Q & A with Karina Bush, writer and visual artist
Karina is an Irish writer, born in Belfast and now living in Rome. She is the author of three books, ‘BRAIN LACE’ (BareBackPress, 2018), ’50 EURO’ (BareBackPress, 2017), and ‘MAIDEN’ (48th Street Press, 2016). She is also a visual poet and released a set of video poems to accompany ‘BRAIN LACE’. Check out her website, her Vimeo page, and follow her on Instagram @karinabushxx.
GB: BRAIN LACE was one of the most unique reads I’ve come across this year. Can you talk a little bit about its concept and influence?
KB: Thank you Glen! Unique is wonderful in a poetry age of ubiquity. I didn’t intend on writing that book at all. I spent near a year writing a novel-length collection of interwoven stories set in Belfast. And I hit a wall.
I lived in Asia for a few years. It felt like I was living on another planet. I spent some time in Japan earlier in the year, and the book came out very quickly. In retrospect I think it burst out because of the sense of alienation I felt in Asia and reliance on the internet, and the nature of Japan as a whole — the mix of the hyper-technological with the Buddhist zen mindset. I’ve long had an interest in networks, I’ve studied Kundalini yoga for 10 years, it’s basically an ancient technology, a guideline to using our nervous system. I was noticing how biological networks are mirrored in external digital networks. Technology is an extension of ourselves. We feel everything through networks, and increasingly so, the wiring and levels and lace.
A deep penetration can be created in a text exchange. You are getting to know someone’s consciousness, which is as intimate as fucking. Take body language, body language has these overt signals, then also the micro-movements — the subtleties that give away the real emotion. Digital exchange has the same, the spoken and the unspoken — the behaviour. It’s fascinating. Communicating with the other side. I’m surprised the spiritual aspect of it isn’t discussed more. A few years ago I would have laughed at people who said online life is real, now I see it as a different type of reality. The interactions between certain personality types can become very meta, I think we’re developing a sixth sense as a species, like aliens.
But at its core BRAIN LACE is love poetry, formed in that environment, in the places where consciousness stands outside of the body — the internet or dreams.
And of course the book wouldn’t exist without BareBackPress. I’m so lucky to work with them.
GB: In this age of digital media and a 10-second attention span, how do you identify a truly a great work of art? Are there any characteristics you look for in story-telling, whether literature, film, music, etc.?
KB: It must excite me or disgust me. Got no time for fence-sitting Norman Smith art. I want to feel something different. Novelty. Or absolute beauty. Or anxiety. Art should be on the edges of experience, where the snake is eating itself. Digging into the meat. Doesn’t have to be highbrow, pop art can thrill too. But I won’t waste my time on anything boring or copycat, I’ll stop reading or turn the movie or album off.
Just look at what David Bowie did with his last two videos. He turned his death into a masterpiece, I still watch Lazarus regularly, he mythologized himself. “I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen.” He really fucking does. Art to the very end.
The most exciting thing in visual art right now are the digital artists and those working with motion graphics. They’re pioneers of our virtual reality future. Like Anton Berkasov, the artist who made the cover image of BRAIN LACE. His work is stunning. These artists are capturing modern archetypes and the emotional realms poets live in. It’s all becoming physically interconnected, the lace between us all is becoming visible.
GB: What other types of art do you like experiment with? Why?
KB: Mainly visuals. I’ve experimented with visuals as long as I’ve been writing. I think visually. Many of my poems started with a vision or a colour, an essence, and I translate that into words. Writing comes first always but the development is more multi-sensory than just words on a page. Prose doesn’t come from such an interior place for me, it’s more my external observations, but my second book 50 EURO was still as visual in its process as verbal. It was a fun book to make, I john-spotted in red light districts, stalking johns before and after they entered the red light, watching their paranoia and profiling them.
GB: What’s your creative process like? Got any obstacles you’ve recently overcome or are currently experiencing?
KB: I work every day on something. And I have two amazing editors who I run everything through, the editors of BareBackPress and 48th Street Press. But I have no process. I follow whatever I want to do, very instinctually, I use my gut. Every piece has a different process. I hate formulas. I hate routine. I also throw away 90% of what I make, never satisfied with things. There are always obstacles, but I don’t see them as obstacles, I see them as challenges or lessons. Creation is cyclical, I don’t get too wrapped up in blocks now. The blocks always dissipate. I like the state I’m in where I’m quite empty after putting out a book. That clean slate. There is a void that feels menacing but you’ve to feel it out and discover new things. It’s exciting. It’s nice to let go sometimes. Dissolution and production have the same power.
GB: Which authors/artists have had the most profound influences on your work?
KB: I read Trainspotting when I was 13 and I’d never felt so alive, peeking into that sick adult world. You are still feeling out so much at that age, you’re like a sponge to the things adults do and it was all laid bare at once. How dark life can get. I never got how people said that book glamourised doing heroin. What a limited read into it. Welsh tapped into the vein as a writer, he’s a master.
I love the icons — Nirvana, Bjork, D.H. Lawrence, PJ Harvey, Yeats, Chris Morris, Terence McKenna, Jodorowsky, Julia Davis, the Brontës, Massive Attack, Shakespeare, Sarah Kane, Gaspar Noe, the list is endless. They’re icons for a reason. They’re fucking brilliant. They get you on every level. You can’t ask for more than that.
GB: Who and what is on your MUST-READ list?
KB: I read non-fiction and older literature mainly. But I love some contemporary poetry. Scott Laudati. He’s flawless in his poetic delivery always. He has this sense of word taste that I envy. And Carl Miller Daniels. He deserves so much attention. He has created in his 20 years of publishing the most unique poetic universe I’ve ever read, I have no idea why he isn’t widely known. I guess success isn’t based on merit.
GB: What does “success” mean to you?
KB: That I’m satisfied with myself. The poem and video from BRAIN LACE — ‘Sutra of the Computer Body’ did that for me. My poem ‘Pan’ did too. A few others. I’m always looking forward to the next piece, I’ve got an addiction to it, creating something I quite like satisfies me more than anything else, then I get a comedown and have to start again. I don’t think too much about popularity. I didn’t start writing to please people so why should I drown myself in that now. Obviously, it’s wonderful when people like my writing but that can’t be the focus. Or you’d become stagnant and try to recreate the last thing you did that got loads of likes. Like an Instapoet. A bottom-feeder mouth-breather.
GB: What’s next for Karina Bush? Got any upcoming projects we can keep an eye out for?
KB: I’m working with a couple of new and interesting publishers. I’m editing a long story right now, hopefully it’ll be out this autumn. Got another long story coming out at the end of the year, it’s pretty nasty. And I’m working on some video art. I might look at finishing my collection of stories, it’s about 70% complete, the last 30% is usually the most difficult, it gets so fussy. The endurance test element of writing is not the fun part but nothing gets done if you float around in the sparks.
But mainly I’m regenerating. And enjoying exploring a new city. Rome is so rich it’s hard to stay indoors. I’m going to re-enter nature, leave the digital life for a while. I just joined a pagan sex cult, I’ll spend the next few months creeping around the ancient Roman groves at night with my leader. We’ll see what work comes from that, unless they sacrifice me.
Interview originally published in September 2018 at ONLY HUMAN. If you enjoyed this conversation, please recommend, comment, 👏👏👏 and share. Sign up for the Bing Bang Co. newsletter to see more!