Interview: Adeena Karasick on This Poem (NIX Magazine)

Adeena Karasick was recently interviewed by Megan Yetman of OCAD University for NIX Magazine, the first issue of which will be available in January. In the following excerpts, Karasick discusses This Poem and delves into pop culture, Derrida, print vs. new media, and the future of publishing.

Photo of Adeena Karasick by Michael Cobb, 2013

Megan Yetman: Your most recent work, This Poem (Talonbooks, 2012) has been published, yet you say you can’t stop working on it. What inspired the project, and what keeps it going?

Adeena Karasick: This Poem really started out as faux Facebook updates or extended tweets and took on a life of its own, became a kinda ironic investigation of contemporary culture. Mashing up the lexicons of Stein, Zukofsky, Shakespeare, Whitman, the contemporary financial meltdown, semiotic theory, Lady Gaga, Derrida and Flickr streams, (basically sifting through the shards, fragments of post-consumerist culture), it both celebrates and pokes fun at contradictory trends, threads of information, becoming a kind of interdisciplinary repository.

I realized that as an archive of fragments, updates, analysis, aggregates, percepts, echoes, questions, unraveling into itself I was not only weaving an intertextilic web, but building a landscape, a series of spiraling surfaces that I lived in, instilling and mirroring a social and political yet satirical aesthetic space where language and life intersect. So how exactly does one step out of such a project?

Also, through it all, I was thinking a lot about the “treachery of images,” about the arbitrarity of symbols, the impossibility of reference … ways in which it both was and was not “a poem.” Ceci n’est pas une [poem] … thinking about how the languages, lexicons, dialects resonating inside become lived experience, yet distorted reflections of, or thinking about Alfred Korzybski and how the “Map is not the Territory,” how the poem is always pointing to itself but is always infinitely reflective of otherness, not the territory but the terror story, the errstory.

MY: What was it like to collaborate with Blaine Speigel on the slides for This Poem? Do you often work in collaborations?

AK: The slides are a product of my collaboration with Blaine Speigel, a brilliant Toronto-based artist and photographer who sometimes goes under the name blankfoto. He took the text of This Poem and layered it, processed it, buried it, chemically treated it, peed on it, came on it, and created a wild array of layering effects of color and texture that speaks to both the physical and environmental and textural elements that This Poem embodies. The slides were featured in the 2012 book. Often when I do live shows I will project them on multiple screens and sometimes on my body while I read, foregrounding the physicality and materiality of the language itself. The physical manifestation of letters are really important to me. We forget that letters are objects (objet trouvée) as well as oral/aural symbols. It’s been a great honor and pleasure working with Blaine for many years now. We worked on another project called Seething Letters, which he created with my homolinguistic translation of the Sefer Yetzirah (“Book of Creation” or “Book of Letters”) – one of the most crucial doctrines of the Kabbalah – which talks about how the world was created through letters. The show debuted at St. Mark’s Poetry Project in New York and at the Ashkenaz Festival in Toronto with live music and projections and was collected in my [book], The House That Hijack Built (Talonbooks, 2004). […]

MY: You refer to Marshall McLuhan and Jacques Derrida often in your work. What inspires you about their writings, and are there others who you plan to investigate in the future?

AK: Well, I did my PhD thesis on Derrida, and would say he is one of [the] most foremost influences in terms of his lexicon, language practice, and most of all the interminable questioning of the very foundations of one’s thinking practices; reminding us how we must interrogate and question and problematize, critique the very foundations of our perceptions; how language is slippery and contrapuntal and infinitely spectral; how the subject is always already an intersubjective heteroglossic enunciative process, how Presence is infinitely re-presented in an apostrophically resonant present, in an ever-shifting ground of rewound bounds. It’s so interesting how there are so many similar places of intersection between Derrida and McLuhan – even though they [use] different language and their focus is on the surface, seemingly antithetical. But, whether it’s McLuhan’s sense of figures and grounds or probes (poetic aphorisms) or thinking through extensions – i.e. how everything is an extension of an extension, or how media is not an object but a process – or notions of temporality (how all is contemporaneous, with time) … or even very simply how the medium is the message – highlighting the crucial relationship between form and content, blurring borders, boundaries codes – there is an uncanny amount of overlap. […]

MY: While you still publish in [print], you also utilize online publishing websites such as YouTube. What is your publishing relationship to the Internet? How has the evolution of publishing from print to digital informed your work?

