Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Literary Holiday Parties: Gary Barwin

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You're having a holiday party, and can invite any number of literary figures, living, dead, or fictional - who's invited, and why?
Here and in the coming weeks, I'll post the many answers I received to this question!
Today's space is occupied entirely by the loveably verbose Gary Barwin.

Since this is the best kind of holiday, the imaginary kind, and time and space are illusory (I’ve had apartments like that), the thought occurred to me – ok, as most good entertaining ideas do, to my wife – that, in addition to choosing a guest, I would get to choose at what age I invited them.

The loquacious & brilliant baby-faced young Samuel Beckett, or the gnomic craggy beef-jerky-faced old Beckett who had become one of his own characters? Even better. I’d invite them both. They could meet. Now talk about yer ontological, existential ballywagging. And hey, if we invited Oscar Wilde, he’d be in that rare situation: He’d be the straight man—in this case for the Becketts’ dry and incise bon mots. Of course, I’d pick the younger Wilde, before Reading Gaol. Though a few videos of a pride parade might do him a world of good.

And for fun: The middle-aged Shakespeare. There’d be that moment when I could say, “Hey, Shakespeare, you’re like the best writer. Ever. I’m serious. Ask anyone.” I don’t know if his head would explode or he’d look meekly down and say quietly, “I didn’t write them. Any of them.” Of course, if I sent the invitation to Shakespeare, maybe Francis Bacon would show up anyway. But I love those old English holiday traditions “when icicles hang by the wall/And Dick the shepherd blows his nail.”

Actually, when I think of holiday cheer, I think of Kafka. There’s someone who could use some existential warming. I think, actually, he was charming and engaging interpersonally. Warm and quite sweet. I’d invite him when he was a young man. I would dearly like to offer the deep love and regard people have for his work as a kind of salve for his troubled soul. Then I’d hire him to write a children’s book. What kid wouldn’t want to hear about waking up as a bug? Or all that about their father? And I’ve always wanted to arm wrestle Kafka. For sure, it’d a closer match than me and Hemmingway.

Maybe I’d ask all these writers to show up dressed as their favourite characters.

Certainly, to bring their best joke.

Which reminds me: There was this Yiddish sailor, Yankeleh.
He leaves a pair of pants to be repaired at der shnayder—the tailor’s. After seven years, now covered in scars and tattoos, he returns to pick up his pants.
They weren’t ready.
“Got in Himmel!” Yankeleh exclaims. “It only took Adonai himself seven days to make the world. You’ve had seven years!”
“What’s to say, now that the world is done?” the tailor replies. “So nu, your pants are a tragedy… but at least we can talk about them.”

I’d definitely ask someone from the future. I don’t just mean that character that I’m struggling to create to help me finish my novel…y’know that highly imaginary character that is me, but with a finished novel…but, given the chance to gaze at an ultrasound of the future’s soft-fisted baby, I don’t think I could resist. Who would I invite? William Gibson & Douglas Adams were/are from the future. Pangalactic gargle blasters, all round, even for those hyperintelligent forms of the colour blue. But really, I’d want to know what the future will be like. Well, maybe after a few drinks. I mean, I think the future could use a few drinks.

And because we need some dignity, beitsim, and fun, I’d invite Grace O’Malley the real, but also legendary, and much written about, 16th century pirate and chieftain. Who wouldn’t want a pirate at your holiday party—especially one who burnt Elizabeth I’s hankie in the fire to show her who’s boss? And Hildegaard van Bingen and Gertrude Stein. I heard Gertrude could sing. I’d invite the three of them when they were old women, full of power, memories, and wisdom. And, I think, sense of occasion and a kind of deep and complex joy.

Could I invite a car? Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. For the kids. Really. And a unicorn.

And Gandalf. Why? Great stories. Magic. Numinous talk. Ancient songs. Discussions about the private life of wizards. Fireworks. A definite sense of holiday and the festive. And Gandalf was always old, so that’s when I’d invite him.

I’d love to see all these personalities and belief systems come together in a resplendent bright hot confluence. We could play Twister. “Hey Sam,” Gertrude says. “Get your wee narrow desiccated Slim Jim elbow out my face. Now. Not now. And now. Now. Exactly as kings. Feeling full for it. Exactitude as kings. So to beseech you as full as for it. Exactly or as kings. Now, Sam. Now.”

We’d celebrate what my son sarcastically refers to as our family’s ‘white-middle-class-liberal-guilt-Ashkenazi-South-African-Irish-Canadian-reform-atheist Hannukah,’ where we take the occasion of gathering together with good food and drink, family, friends, our illusions, and light some lights, sing some ancient prayers, and speak about how the holiday is a celebration of diversity, possibility, freedom and self-determination for all. Of course, we’d also invite Rabbi Krinkleblatt, that Jewish Santa that my daughter made up when she was little. He emerges from the hole in a bagel, and his sleigh is pulled by reindeers named Moishe, Abie, Shmuel...well, you get the idea.

Oh. And I’d invite Hitler. When he was six. Maybe we could change a few things.



Gary Barwin is a writer, composer, multimedia artist, educator and performer. His publications include five poetry collections, including Franzlations: The Imaginary Kafka Parables (New Star) written with Hugh Thomas and Craig Conley; The Obvious Flap (with Gregory Betts, BookThug),  and The Porcupinity of the Stars (Coach House). He is also the author of two fiction collections, a collaborative novel, and several books for children. His blogs are and and his website is Recordings of his work can be found at Barwin currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario with his family where he is being worked over by Yiddish for Pirates, the great Canadian Jewish pirate novel.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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