A version of this interview has been translated into Bengali and will appear in Kabisammelan, 2018.
You are a teacher, a researcher, an activist, a media person. We will like to know how the different social identities contribute to the formation of your identity as a poet.
As a poet, prof, essayist, performer, art-maker, activist, i’m sliding between ever-shifting identities; but at bottom, i’m bound to a focus on language and exploring ways that it powerfully re-shapes how we see, think, feel and behave. Each “identity” informs the other in increasingly valuable ways. As a media artist, i am able to foreground aspects of the physicality, materiality of language in a very immediate and visceral way; urges me to think about aspects of high and low culture and how they intersect, which then inevitably affects the rhythms and textures of all that i write.
When i first discovered Critical Theory, not only did it give me a language to speak about what I was doing, (ie intertextual references, Grammatologic foci, traces, erasures, resistance…), and that very specific language bled into the “poems”; creating a kind of “inter-genreous” self-reflexive economy where parameters were continually shifting. Language, genre and identity were foregrounded not as something fixed and identifiable but more as an intertextual matrix of palimpsestic shadings and possibilities.
Further, each of the 8 books contains not only “poetry but visual infusions, full color essay collages. Its very composition stretches the limits of a “poem” and asks one to consider what a poem can be. Recently I’ve been creating politically ironic videopoems and pechakuchas. These 6.40 min. audio / visual “poems” merge poetic and theoretic discourse with cinematic elements. The temporal limitations urge me to write in increasingly different ways – working (as Roman Jakobson might say, simultaneously syntagmatically and diachronically). Also increasingly performing for ever-widening audiences — both in terms of internationality but also in terms of genre (ie not just Literary or Acadmic but those interested in media theory and pop culture), affects not only what is being written but in what ways. Thus, all of these “identities”, swirl, bleed into and speak to each other — impacting both the form and content of the “poetry”, asking me to re-view identity as a heteroglossic enunciative process which is being endlessly re-formed.
When did you take up writing seriously, at what age? How did it start?
I started writing very early. I always found that writing was very hermeneutic. Though I didn’t read “poetry” or even call what I was doing “poetry” there was a very real feeling that to write it down was very healing, somehow made it real. From an early age I was particularly excited by the shapes of the letters; how they looked on a page, how they were encircled by white space, their arcs, lines, mounds, crevices; how each letter was like a body nestled against another — almost alive and breathing on the page. It wasn’t until I was in university did I go to my very first “reading. Hearing poetry read aloud was life-changing. I started to meet poets, published a magazine with some friends in our basement on an off-set press; began to do readings, organized events; hitchiked great distances to meet poets. I studied with everyone i could — from Allen Ginsberg to Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Jerome Rothenberg, Charles Bernstein. bill bissett, bp Nichol, Warren Tallman (the co-editor of the veritable poetry “bible” of the 70’s – The New American Poetry and Poetics Anthology and the founder of the TISH moment) — all highly instrumental in my formation as a poet. And I got to experience it all up close and personal — so many different trends, trajectories of thinking, political and aesthetic concerns, ways of expression. And I think this range: from the Beats to Black Mountain, San Francisco Renaissance, Canadian Sound and Concrete poets, and later the American L=A=N=G=A=G=E Poets, i learned there were endless possibilities to paint and compose with words.
Who do you think had major influences on you?
One doesn’t know how or what is going to change your world. And sometimes you don’t realize it until years later. But over the years not only have those poets been of crucial significance to my poetic psyche but also Louis Zukofsky, Ludwig, Wittgenstein, Gertrude Stein; on the theoretic side of things, Jacques Derrida, Hélène Cixous, Edmond Jabès, Baudrillard, Barthes and Borges — as well as Kabbalistic scholars Gershom Scholem, Elliot Wolfson and 13th C. Kabbalist Abraham Abulafia – each of them focus on an ecstatic sense of language; question normative models of communication and meaning production.
You are a renowned performer. Elocutionists in Bengal have always been very popular among general audience. There are several schools where students take formal trainings of recitations. We are eager to know about the lineage of Performance poetry in America. Who, as a performer, influenced you? How popular is the genre there?
The politics of sounds and performance poetry in America has had a bit of a convoluted past. Like everything, it goes in cycles, waves, trends. When I was first starting out in the 80’s, performance poetry was not en vogue. I grew up in Canada and at that time, there was a political Marxist aesthetic that devalued decried any kind of performance. They saw it as foregrounding a sense of self – and there was a feeling that the words should all be non-hierarchical. Nothing should be fetishized, and certainly not the reader. This was very difficult and confusing to me – especially with my “Jewy” embodied style of being-in-the-world. However, in the 60’s and 70’s, there was a robust tradition of performance – Allen Ginsberg and his harmonium accompanied by all sorts of jazz musicians and rock stars, Jerome Rothenberg chanting with the Klezmatics, the 4 Horseman, Owen sound, Fluxus; bill bissett chanting with his rattle channeling voices from the netherworlds; or Paul Dutton throat singing. All of these had huge impact on me growing up. Also the sound recordings of Tristan Tzara and Hugo Ball. Then in the late 80’s performance poetry had a major resurgence with SLAM – a populist, competitive genre, born out of the Hip Hop zeitgeist – offering 3 min political rhythmic rants – originally written for the stage vs the page. This still is an increasingly popular genre and have found audiences worldwide.