AK: Well, at [the] bottom I am a person of “the book.” I love the process of writing and thinking through language. I love the materiality and physicality of language itself, the ink on the pages, the smell of the print, the book in the hand, in one’s face, on one’s chest – how both writing and reading are acts of embodiment and highly erotic. However with all the new possibilities of digital media I find myself increasingly interested in testing the boundaries of what can be created in these new mediums in these new digital environments. So as you know I have made a few video poems, most famously “I got a Crush on Osama” which was on Fox News and I got in a lot of trouble for … People just don’t get irony. LOL. And “Lingual Ladies” [was] a kind of rallying cry for the women of Conceptual Poetry to get up and write. Lately I have been creating Pecha Kucha, which basically is a Japanese-originated superfly PowerPoint presentation (20 slides, 20 seconds [per slide]). (Here is an example.) I am interested in the relation of language and image and sound: what new worlds can be created while blurring boundaries between the worlds of art and academia and entertainment.

For a while I was very involved in transforming one of my books, Amuse Bouche (Talonbooks, 2009), into what I called Pop Up Poetry © (a kind of enhanced e-book), in which you can click on any word or phrase and it would take you on a wild ride to another destination: a related link, a video, an alternate line, an essay, commentary, lexical or historic data relating to the word or phrase … it was like an endless spiraling midrashic montage of information, offering new ways of reading.

But to be honest, in true Kabbalistic manner, I realized I could literally go mad with all the possibilities.

MY: How does pop culture and [Web] culture influence your work? How does poetry find its place in the Internet?

AK: Well, I have always been a big fan of pop culture and using its language, its rhythms, its textures – whether [that means I am] incorporating urban speech or Lady Gaga or the Smiths or weather reports, mashing them up with academic treatises on science and temporality, linguistics and teleology. I love the relationship between what is visible and invisible between the saying and not saying, and what seems popular and why. I parody it, satirize it, and love exposing its lineages and ideologies, rocking their foundations through re-contextualization.

In this age we are so connected to our technologies that it’s impossible not to use them in the construction of all our work, whether it is creative or academic or just knowledge-gathering. But inevitably today much art-making involves hunting and gathering and mashing up bifurcated language, unloved language, the debased language of media and advertising, and, in so doing, questions the hierarchic domains of discourse. It urges us to look at the poetic qualities of the excluded languages of the everyday: the Internet, the street, graffiti, radio broadcasts, and news reports. [For example,] Kenny Goldsmith recently read at the White House, [which was] filmed live and globally broadcast, … a listing of traffic reports from 1010 WINNS, as poetry. […]

MY: What do you see for the future of publishing as it is informed by developing technologies?

AK: I think the future won’t be either/or but all of the above. The diversity of media, like that of culture and language, will spread and grow. I’m not really sure anything will dominate but remnants of previous media like print will co-exist with new media like digital. The book itself has proven sturdier than many people thought with [the popularity of] digital books growing more slowly now than in the beginning. The bigger problem seems to be what will happen to bookstores, as outlets for book sales are dropping, though good bookstores are still seeing good sales and interesting new outlets (at least here in New York City; for example, Berl’s Bookstore in DUMBO and Mast Books on Avenue A have recently opened). New technologies combining books, multi-media, enriched graphics and even 3D [art] are being developed as we talk and will likely portend another paradigm shift, but overall I see the future as still engaging both older and newer technologies with a growing emphasis on self-publishing, interactive creativity, and customization.

These excerpts have been published on Meta-Talon with permission from NIX Magazine. The first issue, which includes the full interview, will be available for purchase in January. Inquiries may be directed to .