I haven’t always known how to discuss the polyphonic work of Canadian expat and New York City poet Adeena Karasick, considered a veritable force in North American poetry and poetics for more than a decade. An odd offshoot in Canadian poetry, Winnipeg native Karasick’s ninth trade poetry collection (and seventh with Talonbooks) is This Poem, self-described as a “Hip-To-Time / Long Poem Parody.” In Karasick’s work, there is an adherence to play and sound that can’t be found anywhere else. Given that so many claim influence from the late Toronto poet bpNichol, so few seem to revel in the joy and the play of language as does Adeena Karasick, with the possible exception of British Columbia poet kevin mcpherson eckhoff. Karasick refers to some of the work within the poem itself as “semoideictic revelry”—“as it moshes its meshwords / warming itself like a poesie cosy / coling against its own tumult.” Blending theory and sound, poetics and pop culture, the book opens with a description:
This is a poem
twittering with clotted schtick split with rusted access
synaptic axes, recessed metastics, elastic massacres
of flossy früz fidgets
like a prissy pussy-poster
all pompous and prose-cut like.
The collection includes equally playful full-colour collage-works by Blaine Speigel and Karasick’s daughter, Safia Karasick Southey, who has also produced some impressive Doctor Who fan videos. The images bring light to the text, balancing perfectly a sense of image against lyrical, gymnastic texts.
Given that the book claims “parody,” does a poem that tells you what it is doing or going to do an indictment of what the poet sees as the Canadian long-poem tradition, or an homage to the same? “It may not always be clear how each letter / should be costumed,” she writes in the closing sequence, “RULES OF TEXTUAL ETIQUETTE / A GENTLEWOMAN’S GUIDE.” The closing sequence, perhaps the “straightest” of her works in recent years, paired with images reworked by her daughter, gives the most obvious clues: “For goodness sake, it is a poem, not a treasure hunt.” Parts of this collection read very much like performance/spoken word, and sound absolutely incredible, but what is the poem telling us? Is this a poem that uses theory to tell us to listen to the music? As the poem itself suggests, the journey itself is precisely the thing. Karasick treats the body of language itself as a sleek, sexual thing—“Oh this poem / is firm and flexible / feverishly tagging you, poking you, stroking you // and just got all sexypants”—rising up to critique expectations of language, sexuality, and femininity. With Adeena Karasick, one does not know what to expect, and that is the finest part of her work as a whole, and nothing is safe from her critical eye.
rob mclennan is author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. The most recent is Songs for little sleep, (obvious epiphanies press, 2012). He blogs at robmclennan.blogspot.com.