Poetry, at its core, is a mystical endeavor: an encounter with the online of language that holds our consciousness. That is true even when the poem, on the floor, looks like a collection of puns about Facebook, the least poetical of all attainable media. That, anyway, is the premise of Checking In, a brand new assortment by Canadian-born New York poet, media artist, performer, and cultural theorist Adeena Karasick.
The guide’s central lengthy poem, 36 pages in size, consists of fake Facebook statuses that weave collectively popular culture, literary references, philosophy, mysticism, and extra—all in a mixture of outrageous puns: “Ulysses is listening to Siren Song on Spotify” goes one line; “William Wordsworth is wandering lonely on iCloud” is one other. Riffing on Homer’s Odyssey and William Wordworth’s I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, the strains open up into one thing far nice than witticisms. That is clear to anybody who spent days underneath the spell of limitless free music on Spotify, whereas imbibing deathly doses of interstitial promoting. Whereas Wordsworth’s unique poem creates a Romantic metaphor, utilizing the pure world to explain the inside state of the poet, Karasick’s line hyperlinks existential loneliness with the tangle of invisible applied sciences provided by a serious company. The pun doesn’t appear all that humorous, when you think about that the pure world is not some extent of reference for us, as we use Apple-invented lingo to explain our most weak feelings.
What makes these literary puns poetry? In Kabbalistic thought, which Karasick, 53, cites in her epigraph, the world was shaped by means of language, and so Hebrew letters are the primal energies of creation. In combining these energies into phrases, and in learning their patterns, one walks the road between linguistics and mysticism in an try and discern entry factors to the divine: the “state of ecstasy” referred to by medieval Spanish Kabbalist Rabbi Avraham Abulafia, one in every of Karasick’s inspirations.
That is definitely the case with regards to gematria—a premise that every Hebrew letter corresponds to a numeric worth, and that phrases which share the identical sum are intrinsically associated—in a means that has nothing to do with etymology or semantics. Puns, oddly, work in an analogous method: We deliver collectively unrelated concepts, with a unfastened verbal hyperlink—and by some means, they make us chuckle (or a minimum of grunt). Poetry, too, is, at its root, musical slightly than purely semantic: The great thing about the word-music, quite than logic, permits for recent, free-associative photographs.
In an essay from the anthology Radical Poetics and Secular Jewish Tradition titled “Hijacking Language,” Karasick displays on her ongoing engagement with Kabbalah: “Throughout all my work this psycho-obsessive focus of the meticulous and detailed inner workings of language is always at play.”
In common speech, we use language to explain expertise. Plainly when Rabbi Abulafia launched into his “combination of letters” meditations, he wasn’t making an attempt to provide you with a selected concept, after which discover phrases for it—however to free-associate round phrases that he generated in his experiments. Slightly than utilizing language to explain an outdoor occasion, right here the language itself turns into the start line. That is definitely the case in Karasick’s work as properly, the place puns, and wordplay are themselves the purpose, and locus of cultural critique.
There are fairly a number of biblical references in Checking In. These embrace “Jacob is Wrestling on Wittgenstein’s Ladder,” which name-checks the thinker who as soon as posited that his personal propositions be used as a ladder, which could possibly be carried out away with as soon as climbed. In Karasick’s riff, the 2 well-known tales of Jacob wrestling and climbing are enmeshed and framed as a philosophical endeavor. One other instance, “Moses is Smashing his Tablet” appears easier and extra simple. But, it does level to the load of the phrase “tablet,” and its gradual sinking into informal utilization. Furthermore, it factors to the deliberate phrase selection, made by Apple, Google, and different producers, to make use of the phrase “tablet” to indicate authority and reverence because the subliminal message wrapped up in product promoting.
