In his debut collection of poetry, Toronto playwright Daniel Karasik lays out an ambitious spread. Hungry is a feast – a table piled high with sushi restaurants and greyhound buses, locker rooms and microscopes. Karasik investigates aging and impermanence, his attention skipping ahead with the frenzied focus of the emerging connoisseur. Held up by a framework of traditional forms freshly spun, Hungry grapples with the gnawing absence in the middle of abundance. The work holds at its core a staunch anxiety. In “Old Men Running,” Karasik’s speaker compares himself to men “in the nightcap of their lives,” and takes away a “fear that drives me / to run / faster than all of them.” The speaker listens to the breathing of a sleeping lover, “knowing the whole thing could break at any moment,” while the demise of a childhood restaurant in “Old Haunt, Rebuilt” prompts a friend to remark, “Our youth’s unravelling.” The collection grasps at youthfulness even as it dissolves, with poems like “Young” and “Promise” turning over the speaker’s salad days, digging for something more substantial and coming up uneasy. Karasik’s uncertainty spills over into faith. His speaker looks – both literally and figuratively – to the sky, pondering in “Sanctity” “the millions who wait, / knowing or unknowing, / for what is holy.” “Piety” delves into one man’s devotion, while “Potions for Longevity” begins with a caveat: “I caution you that prayer / may not suffice.” From his Jewish heritage, Karasik’s speaker extracts further mysteries – a missing grandfather, the inclusion of a stranger at Passover Seder. With the appearance of the “gates of paradise” in “Last Crossing,” the speaker glimpses heavenly towers that are “hopelessly unsuited” for him. Hungry finds no answers in paradise; behind each gate is another. Underpinning the collection’s hunt for fulfillment is Karasik’s well-intuited sense of structure. Hungry is salted with traditional forms – a villanelle about elevator doors, a Petrarchan sonnet about an MRI. The work is dense with repetition, the poems kneading something new from something old. Karasik’s rhymes fall down only rarely, his internal wordplay clanging in “What I Saw and Briefly Held”: “Early evening, call it a ravine. / A path you’ve often seen. / Call it mere routine…” His speaker, too, is sometimes ungainly, taking on age like a suit. These are a young man’s poems told in an old man’s voice. But what gives Karasik’s debut its teeth is the wonder that spills from its pages. The collection is replete with flash moments of insight, Karasik’s speaker laying aside his world-weariness in the face of simple revelations. While contemplating the nut factory where his father works, Karasik writes,
I used to think, as a boy, I’d someday lose
belief in the implausible worlds I glimpsed
in books that made me laugh out loud
with terror and delight,
never dreaming I’d discover
these are the worlds people live in.
This is the pièce de résistance of Karasik’s work, that it holds together both doubt and hope, managing to contain in sparkling microcosm “the world, the world, the world.”
Emily Davidson is a writer based in Vancouver, BC. Her poetry has appeared in magazines across the country. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.
This review also appeared in print in Arc 73.
HUNGRY? EAT. TIRED? SLEEP. CURIOUS? READ (ARC).