Karina Bush: An Interview
It took me a few “Where’s Waldo” moments to be able to track down where Karina Bush is at any point in time or particular mindstate, but finally I found her: the duck-billed baseball cap donned over blonde hair. I apologized for interrupting her brain lace weaving, but thankfully, she was able to take some time to answer my highly-anticipated questions. Below is the following account…
Josh Dale: Thanks for allowing me to interview you and I’m sorry for interrupting your weaving! To start, why not tell everyone a bit about yourself.
Karina Bush: Hello, Josh! It’s a pleasure to be interviewed by you. I’m an Irish poet, writer, and artist. I’m from Belfast and I live in Rome for now, but I’m moving on soon, not sure where yet.
JD: I’ve been a fan of yours since I was recommended first chapbook, Maiden. What central themes are you most confident in portraying?
KB: Thank you! Sexuality has been a strong theme in my writing. Creative energy comes from the sexual area, so I think it’s quite normal for early work to be seething with sex. But the sexuality of my poetry is locked into emotion; it isn’t throwaway sex. Except for 50 EURO, of course, which is 20-minute throwaway sex, but it still lives in an emotional realm of mostly negative emotion. Emotion is what I’m most confident writing in, the emotional landscape is endless, I always find more to explore.
JD: I’ve caught myself Googling specific Irish terms and figures of lore in your work. As an Irish woman in the 21st century, how has your work embodied the culture?
KB: With my first three books, I don’t think my Irish-ness has been prominent. With my new book, it is. It’s set in Belfast, a story of cruelty and stupidity in love. It’s coming out soon with Analog Submission Press. I admire the press a lot, the editor has a great vision and enormous energy for it—he’s a powerhouse and an interesting guy. Being Irish has certainly had an impact on me as a storyteller; everyone in Ireland is a storyteller, except for a small number of bores. There are deep wits and insights that permeates the culture and genuine respect for the arts—it’s in the blood, a long oral and lyrical tradition that can’t be broken. The Irish can’t be broken. The British government tried to break us for centuries and they failed. We refuse to be tamed.
JD: How has traveling been an influence (or inhibitor) for your creative endeavors? Where have you gone in the past year or two?
KB: It has been a huge influence. It pulled me out of a closed-minded thinking pattern. I felt stuck in Belfast, so I packed up and left five years ago, with fuck-all money and no plan, and I’ve made it work. I’ve traveled a lot—in Asia, the US, and Europe. My favorite places are Japan and Italy. I don’t write about where I am living or visiting. I’m not one of those travelers who jumps into a culture with a GoPro on my head. I absorb what I want to absorb. The cities and countries do seep in, but not in a direct way. When I first moved abroad, I struggled to write because I was unsettled, but being unsettled is quite normal now, and I’ve found that developing adaptability to change has helped me write and create. I’ve had to learn to ground and centre myself anywhere, and it’s easier to do now.
JD: I recall you had an affiliation with 48th Street Press (publishing Maiden, broadsides, etc.) Do you feel that they propelled your writing career? Do you enjoy mailing personalized letters, broadsides, and swag to your fans?
KB: For sure they did. I’m still closely connected to the press; the editor works with me in the writing process. He has been my personal editor for six years now—he’s brutal though. BareBackPress has also been significant for they were one of the first to publish me back in 2013 and we’ve developed a very fertile and creative friendship. The owner has edited my new book and he’s incredibly sharp. This mentoring has had more influence on my work than anything else. And yeah, I do enjoy mailing stuff out. That’s such an important part of the small press, getting words out there. I love digital but I also want to be part of keeping physical literature alive.
JD: In 50 Euro, the narrator is indulging in various sexual encounters with seemingly incompetent men. I’m not keen on all feminist theory, but this collection seems to be a tangential path that is rarely explored. Care to give us your take?
KB: I didn’t write it with any feminist theory in mind. I’m a woman, and like most women, I’ve been assaulted and harassed, but I don’t have a feminist agenda in my work. I write as I see fit; I don’t feel the need to be reactionary to social or political tides. I had a story published by the incredible Akashic Books last year, which is the closest to political I’ve got. It’s about a British soldier in the 1990s holding a thirteen-year-old girl at gunpoint, sexually harassing her, and her subsequent revenge. That story is semi-autobiographical; a soldier did that to me as a kid during the Northern Ireland conflict. The crimes of war are hidden stories as well as newsworthy ones.
For the most part, I see masculinity as positive energy. A beautiful male mind is the most interesting thing on the planet to me. But, ugly behavior certainly needs to be examined and exposed. I turned some of the creeps I’ve met into johns in 50 EURO. I liked stripping them down in my writing, having power over them, taking their money and their confidence. I was careful with 50 EURO to neither glamourise nor victimise the protagonist. I simply wanted to capture the essence of the red-light district and those quick exchanges.
I’ve had people cross the line with me as a result of the book: call me a whore, send me dick pics, send repeated messages begging me to fuck them. Kafka wasn’t an insect. Mary Shelley wasn’t hideous and eight-foot-tall. You can write about things and not be those things. Literature is not always literal. I work in the tech industry, not in sex work. My poetry is not an invitation to get sexual or personal with me.
JD: Brain Lace was my favorite of the three, for it feels like a compounded maturation of your previous two titles. Less abrasive, yet equally abstract, and filled with genre-bending work. What state of mind were you in as you wrote this?
KB: Thank you, Josh! My mental and emotional state was very fractured writing it. Everything I was experiencing felt like an abstraction. Nothing was concrete. The book is confused, trying to reconcile thought-scapes with reality and notions of karma. I was in Japan, feeling alien and isolated, and I had a connection with someone on the other side of the world, a connection I didn’t understand and still don’t. That sparked the concept; the brain lace I was experiencing. Being so far away from my roots—my home— it’s strange and beautiful but I found electricity moves like roots. Being in Japan accentuated that for it’s such a mix of ancient and digital. We’re all going through an intense evolution right now; things are moving fast, reality is being redefined. I’m enjoying feeling it as much as it confuses me.
JD: You’ve been involved in visual arts lately, crafting videos and photos that are suggestive and unsettling. What’re your literal representations for such projects?
KB: I’m getting increasingly frustrated with how to express. I think visually. My work starts as an emotional form; it’s not verbal at all. I make it verbal because that’s the easiest way to get it out. But I need to make it move. flat writing feels lazy; it’s no longer satisfying me. I’ve been writing poetry through video lately. I’ve got a mega video piece in the works but it’s likely a year or so from being ready so I’m still training myself.
JD: Valentine’s Day is approaching…immediate reaction?
KB: Pile of absolute shite. Romance is meta—it can’t conform.
JD: Lastly, what’s your favorite memory of your time in the U.S.? Any plans on coming back (possibly to do a reading?)
KB: Watching two golfer middle-aged johns twerking to trap music, trying to impress sex workers in Florida. I’m sure security would’ve broken my arm if I’d tried to film in there but I’ve still got the video in my head; one of the johns even got a special mention in 50 EURO. I’ve been to your hometown, Philadelphia. I took a tour of the Masonic Temple; it’s one of the largest in the world. There is a lot you can’t access, so my inner Robert Langdon took over. I was dying to sneak into a secret passageway and find some reptilians eating babies, but the tour guide was on to me, fuck’s sake. I have no plans to read my poetry, but I’ll definitely come to one of your press readings if I’m ever back in Philly.
JD: Thanks, Karina, for your time and I’m looking forward to your forthcoming publication! For more about Karina, including links to her site and books, see the bio below. See you next week on The Weekly Degree with NYC-based poet, Devin G. Kelly, and some exciting news on the 2019 Chapbook Contest!