Sunday, January 20, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Adeena Karasick

Adeena Karasick is an internationally acclaimed and award winning poet, media-artist and author of six books of poetry and poetic theory: The House That Hijack Built (Talonbooks, 2004), The Arugula Fugues (Zasterle Press, 2001), Dyssemia Sleaze (Talonbooks, Spring 2000), Genrecide (Talonbooks, 1996), Mêmewars (Talonbooks, 1994), and The Empress Has No Closure (Talonbooks, 1992), as well as 4 videopoems all available on YouTube. All her work is marked with an urban, Jewish, feminist aesthetic that continually challenges linguistic habits and normative modes of meaning production. Engaged with the art of combination and turbulence of thought, her work is a testament to the creative and regenerative power of language and its infinite possibilities for pushing meaning to the limits of its semantic boundaries.

For over 20 years her linguistically provocative, philosophically complex wordplay continues to excite audiences nationally, internationally and locally, and she has recently been granted the MPS Mobile Award as being the world’s first “Mobile Poet” whereby her work is being made available on mobile devices (cell phones and smart phones) throughout the world. Her writing has been described as "electricity in language" (Nicole Brossard), "plural, cascading, exuberant in its cross-fertilization of punning and knowing, theatre and theory" (Charles Bernstein) "a tour de force of linguistic doublespeak" (Globe and Mail) and "opens up the possibilities of reading" (Vancouver Courier). She is Professor of Poetry and Cultural Theory at City University of New York. Forthcoming is Amuse Bouche: Tasty Treats for the Mouth (Talonbooks 2009).

1 - How did your first book change your life?

My first book, The Empress Has No Closure came out in 1992. It changed my life only in that it enabled me to tour and perform internationally with an actual bound text. I was living and teaching at the Gütenberg Universität in Mainz at this time and when I got it, the first thing I did, was book a performance tour with bill bissett through Europe! It was all so very exciting to finally have your life work finally packaged up; all paginated and thick with multiple fonts and a firm spine. But, I have to say it was more of a personal sense of fulfillment and accomplishment than any “real’ or marked difference in the outside world.

2 - How long have you lived in New York, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

I’ve lived in NY for 10 years now. And it’s not so much geography but its social political climate that impacts on the work. All is poignantly rugged, marked with high energy, swelling with urban collisions, contradictory discourses and punctuated with an underlay of atrocious politics.

Besides socio-political concerns, being a Jewish woman plays a huge role in all that I do. Consciously or subconsciously, I am often importing the Kabbalistic practice of letter combination and alphabetic permutation, and using mystical source texts as base materials for say, homolinguistic translations. All of these sacred, secret semiotic procedures and practices are outlawed for women. So, engaging in this transgressive poetics all speak to pushing the parameters of what’s permissible.

3 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of shortpieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a"book" from the very beginning?

Poems usually begin on airplanes : ) Most often they begin with a verbal cluster that I can’t get outta my head combined with some psychologic/emotional philosophic or theoretic issue I am trying to work through. These days, most pieces run roughly 2-6 pages. I rate their “performability” as I am writing them, but always, in the back of my mind I know they will eventually be collected into a book. But often I don’t know until well into the collection where it will go – ie what direction the book will take. For instance, Amuse Bouche: Tasty Treats for the Mouth, (which will be out with Talonbooks, 2009), started with a commissioned piece for a NY Art Gallery that wanted a poem about food. As I was totally consumed with the discourse of war, I wrote this lengthy piece which is kind of a mash up of food and politics. The book proceeded with funny juxtapositions intersecting the discourse of war with fashion, with love, with pop culture – basically asking how we make meaning navigating through all the swirling contradictory information.

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

Reading in public is a chance to bring the work out into the world in a very real physical way. It’s a chance to feel what works, what doesn’t. Often what seems brilliant and layered on the page does not always translate to the stage. And, sometimes, what works on stage, is not “weighty” enough for the page. So reading it aloud in public definitely helps give me perspective -- what to edit, cut, expand…

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kindsof questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

My work is usually energized by questions of “truth”, “history” “contamination” and “closure”. It foregrounds how everything is intertextually layered, full of traces and absences, sparks of light, shards, fragments of culture. But mostly it’s about the production of meaning and questioning consumerist notions of “readability”.

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

As a writer, I find I am often working in a bit of a vacuum -- so it’s great to get new perspectives, see things from a different angle. But, at bottom, it is essential that you and your editor are “on the same page”.

7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

Well, you find that you always want to challenge yourself. After 6 titles, and with recent technologic advances, the concept of ‘the book” has shifted dramatically. So, I am always testing the boundaries of what “book-making” is or can be. In recent years, I have taken the work out; performed with musicians and dj’s and dancers, with slide and video projections; made videopoems (all available on You Tube) – and actually most recently, I have been granted the MPS Mobile Award as being “The World’s First Mobile Poet” – and my work is being made available on cell phones and smart phones throughout the world! But as a traditionalist, my first love is “the book” --beautifully bound, inky-stained and thick-spined. And I am always looking at ways to bring it alive. Make it more interactive – whether that’s simply with color collage infusions, inconsistent pagination, constantly changing fonts, or books (as in the case of Mêmewars) that have not one, but two front covers, so it endlessly begins (or never ends). My idea for Amuse Bouche, is to have constant insertions, infusions of otherness – scratch-and-sniff stickers, a pull-out-menu, in full color. Though probably not very cost-effective, in an ideal world, this is my dream…

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

Last nite. Anjou. Roasted with pecans and beets in a divine goat cheese salad.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Trust your own mind. Warren Tallman via Olson via Pound, repeated by Ginsberg.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

Nothing is typical in the house of Adeena. I write anywhere. Anytime. Usually on scraps of paper, barf bags on airplanes, on buses, trains, subways. In readings, in bathrooms. In the middle of lovemaking, or in class. Everything gets later transferred onto computer where it is heavily re-edited.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Ancient Jewish texts.

12 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

It’s more accessible. Drawing a lot on pop culture – language, food, wine, consumerism, love and war.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

I am influenced by the contemporary music scene, dj culture, the downtown NY art world, deconstructionist and feminist theory.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

13th century Jewish mystics like Abraham Abulafia, the soaring transcendence of both the concrete and sound work of bill bissett and the politics and aesthetics of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writers, Charles Bernstein, Bruce Andrews, and both Hélène Cixous and Rachel Blau Duplessis, writing out of the feminist avant garde.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Jump out of an airplane and be surrounded by fiery letters falling from the sky.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I think I would have made a great copy writer (writing copy for advertising).

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

It chose me. There was no choice. There’s nothing else I would rather do.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Last great book: Djuna Barnes, Nightwood. Last great film: the re-release of Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander.

19 - What are you currently working on?

Final touches on Amuse Bouche. A book called, That’s Sooooo Cliché which tracks through the anecdotal history of common and overused phrases. Papers and presentations for upcoming conferences on performance and videopoem-making, and In the Psalm of My Hand – a kind of homolinguistic translation of the Song of Songs.

No comments: