annual Pushcart Prize anthology
submission/entry by: publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: December 1
http://www.pushcartprize.com

Minnesota Book Awards (various genres, including poetry books by MN writers)
sponsor: The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library
cost to enter: $45, plus 5 copies of the book
prize: invitation to awards gala, unclear if there is a monetary award
submission/entry by: author, publisher, or agent
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: December 5

Norma Farber First Book Award (for a first book)
sponsor: Poetry Society of America
cost to enter: $20
prize: $500
submission/entry by: publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: "standard edition"; no self-published
deadline: December 22
http://www.poetrysociety.org/psa/awards/annual/individual/

William Carlos Williams Award
sponsor: Poetry Society of America
cost to enter: $20
prize: purchase prize between $500-$1000
submission/entry by: publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: "standard edition"; no self-published
deadline: December 22
http://www.poetrysociety.org/psa/awards/annual/individual/

American Book Awards
sponsor: Before Columbus Foundation
cost to enter: two copies of the book
prize: 10 to 18 awards
submission/entry by: anyone
POD or self-publishing restrictions: none
deadline: December 31
http://www.beforecolumbusfoundation.com/

Griffin Poetry Prize
sponsor: Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry
cost to enter: four copies of a book
prize: $65,000 (Canadian); $63,250 (American)
submission/entry by: publisher
POD or self-publishing restrictions: no self-published
deadline: December 31
http://www.griffinpoetryprize.com

Julie Suk Prize for Best Poetry Book
sponsor: Jacar Press
cost to enter: two copies of book, plus $10 reading fee
prize: $500, and invitation to North Carolina for a reading and workshop
submission/entry by: anyone
POD or self-publishing restrictions: independent, non-major presses only
deadline: December 31
http://www.jacarpress.com/submit/

PEN Center Book Awards (poetry is one of several categories, writers west of the Mississippi River)
sponsor: PEN Center USA
cost to enter: 4 copies of book, plus $35 fee, plus application form
prize: $1000, one-year membership in PEN Center USA, invitation to annual Literary Awards Festival
submission/entry by: authors, publishers, agents, or publicists
POD or self-publishing restrictions: no POD or self-published books
deadline: December 31


Friday, September 12, 2014

Poetry Film Competitions and Festivals

Technology has transformed the ability of poets to disseminate their words orally and aurally. Many journals feature audio versions of poems on their websites. Podcasts allow writers to reach ears around the world through their MP3 player earbuds. Recent years have seen the proliferation of video “trailers” for poetry collections. Expanding on the trailer should be an easy next step as writers can either collaborate with experienced filmmakers, or take advantage of video recording capabilities on mobile phones and tablets, to experiment with their own works and find new ways of reaching an audience.

Whether you call it a videopoem, a poetry-film, or something else, the number of international venues – both festivals as well as competitions – for films or videos based on poems continues to grow. Prior to 2009, there were two: the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, which was founded in 2008, and Visible Verse, which got its start in 1999 as the Vancouver Videopoem Festival, in Canada. For three of the nine events listed below, 2014 marks their first year.

All but one of the festivals and competitions listed accept entries that feature poems in English or which have English subtitles. Only the International Videopoetry Festival, sponsored by VideoBardo in Argentina, requests that videopoems not in the Spanish language include Spanish subtitles, unless it “does not affect the understanding of the work.”

Only one of the competitions – the Shot Through the Heart Competition, in London – requires an entry fee to submit videos. The other festivals and competitions cost nothing to submit to, and many of them offer awards or monetary prizes to winners selected by a judge or jury. For some of the festivals, the honor is in being selected to have your videopoem/poetry-film screened during the festival and/or archived on the festival web site.

The following list shows currently active competitions and festivals. Please visit the event web site for complete details on entry deadlines, and the complete rules and regulations for each venue. Please also let me know if there are festivals or competitions that I should add to this list, which will be updated periodically. 

LIST - Poetry Film Competitions & Festivals
CYCLOP Videopoetry Festyval (Kyiv, Ukraine)
Founded: 2011
Length:  No longer than seven minutes
Categories: Best Videopoetry, Debut, Experiment, Animation video, People’s Choice Award.
Prizes: Statuettes, diplomas, prizes and souvenirs from partners. A selection of the submitted works will be screened during the CYCLOP Videopoetry Festival in November.


Filmpoem Festival (2013 Dunbar, Scotland; 2014 Antwerp, Belgium)
Founded: 2013 (as of 2014, Filmpoem Festival is now part of Felix Poetry Festival)
Length: No longer than ten minutes
Categories: No special categories
Prizes: None. Filmpoems will be screened as part of the Felix Poetry Festival in Antwerp.

the International Film Poetry Festival (Athens, Greece) – The +Institute [for Experimental Arts]
Founded: 2012
Length: No specified limit
Categories: No special categories
Prizes: Selected poetry films will be screened at the festival. There is no prize awarded.

