Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Daniel Karasik

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Daniel Karasik (photo credit Tim Leyes)

This National Poetry Month, we're exploring what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets in our Poets in Profile series.

Today we speak with Daniel Karasik, who has already won readers and fans with his acclaimed plays and his first place story in last year's CBC Canada Writes competition. A multi-genre talent, Daniel's newest work is the poetry collection Hungry (Cormorant Books). Exposing a magnetic poetic voice that is witty, insightful and raw, Hungry asks questions that are coiled in each of us — questions about love, authenticity and legacy.

Daniel talks to Open Book about Superman popping up in poetry, a very Canadian source of inspiration and the best book of poems to give to the object of your affection.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Daniel Karasik:

When I was nineteen I spent a couple of weeks in Paris. Through a convoluted series of events that involved a Yiddish library, I ended up house-sitting for a friend. In my friend’s apartment I found a copy of Rilke’s Uncollected Poems — a terrible title for a collection of poems — with English translations by Edward Snow. It sort of changed my life, for reasons that I can’t really touch discursively now, seven years later. Those poems just inhabited me so completely. They made me feel like the nameless something you look for when you’re lost and bereft and hungry might be poetry.

OB:

What is the first poem you remember being affected by?

DK:

Alden Nowlan. Who’s a poet, not a poem, it’s true. I was affected by all of his poems that were available on poemhunter.com when I was fourteen. There was a great one that mentions Superman. That wasn’t why I liked the poem, but it didn’t hurt.

OB:

What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?

DK:

Leaves of Grass. But Whitman can have it. Mostly I’m just happy it exists.

OB:

What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?

DK:

Elk.

OB:

What do you do when a poem is not working?

DK:

Pretend it’s working. Send it to magazines. Receive rejection slips. Keep pretending. Work on other writing. Forget about the poem. Return to it years later. Tweak three words and decide it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. Send it to magazines. Receive acceptance from The New Yorker. Rejoice.

OB:

What was the last book of poetry that really knocked your socks off?

DK:

I found Matt Rader’s A Doctor Pedalled Her Bicycle Over the River Arno to be full of delights. It’s a book rich with surprise and feeling and impeccable craftsmanship. Stephen Marche’s novel Raymond and Hannah is really a prose poem, I think, and it’s exquisite. It moved or excited or charmed me on every page. Phil Hall’s Killdeer struck me as urgent, vulnerable, singular writing: the words of a person moved by a genuine need to speak. Bruce Taylor’s No End in Strangeness is the book of poetry I most want to give everybody, especially girls, because it fuses fun with insight in a way that’s so attractive I can’t help but hope I’ll look spiffier in its company. I’ve also been rereading Jack Gilbert’s masterpiece The Great Fires since he died in the fall, because I’d like to figure out how to live.

OB:

What is the best thing about being a poet….and what is the worst?

DK:

You’re never going to make any money from poetry, so you can focus on the other reasons to write it. Pleasure. Vanity. The pursuit of beauty, truth. The desire to charm members of the opposite sex. For me that’s a great thing about being a poet.

The worst thing is the cultural marginality. Poetry is barricaded in the study while the mainstream culture chats, drinks, dons costumes, sings songs, and makes love in the rest of the house. And maybe that’s okay; it does have the theatre for company in there. Maybe poetry’s best off as an ancient, plangent voice singing from a neglected room. It’s just a bit troubling, albeit in a way that’s wonderfully poignant, to be at the party but not where all the dancing is.


Daniel Karasik writes poetry, drama and fiction, and is a grand prize winner of the CBC Literary Award for Fiction and the Canadian Jewish Playwriting Award. At the age of 26 he is the author of two previous books: The Crossing Guard & In Full Light and The Remarkable Flight of Marnie McPhee, both published by Playwrights Canada Press. He also works as an actor and director and helms the Toronto-based theatre company Tango Co., through which he has developed many of his plays, presented to acclaim in New York, Vancouver and regularly in translation in Germany.

For more information about Hungry please visit the Cormorant website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the Poets in Profile interviews in our archives.

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