Author Profile - Daniel Karasik


Daniel Karasik is a Toronto-based playwright and poet. His latest play, The Innocents, a hit at the 2010 SummerWorks Festival in Toronto, will be presented by The Bridge Theatre Company in New York City this spring, and produced in German translation at the Staatstheater Mainz in Mainz, Germany in the fall. His play for children, The Remarkable Flight of Marnie McPhee, received its premiere production earlier this year with Carousel Players, touring schools in Southern Ontario from January to March 2011.

His poetry and fiction have appeared in major literary magazines across Canada and in the United States, including The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, and Per Contra. He has been a first-place winner in the Toronto Star Poetry Contest, and is one of eleven poets featured in the new Cormorant Books anthology Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry.

Daniel spent January - April 2006 in Ghana, primarily in Kwahu Tafo, Accra, and Kokrobite.

Five Questions with Daniel Karasik:

1. How long have you been writing poetry?
I've been writing poetry since high school, probably since I was 15 or 16. I was very prolific in my late teens, then stopped writing poetry altogether for a year or two, and have since been writing poems again in concentrated bursts of productivity.

2. Who are your favorite poets? Which poets have most informed and inspired your work?
Czeslaw Milosz, Rainer Maria Rilke, Robert Hass, Alden Nowlan, Jack Gilbert, Anne Carson, Pablo Neruda, A. F. Moritz, and James Tate have all meant a lot to me at different times. That list is inevitably incomplete. Poets who probe the basic human experiences of love and death, suffering and desire, and who do so in ways that engage the emotions as well as the intellect, have always spoken to me most powerfully. To me, poetic form is an instrument for getting at those experiences, not an end in itself.

3. What do you hope to accomplish with your poetry?
I hope to express myself and to bring pleasure or a heightened awareness of the world (or some part of it) to my reader. My aspirations as a poet aren't political; a poem is always liable to be interpreted politically, but I don't conceive of my poetry that way. I think good poetry shapes the rough matter of experience into something that we're able to process -- intellectually, emotionally, viscerally -- where otherwise the incomprehensible, formless mass of those experiences might just sweep over us, leaving us bewildered. (I'm still bewildered). Some of my more recent poetry, and I think some of my better poems among my older poetry, has been a kind of a searching, an unraveling in poetic terms of an existential or otherwise urgent problem. So I guess part of what I hope to accomplish is to share that search, crafted in such a way that it has resonance for others.

4. "A Wrapping Ceremony" was inspired by your stay in Kwahu Tafo. What brought you to that region of Ghana? Did you write the poem at the time, or in hindsight after leaving the country?
I was in Kwahu Tafo volunteering at a cultural centre there, a program coordinated by GIMAT Volunteer Network. I spent about a month helping out at the cultural centre and teaching English at one of the junior secondary schools. I didn't think I was very good at teaching, and had serious questions generally about whether I was doing any good there -- I was 19 and pretty ignorant; I owe many thanks to Eric and Christian in Kwahu Tafo for their wisdom, energy, and generosity, which helped me stay afloat -- so I kept myself busy and sane by writing in the evenings. "A Wrapping Ceremony" was one of the first poems I wrote in Africa.

5. A selection of your poetry was recently including in the anthology Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry. What effect has being included in the anthology had on your understanding of yourself as a poet, and your aspirations going forward? More generally, what role do you think anthologies play in a country's literary culture?
I think any publication in a reputable place confers at least a little legitimacy on your work, which is nice. And Cormorant Books, which published the anthology, is a terrific small press. I've felt encouraged by editor Robyn Sarah's interest in my writing. I had no idea whether the poems now published in the anthology would ever be in print, and while there's still never any guarantee that something you write will be published, especially as a young or newer writer, the anthology's publication gives me hope that the work I'm writing now may eventually find an audience.

As for what role this particular anthology will play in the country's literary culture, I'm really not sure. I think it's full of rich, strong work. I'm thrilled to be included in it. Maybe this goes without saying, but probably the impact Undercurrents has will depend a lot on what kind of critical reception it receives. Anthologies of more established writers can be canon-making, and who's included vs. who's not can get very political, but an anthology of new writers seems less political to me, if only because none of the included writers are well-known enough to be readily identified with particular aesthetic or ideological positions. I think Undercurrents represents a chance for us, the newer writers included in it, to start building a readership without obliging would-be readers to buy our separately authored books. The upshot might be that more people end up reading our poems. And that's wonderful.

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