International Videopoetry Festival (Argentina) - VideoBardo
Founded: 2009
Length: No limit
Categories: No special categories
Prizes: A selection of the submitted works will be screened during the festival. There is no prize awarded.
Liberated Words Poetry Festival Film Competition (Bristol, UK) – Bristol Poetry Festival
Founded: 2012
Length: No longer than three minutes
Categories: (for 2014) Memory – open submission to respond to the theme of “memory”.
Commemoration – response to a poem by Edward Thomas. Categories will vary from year to year.
Prizes: Prizes will be awarded for Best Editing for Poetic Effect, and Best Music. Unclear if there is a monetary prize or trophy award.

Ó Bhéal International Poetry-Film Competition (Cork, Ireland)
Founded: 2010 (became an international competition in 2013)
Length: No longer than ten minutes
Categories: No special categories:
Prizes: One winner was awarded the IndieCork Festival prize for best poetry-film. Unclear if there is a monetary prize or trophy award.

PoetryFilm (London, England)
Founded: 2002
Length: n/a
Categories: Themed events throughout the year. Check web site for upcoming themes of interest.
Prizes: No monetary or other prize award. Selected poetry films will be screened at events.

Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival (Worcester, MA, US) – Doublebunny Press
Founded: 2014
Length: No longer than four minutes
Categories: Best Overall, Best Animated, Best Music/Sound, Best Smartphone Production, Best Under One Minute, Best Valentine, Shoots! Youth Prize
Prizes: $200 for Best Overall Picture category; $100 prizes for all other categories.

ReVersed Poetry Film Festival (Amsterdam)
Length: No longer than 12 minutes
Categories: No special categories.
Prizes: Selected works will be screened at the ReVersed Poetry Film Festival Amsterdam. Jury selects a winner as best of the festival. Unclear if there is a monetary prize or trophy award.

Shot Through the Heart Competition (London) – Southbank Centre
Founded: 2014
Length: No longer than five minutes.
Categories: Poetry films on the theme of love made for adults; Poetry films on the theme of love made for children (under 12).
Prizes: Best poetry film for adults will receive £500 to be split between poet and filmmaker, as well as a pair of tickets each to Poetry International’s Gala Reading. Runner up poet and filmmaker will receive a pair of tickets each to Poetry International’s Gala Reading. Best poetry film for children will receive £500 to be split between poet and filmmaker, as well as a pair of tickets each to Poetry International’s Gala Reading, also the winning film will be shown in Imagine Children’s Festival 2015 headlining a children’s poetry film event. Both winning films will be shown at the 2014 ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin.

Visible Verse (Vancouver, Canada) – the Cinematheque
Founded: 1999 (first ever Vancouver Videopoem Festival; Pacific Cinémathèque has partnered with VVF since 2000)
Length: No longer than 12 minutes.
Categories: No special categories.
Prizes: A selection of the submitted works will be screened during the Visible Verse Festival in October.

Das ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival zu Gast in Helsinki ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival (Berlin) – Literaturwerkstatt
Founded: 2008
Length: No longer than 15 minutes
Categories: No special categories
Prizes: Total value of prizes is €13,000. ZEBRA Prize for Best Poetry Film (donated by the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin); Goethe Film Prize (donated by the Goethe Institut); Ritter Sport Film Prize (donated by Alfred Ritter GmbH & Co. KG); Best Film for Tolerance (donated by German Foreign Office); ZEBRINO – Best Film for Children and Young People; Audience Prize (awarded by the radioeins jury).


Thursday, September 04, 2014

A Special Place in My Heart for Poet's Market

I wish I could remember exactly which year it was that I bought my very first copy of Poet's Market from Writer's Digest. I started submitting poems some time around 1999, so it must have been around then that I made that purchase. And I remember the excitement of marking up the listings of where I wanted to submit, contacting some (via snail mail!) for guidelines or buying single copies of back issues. The internet was quite new back then and not many journals were online, so Poet's Market was really my only way of finding out about the diverse array of journals and publishers that existed. After several months, my copy of the directory would be dog-eared and graphite-smeared with my scribblings and erasures.

Here I am, a little more than 15 years later, celebrating the publication of the 2015 Poet's Market, which includes my poem "Parable of the Fish". It's a very special feeling for me to be included in a resource that meant so much to me when I was just starting to put my poems out in the world. The 2015 edition also features articles by Amorak Huey and Jeannine Hall Gailey, as well as interviews with poets including Thomas Lux and Shaindel Beers.