By means of her fake statuses, Karasick manages to attract our consideration to the very fiber of language, in addition to the linguistic constructs launched into our lives by Facebook. Can Facebook’s lingo maintain up the load of our tradition—our mythic and conventional heritage, literary and philosophical references, and emotional states? At the moment, Facebook-talk permeates our discourse, and we describe ourselves via statuses, and know others by means of them, as nicely. Given the terseness, the give attention to key phrases, marketability and FOMO (worry of lacking out), the data-harvesting intentions lurking beneath—what’s all of it doing to our self-knowledge, and to the world we’re creating in our picture?
Checking In incorporates a lot of different memorable poetic experiments, together with “Here Today Gone Gemara,” a poem with a distinctly Yiddish taste, and numerous invented and inverted Yiddish proverbs. “May your thinking be as twisted as a challah,” quips the poet, after which exhibits us the right way to obtain such a twisting:
Might you be blessed with poor assimilation
and endure from enigma
Yiddish is infamous for its backhanded compliments, and for blessings that try and beat back the evil eye by posing as curses. Certainly, the primary line right here might sound like a curse—but when assimilation means abandoning the richness, humor, and subtlety of Yiddish tradition, then “poor assimilation” may be a type of blessings in disguise. Equally, “suffer from enigma” does deliver “suffer from eczema” to thoughts. Then once more, it’s a blessing one poet would give one other—for to endure from enigma is to itch the will to know the human situation.
As Karasick continues:
For fact lives like a beggar
surfacing like a pop-up on a homepage
The primary line may remind us of the Talmudic story that the Messiah is lurking among the many beggars on the gates of Rome, whereas the second takes that very same sentiment straight into the 21st century. We might not know what the Messiah is, or what the Talmudic rabbis knew concerning the gates of Rome, however we perceive all too properly the paucity of life’s which means, and the inconvenience of fact, because it lurks, within the psychological or digital areas we inhabit.
“Here Today Gone Gemara,” because it unfolds, turns into harking back to vaudeville, and will get rambunctious and raunchy, too:
Go on, simply hit me with the brief finish of the shtick.
What, you’re gonna shmear me with a poor man’s
jam? Pee on my again and inform me it’s raining?
Take a look at the ceiling via my hair?
Simply wash your fantasy out with some kosher cleaning soap
and provides it to me child as scorching and sluggish as cholent.
Karasick’s bathos creates an amazing counterpoint to the tutorial, theoretical vocabulary, and the complicated philosophical issues she tackles.
In case you thought William Burroughs’ well-known line “cut up the present and the future leaks out” is eerie, you’re in for a journey with Karasick’s “Your Leaky Day,” a poem by which Karasick’s takes on the present authorities’s obsession with info leaks:
There’s a leaking on the Sheremetyevo airport,
a leaking within the Sinai, Saudi, Syria, the Senate,
putting leaks of tapes, faucets testimonies, reminiscence
and which means are leaking reside—
and within the Towers on fifth Ave there’s a leaking
among the many letters
However you can’t take a leak.
And as Gertrude Stein may say, a liking is a
leaking and as leak likes like in like eyes
in a creed of tweeted leaks,
we’re up all nite to get leaky
Like a freaky leak, at a late-nite leak straightforward
peeky leaks, trick-or-treaty leaks
In a hanging riff on Gertrude Stein’s wordplay, Karasick factors out what the illicit dissemination of data, particularly by way of tweet, actually resembles. The toilet humor makes the cultural critique outrageous, however on the similar time, the statement that the world is popping into a big leak has a darkish, critical connotation to it. Even the neologism, “trick-or-treaty,” nevertheless foolish it sounds, is a dreadfully astute touch upon the character of political treaties and the Halloween-esque freak present that surrounds worldwide politics.
If poetry is to be practical, related, irreverent, and alive, it has to do all the things that we do. It should meditate on the sacredness of language or enjoy puns, linguistic invention. It may need to detour to the toilet, Facebook statuses, or on to existential loneliness. Karasick writes poetry to jolt us from zoning out in our consolation zones, and to problem our notion of what poetry is, or might be. To that, thumbs up.
Learn extra of Jake Marmer’s Tablet journal essays on poetry right here.
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