Sunday, December 21, 2014

For Your Safety Please Hold On - Kayla Czaga (Nightwood Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
For Your Safety Please Hold On.  Kayla Czaga.  Nightwood Editions.  Gibsons, British Columbia.  2014.

Winner of the 2nd annual
Kitty Lewis Hazel Millar Dennis Tourbin Poetry Prize

I've never quite experienced the like.  The first few poems of this collection had me dizzy with joy, a little like the first time you saw Wayne Gretzky, or the first time you saw Mikhail Baryshnikov fly.

You've never read family portraits like those in For Your Own Safety Please Hold On.

Kayla Czaga writes like she has 200 years of wisdom coursing through her veins.  She uses language we are all familiar with but somehow escapes the bounds of previous gravity, these plain speaking poems soar.

In my corrupted opinion this is the best book of poetry I have read this year.  No one in the office here at TODAY'S BOOK OF POETRY disagreed.

Another Poem About My Father

I don't get poetry either. Mostly I get cavities,
junk mail. Once, I got eleven hundred dollars
in small change from my father for Christmas.
He said, You've got to work for your money--
meaning you've got to haul it through six feet
of snow to the bank, Good luck, here's a bag.
My father is more like a poem than most poems
are. He once tucked a living loon into his coat
and brought it home to amuse my mother who
loves birds, especially surprised-sounding birds,
especially owls. My nostalgia receptors zigzag
wildly through me when I think of my father
pushing his metal detector across all the parks,
schoolyards and riverbanks of this great nation,
waving it back and forth--like some sort of
yayhoo, my mother would say--until it beeps
solemnly above a nickel. With a butter knife
he cuts such slender metaphors from the earth.


Czaga in For Your Safety Please Hold On has a new intensity, you don't see it coming as much as feel it.  These poems are universally personal, crowd-sourcing intimate.

Joyce Carol Oates is vastly under-rated if you ask me, and we here in the office at TODAY'S BOOK OF POETRY all agree on that point, her novels have always had a way of making me feel as though I were inhabiting a world of her design.  What I mean is that her universe becomes yours.  It is a familiar even though it is new terrain.

Kayla Czaga knows the same trick.  When she is writing about family it sounds suspiciously like she is writing about your own.  When she writes about herself she almost makes you think you are looking in a mirror.

23RD Birthday

In this city where all the shops stay open
the people close early. I closed. I told

another person, I cannot
love you anymore, please mail my books
back to me. Then I went bowling

and threw seven consecutive
balls into the gutter. Misery of the five-pin. I slept

in a bathtub. People keep buying me
clocks. Puddles keep collecting
sidewalks. Maybe I'll collect puddles

or clock out like so many people I've seen
on buses, that man who wept

violently into his scarf and the rest
of us trying to ignore him, turning up
our not-listening devices. Tonight

I am twenty-three and looking
for someone gentle enough to hold back

my hair--this could be you, stranger
with your three-point smile and hairdo.
Tonight I want to stop watching the clocks;

I fear I'll become them--spinning
in circles with hands covering my face.


I don't know how old Kayla Czaga is -- but I know she is young.  I can't even imagine how fine her future poems will be.  But I am certain I'll be anxious to read them, and after reading For Your Safety Please Hold On you will be too.

it is the sound the Lord makes
snipping split ends off

my soul."

So many books and so little time, but this is one I will read again, and then, a while later, again. Why?  Like watching a magician on video with fast forward, slow motion, replay, I want to learn her tricks.


At the Ash Wednesday service, waiting
for the priest to cross my forehead, I watched him
touch the faces of the people in front of me,
mishearing him say, Remember you are blessed.
I was horrified when I remembered it
was really, Remember you are dust, with ashes
thumbed into my forehead. Headlights spattered
through the intentionally broken glass
windows of that beautiful downtown church
tucked behind a mall, as I tried to understand
and to dust you shall return. Traffic lights
flickered through Christ with arms nailed
open, Mary robed in blue, mourning into his feet.
After the service, I spilled out of the church
into wet February and public transit hauled me
back into my crumbling ordinary life. What
happens after this? When Jesus died,
it was temporary, the stone rolled away,
but where is he now, and can any of us hope
to go there, or is it all ashes and dust
covered bookshelves? Last week, Liz tried
to explain taxidermy to me, how she peeled
a rabbit, then rigged its pelt back into
rabbit-shape. She emptied a set of robin's wings
to sew onto its back--the flying rabbit.
It looked alive, a stitching trick, the way
my dead relatives look alive, resurrected
in photographs. It reminded me of colouring
Easter eggs with my mother. We blew the yolks
into a bowl before we dyed the shells
blue and yellow. How the eggs looked full
until we held them up to the light.


For Your Safety Please Hold On should be front page news for everyone who loves poetry, mandatory reading for everyone who doesn't.

Kayla Czaga

Kayla Czaga grew up in Kitimat and now lives in Vancouver, BC, where she recently earned her MFA in Creative Writing at UBC. Herpoetry, nonfiction and fiction has been published in The Walrus, Best Canadian Poetry 2013, Room Magazine, Event and The Antigonish Review, among others. For Your Safety Please Hold On is her first book.

"Funny, smart, sophisticated, guileless: reading Czaga is like drinking a glass of water in a desert.  Every once in a while there arrives a young poet whose astonishing aptitude for the craft rises so clearly, so beautifully, the relief is palpable.  For Your Safety Please Hold On is Czaga’s answer to Moure’s Domestic Fuel and Solie’s Short Haul Engine... and like Moure and Solie we don’t need to expect great things from her. Great things are already here."
    --Elizabeth Bachinsky

"Kayla Czaga's For Your Safety Please Hold On recalls what was radical about Robert Lowell's Life Studies a half century ago. With wit and empathy, it moves beyond the confessional to reclaim the intimate and personal as an adventurous subject for poetry. Reading it is like being brought into someone's home and told all the family secrets--never an imposition, it feels rather like an initiation into the clan. I thoroughly enjoyed it."
     --Paul Vermeersch
Feature Poet Kayla Czaga @PJ


THE KITTY LEWIS HAZEL MILLAR DENNIS TOURBIN POETRY PRIZE is awarded annually to the book of poetry that I, Michael Dennis, like the most.  The award was named for Kitty Lewis and Hazel Millar who were instrumental to this blog during its' formative steps.  It is also named for the late painter, poet and all around wonderfully generous Dennis Tourbin whom I loved.  The award is virtually meaningless - except that the winner is entitled to a home cooked meal, with wine, if they ever come to Ottawa.

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