Judith Skillman

Judith Skillman

“Kafka’s Tuberculosis” is one of a book-length sequence of Kafka poems, to be published by the Cherry Grove imprint of Wordtech Communications later this year. After reading Kafka’s “Letter to His Father” I became fascinated by this writer, whose reputation always precedes him. An anonymous blog post describes this phenomenon:

“Kafka is quite dead-pan: a subtle humorist of the absurd. Kafka is a master of he fragmentary and his shortest stories, parables, and aphorisms can resonate as deeply as his novels.”

In fact, what we have of the troubled man’s oeuvre is slender, compared to what he wrote and planned to write. This is partly because he burned much of his writing. In addition, he died at the age of forty from consumption, as it was called in the early 20th century. The poem “Kafka’s Tuberculosis” explores this. Kafka’s ill-health interfered with his writing, but one finds in his letters a soulful personality with far more social acumen than his own characters (Franz Kafka, Letters to Friends, Family, & Editors, transl. Richard and Clara Winston. Shocken Books, NY,1977).

His relationship to his authoritarian father, his reaction to Judaism and its obligatory structure in his family of origin, his relationships to women, and of course, his chronic illness, add a textual narrative to this unique writer. That is perhaps what keeps me riveted, as I was the first time I read “Metamorphosis,” with Kafka’s paradoxical desire to escape being at the center of attention at the same time that he craved it.