What i find most interesting these days are poets who mix genres – Nicole Peyrafitte who draws on French chanson and Dada cabaret, Julie Patton who deconstructs the very notion of performance by sometimes sliding on the floor and using improvisational found and sound techniques or even destabilizing the audience by stuffing her mouth with fragments of text, literally eating her words while she is delivering her piece; or Jake Marmer, performing Talmudic-inspired, hebrew-inflected rants with jazz accompaniment, and Tracey Morris who came out of the SLAM scene but now mixes that up with a African American, identity-focused, theoretic edge.
Is the popularity of poetry as a genre waning?- As a global citizen, and a person who stays in America, how will you respond to the question? Ignoring it is not an option (smile)
Poetry is growing stronger and more vigilant and widespread – as a genre it is expanding and becoming more and more part of public consciousness. And in this dire political climate, a needed mode of expression.
You are a Canadian-American poet with Russian descent. Trans-nationality can’t be a mere theoretical term in your life. How, according to you, is your poetry affected or enriched by the heritage? How do you connect with the heritage of exile literature?
So much of my focus centers around issues of nomadicism, exile, displacement, whether in overt ways or more formally, embracing a sense of de-colonized hybrditiy, syncreticity. Through puns – highlighting a sense of multiplicity and heterogeneity or multiple discourses juxtaposed against each other, there’s a sense of differrance (wandering) through meaning, being — where language is continually de-centered, displaced, ex-static (outside of stasis) and celebrates an “excluded middle” and how meaning erupts in the ever-widening margins. Or in the words of bp Nichol “murmers merge at the margins of meaning”.
Last August (2017) when i read for Jadavpur University as part of Forum on Identity, Border and Nation, in Prayukti Bhawan, i was thinking how now our borders are demarcated not just in terms of geography and gender and subjectivity, race and class but with our infinitely shifting screen of urban suburbia; our “reality” is increasingly constructed (and negotiated) from within our webbed networks —
Thus, the whole concept of nation must be re-thought because our locus, a colloquy of illocatable locution colloquated through screens, mirrors, phones, walls, re-creating its own borders, orders, limits, laws, flaws).
All twittering and blogoscopic
NATION can no longer be seen as a thing-in-itself but
an iteration; an emaNation
a dissemiNation forging (4G’ing itself), through 144 characters
patterns; structures, codes, logics, idioms
through an emerge’Nation, a merger’Nation –
an enjambiNation; germinating the interval of all that is uncharted.
Or rethought in musical terms,
nation must be seen as a jammiNation
of riffs, drifts, grifts, like in Jazz — a calculus of constructs foundations;
an immersioNation of links, subversions excursions perversions.
And through all that is twittered and youtubed foursquared and flickred
an intra-galactic lexical plexus
of screening media
a misc-en-sceney panacea
cannibalizing itself through its own lateral feed nodes,
all mythinformed and tweety
like a chatroulette stalker
sucking on its own
saucy posturing of
geographies of content
My nation, an imagiNation
a generative narration
all webbed up and sticky, intratextual and hyperlinked
A gemmiNation; of infinite redoubling because NATION is never singular and unique but an infinite redoubling of mirrors, mires murmers, morés.
A margiNation; mirage’Nation
reminding us to rethink universalized notions of nation
–not as something totalitarian and fixed but infinitely divergent,
evolving; and opening dialogue , of spectral possibility
Nation then must be seen as a merger-ation of multiple aesthetics, styles, embodying a range of difference, errance,
an invagiNation of communication strategies and procedures,
of creases caverns, infolded crevices
amis[c]engeNation generating a contiguous infolding of meaning –
encompassing all possible
permutations and combinations
I think these sentiments, concerns, are a major focus played out through all of my work, all of the books – perhaps borne out of being Jewish, and a woman, a post-colonialist, anarchic poet, performer and theorist on the margins of many communities – embody a sense of displacement, in both form and content, that everything is shifting, layered and changing and asks that we keep re-exploring language, meaning, being, from continually new perspectives.
You have authored eight books of poems and you are very famous as a performer. How will you defend your identity as a poet in the face of your burgeoning fame as a performer? A performance of poetry somehow becomes the imposition of authorial intent on the audience. What about the readers’ response?
What you seem to be focusing on here is the relationship between the stage and the page. For me, they are two different but related realities. i love being on stage and how that offers a visceral immediacy – a connection with an audience. They can bask in the rhythms, textures, sound and breath and cadences of the work, the musicality of language. And through that, experience a passion and intensity which is immediate and physical and present. However, reading the text offers its own range of thrilling complexity. When one “hears” the work one misses all the visual puns, the beauty of the typography. According to the Kabbalah (13th C. Jewish mysticism), the visual text is holy, inscribed as black fire on white fire – in performance this is absent. Further in reading the text, one can read it their own way, at their own pace; delve into the erotics of its physicality, how it looks, feels, smells, moves; and can more easily interact in a more “productive” interactive manner. In no way do I see the book as a transcription of the oral performance, but rather that the performance feeds the text and the text becomes a “score” and together they offer equally but differing somatic and cognitive experiences.
