Last month, B.C.’s Simon Fraser University announced the life work of Canadian writer and poet Adeena Karasick would be added to its Bennett Library Contemporary Literature Collection.
The collection focuses on 20th century avant-garde, experimental, formally innovative and “underground” writing in English, most of it poetry.
Karasick was a great fit, according to Tony Power, curator of the collection.
“Her language is intensely playful and she’s very much a media and performance artist,” he reflected. “We wanted her work because she’s closely associated with a lot of the poets we’ve collected including Warren Tallman, her mentor at the University of British Columbia, and bill bissett.”
The library purchased 20 banker’s boxes worth of Karasick’s personal and poetic papers, drafts, correspondence, journals, posters, audiotapes and videotapes, which will be processed, inventoried, re-boxed, digitized and stored for posterity in the next year or two. Graduate students and academic researchers will have access to the work when they need it.
Karasick said she felt incredibly honoured. “I’m thrilled to have it there in one of the largest, most prestigious archives for avant-garde work, along with archives from my teachers, colleagues and other renegade poets whose work questions different ways of using language,” she said.
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Karasick, who lives in New York City and teaches poetry and critical theory at Pratt University, was born in Winnipeg and raised in Vancouver. She graduated from Eric Hamber High School, graduated with a bachelor’s degree from UBC and pursued graduate studies at York University and a PhD at Concordia University before moving to the U.S. 20 years ago. She’s published nine books of poetry, performs on stages internationally and runs the poetry program at KlezKanada, an annual Yiddish cultural festival in Quebec.
“My main focus and love is language, celebrating its physical, material and aural qualities, highlighting that through language we create all meaning and that there is a direct connection between language and being, how we see, feel and behave,” she explained. Her use of irony and parody aren’t always fully understood, as she learned in I Got A Crush on Osama, that she produced in 2009 as a videopoem parody of the song I Got A Crush on Obama.
“I’ve always been interested in being provocative, in parody, irony, ways of subverting and causing people to look at things in new ways,” she said. “When I wrote that videopoem it was at a time when the world was on a rampage looking for Osama and all our news was geared towards this obsessive concern with where he was.”
Far from belittling this, Karasick’s videopoem was intended as an ironic, parodic play on how the North American public deals with fear.
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“Sometimes you have to laugh in the face of fear to devalue it, make it less problematic,” she said. “The poem is audacious, subversive, provocative, and cuts into the fabric of things. That is the role of art. Also, it operates with an ‘assimilationist’ brand of Jewish humour; one that threatens to unleash chaos, creates unsocialized anarchy and embodies unpredictability. But it was on Fox News and it got me into a huge amount of trouble when some people misread it and took it at face value. I was on a watch list for a very long time!”
Another videopoem, Lingual Ladies, a parody of Beyonce’s song All the Single Ladies, gave Karasick’s work greater worldwide exposure, was hailed as a major work of videopoetry and was shown at film festivals worldwide.
Both the videopoems can be seen on YouTube.
These days Karasick is working on two new books and her spoken word opera, Salomé, Woman of Valor. A feminist-Jewish perspective of the story of Salomé, it will be accompanied by the musical compositions of Frank London, a Grammy award-winning composer. Its world premier is scheduled for the 2018 Chutzpah! Festival in Vancouver