Writer's Digest has put out a call for submissions of poems and pitches of articles for the 2016 Poet's Market. The deadline is October 15, 2014. Full details on what they are looking for can be found here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

My Summer of Kafka

Yeah. I know how to live it up.

This summer, I read The Complete Stories of Franz Kafka. I didn't mean for it to take the entire summer, but with a kid on school break, several visitors, and a trip to the Czech Republic, time always seemed to wander off somewhere else when I wasn't looking. So I took my time reading, the way I don't always do since there are so many books on my "to read" list.

The thing about reading The Complete Stories of Kafka, is that it helped me to understand how to read Kafka. We've all read "The Metamorphosis" -- or heard enough about it so that we can fake having read it. But the pacing of that story, and the art of its painstaking descriptions, are qualities that carry throughout Kafka's writings. Although I am not a prose writer, I learned quite a bit about pacing and description from reading these stories.

The stories that stand out in my mind as good examples of how Kafka uses a slow pace to exacerbate the mental anxiety of his protagonists include "Description of a Struggle" and "The Burrow." Both are long stories in which the plots (such as they are) are driven by the first-person interior monologue of the main character. The methodical pacing of "In the Penal Colony," with its dialogue and descriptions, slowly reveal the macabre machinations of the punishment machine being shown to the nameless "explorer" in the story.

Kafka's longer stories contain great multitudes of examples of his descriptive skills. In the longer stories, the additive effect of the many descriptions is to slow the pacing and heighten anxiety, such as in "In the Penal Colony":

"The Harrow?" asked the explorer. He had not been listening very attentively, the glare of the sun in the shadeless valley was altogether too strong, it was difficult to collect one's thoughts. All the more did he admire the officer, who in spite of his tight-fitting full-dress uniform coat, amply befrogged and weighed down by epaulettes, was pursuing his subject with such enthusiasm and, besides talking, was still tightening a screw here and there with a spanner. As for the soldier, he seemed to be in much the same condition as the explorer. He had wound the prisoner's chain around both his wrists, propped himself on his rifle, let his head hang, and was paying no attention to anything. That did not surprise the explorer, for the officer was speaking French, and certainly neither the soldier nor the prisoner understood a word of French. It was all the more remarkable, therefore, that the prisoner was nonetheless making an effort to follow the officer's explanations. With a kind of drowsy persistence he directed his gaze wherever the officer pointed a finger, and at the interruption of the explorer's question he, too, as well as the officer, looked around.

The section of the collection titled "The Shorter Stories" contains some very brief works that seem in many cases to be more linguistic sketches than "stories." However, it is in these short sketches that Kafka's ability to skewer or illuminate with a mere sentence is most visible. By way of example, in "Eleven Sons," the speaker simply describes each of his eleven sons. But it is a searing wit that Kafka wields in this work:

My third son is handsome too, but not in a way that I appreciate. He has the good looks of a singer: the curving lips; the dreaming eye; the kind of head that asks for drapery behind it to make it effective...

My fifth son is kind and good; promised less than he performed; used to be so insignificant that one literally felt alone in his presence; but has achieved a certain reputation. If I were asked how this came about, I could hardly tell you.

"The Trees" is four sentences in its entirety:

For we are like tree trunks in the snow. In appearance they lie sleekly and a little push should be enough to set them rolling. No, it can't be done, for they are firmly wedded to the ground. But see, even that is only appearance.

If you have never read Kafka, I recommend diving right in and reading The Complete Stories as opposed to simply reading the ones that get all the glory.

But I will caution against reading "In the Penal Colony" at bedtime.

Or at mealtime.


The Complete Stories, by Franz Kafka, Schocken Books, New York, 1995. (IndieBound, AbeBooks)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Whoops, where did that month go?

How can it be the end of August already? Today is the first day of school for children in Berlin, which means for most folks, it is also a return to routine, a return to work.

I never realized how truly dedicated to vacations Europeans were. Coming from a city that never took time off, where people accrued comp days and then couldn't use them all up at the end of the year, it was a difficult change. However, I think that August's two weeks of camp, visits from several out-of-town friends, and taking care of "back-to-school" shopping managed to help us breeze through the month without blinking.

And it's hard to get any work done if everyone you need to talk to is on vacation for 3 weeks and is not responding to emails.

So, we made our own plans, slept in a little longer, went to more parks, played table tennis, walked around, ate ice cream, and snatched little bits of productivity here and there. Somehow, I finished three big projects last week and had a real weekend.

Next thing I knew, I was setting the alarm for 6:00 a.m. and making a bag lunch and walking to a large old brick building along with hundreds of other parents and kids.

It was a great summer holiday. I think I'm actually looking forward to the next one.