The arrangement of the words you write in your poems are astonishingly challenging for the traditional set of ideas. Does your performance, in its own way of reaching out to the audience, ever try to compensate for the radical process of your writing?
Ha! i wouldn’t so much say that the performance compensates for its complexity – because it offers a whole set of further sonic and acoustic layers that in many ways exacerbate a sense of destabilization and defamiliarity. For example, in performance one doesn’t have the luxury of reading at one’s own pace – of looking at the words, their spelling, their compositional layout. And if read quickly, words, phrases, phonemes, can bleed into each other and then even a more traditional / narrative / typically “followable” poem can devolve into a contrapuntal sonic sensorium (highlighting as Louis Zukofsky might say, its “upper limit music”).
I’m interested in the productivity of meaning, embracing the complexity of language and how that impacts our perceptions: socially, aesthetically, politically. As Charles Bernstein lays out in his Attack of the Difficult Poem, (2011), “it’s not incoherent, meaningless or hostile but rather invites a sense of ambient and associative readings”, navigating through aporias, paradox; investigating its recombinant structure. The poem is to be celebrated as not a bearer of a message but as a verbal construct reverberating continual social and aesthetic significance; mirrors of overlapping meaning. Thus, having a more “welcoming” style in performance is not a bad strategy ; ) – provides one with a softer entry / as it seduces the unassuming listener into the secret labyrinths of lingual recombinance.
How will you describe your experience in Kolkata?
Kolkata! My experiences there was life changing! Not only have I never felt so welcomed and celebrated, but was so overwhelmed and surprised to learn that there on the east coast of Bengal; was a raging book center; a dizzying euphoric, almost “religious” commitment to literature, publishing, translation. Whether losing myself with you in the labyrinths of Oxford street (meeting magazine editors, anarchist book sellers, organizers, renegades theorists and poets or performing at Nanadan; West Bengal Film Center, for Baschimbanga Kobita Akademi and sponsored by the Government of West Bengal, or The National Academy of Letters at Sahitya Akademi Conference Hall, University of New Delhi; Jadavpur University; The Lions Club Auditorium, Deshopriya Park; or having the luxury of meeting your exquisite and very generous family and colleagues; listening to the voices and concerns of the younger generation of Bengali poets or recording the CD with Subodh Sarkar, along the banks of the ganges – it was “holli” – in every sense of that word. i was so moved with the warmth and generosity, the passionate focus and commitment to poetry, and felt so uncannily “at home”.
And as a post-colonial poet, there was a very real sense of commonality – in terms of your reverence and celebration for both the written and the spoken word, that poetry historically was and should be sung” that nothing is holier than books. And i am so grateful to you, to Sabodh and everyone who made my experience so incredibly magical and fulfilling. i can’t wait to come “home”.
An Italian translation of Adeena Karasick’s work Salomé, Woman of Valor was featured La Macchina Sognante N. 3 http://www.lamacchinasognante.com/da-salome-woman-of-valor-adeena-karasick/
Adeena Karasick is a New York based Canadian poet, performer, cultural theorist and media artist and the author of eight books of poetry and poetics. Her Kabbalistically inflected, urban, Jewish feminist mashups have been described as “electricity in language” (Nicole Brossard), “proto-ecstatic jet-propulsive word torsion” (George Quasha), noted for their “cross-fertilization of punning and knowing, theatre and theory” (Charles Bernstein) “a twined virtuosity of mind and ear which leaves the reader deliciously lost in Karasick’s signature ‘syllabic labyrinth’” (Craig Dworkin). Most recently is Salomé: Woman of Valor (University of Padova Press, Italy, 2017). She teaches Literature and Critical Theory for the Humanities and Media Studies Dept. at Pratt Institute, is co-founding Artistic Director of the KlezKanada Poetry Festival and Retreat, Poetry Editor for Explorations in Media Ecology, 2017 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Award recipient and winner of the 2016 Voce Donna Italia award for her contributions to feminist thinking. The “Adeena Karasick Archive” has been established at Special Collections, Simon Fraser University.
Aritra Sanyal is a poet, translator, researcher, ex-sports journalist and presently works as a teacher of English language in a school in West Bengal, India. He is a doctoral candidate at Assam University focusing on the Use of Historiography in Amitava Gosh. Earlier he worked as a research scholar under the supervision of Chinmoy Guha focusing on the Impact of France on 19th and early 20th Century Bengali Literature and the author of four books. Forthcoming is Ekta Bahu Purano Nei (An Old Absence) from Pathak Press, Calcutta, January 2018.
Featured image: Photo by Aritra Sanyal.