I make sautés from letters you wrote.
I light a fire on a moveable stove
in the courtyard. Bring oregano,
salt. I make brochettes
from your anxieties, I fry a sweet crepe
from your want. Watch me, watch me –
and all the village gathers – I make light
and scent of fire at dawn
from your letters, neighbors descend from rooftops
to join, to watch me,
bringing chicken’s feathers, amulets
to ward off evil spirits
escaping the ink,
All agree: though it scratches in the mouth,
there is nothing more delicious.
Pays Dogon, Mali
Five Questions with Daniel Karasik:
Daniel Karasik writes drama, poetry, and fiction. A recent 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 three books: The Remarkable Flight of Marnie McPhee (Playwrights Canada Press), The Crossing Guard & In Full Light, a collection of plays (Playwrights Canada Press), and Hungry, a poetry collection (Cormorant Books). 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, produced across Canada, in the United States, and regularly in translation in Germany.
Daniel spent January - April 2006 in Ghana, primarily in Kwahu Tafo, Accra, and Kokrobite.
Five Questions with Daniel Karasik:
1. The last time we interviewed you, you mentioned that you spent time volunteering in Kwahu Tafo. This poem, though, is set in Mali. What took you to Mali? How long were you there?
I backpacked around Burkina Faso and Mali after my volunteer placement in Kwahu Tafo ended. I wanted to get to know the region better. My time in Mali was quite brief, way briefer than my months in Ghana or weeks in Burkina Faso; I think I was in Mali for maybe a week. I went only as far as Mopti by way of Dogon Country, at which point I got really burned out and decided to return to the coast in Ghana to decompress and write.
2. What similarities did you notice between northern Ghana and Mali? Differences?
I didn't spend enough time in the north of Ghana to get a very sure sense of this. I passed through Tamale and Bolgatanga and Paga, but I don't think I stopped in any of them for more than an hour. (Not including time spent waiting in shared taxis and trotros!) I noticed superficial similarities between northern Ghana and Mali, of course. The aridity. The palate of the land, brown and dusty grey. Maybe the presence of Islam, though again, I spent so little time in northern Ghana that my sense of the region's religious character I gleaned probably as much from my guide book as from experience. I also felt the legacy of the French in Mali -- in the cuisine, in a certain brand of social formality (at times), of course in the language -- and this wasn't a feature of my experience of Ghana, needless to say.
3. The title of this poem is very smartly chosen. Did you have it from the beginning, or did it come later in the writing process?
Had it from the beginning. I'm happy to hear you like it! I think I wrote the first draft of that poem, title and all, on a rooftop where I was sleeping (or not sleeping, apparently) in Dogon Country.
4. Like one of our editors, Prince Mensah, you started your writing life as a playwright. I get the sense that it is where your heart lies to this day. What originally drew you to theatre, and what do you see as the overlaps between writing plays and poetry?
I was drawn to the publicness of theatre, the way you can see the people your art is reaching, the liveness. I was also working quite a bit as an actor at the time, which kept me in the theatre. But I've written poetry for at least as long as I've written drama. And my plays are all quite poetic, language-conscious, some more obviously than others. I find both plays and poetry require a highly disciplined awareness of how the way things are said shapes their meaning. Both have their roots in song.
5. "A Movable Stove" appears in your first poetry collection, Hungry, which was recently published in Canada by Cormorant Books. How many poems in the collection trace back to your time in Ghana? How do you feel they fit in with the rest of the collection?
Four! Four poems in my collection date from my time in West Africa (not just Ghana, since I'm including "A Moveable Stove"). I feel the fit with the rest of the collection discreetly. Two of them you'd never know I'd written in Africa, I don't think; they're about love and solitary dining, respectively. And the other two - now both published in OGOV - have a fancifulness in common with a lot of the other work in the collection, so I don't find them too incongruous. I'm happy that my fascinating, challenging, beautiful time in Ghana is represented in the book!