Monday, September 9, 2019

Dunk Tank — Kayla Czaga (House of Anansi Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Dunk Tank.  Kayla Czaga.  House of Anansi Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2019.

Cover of Dunk Tank

Back in December of 2014 Today's book of poetry jumped on the Kayla Czaga bandwagon, Today's book of poetry wrote about Czaga's For Your Safety Please Hold On.  You can see that blog/review here:

Today's book of poetry was so fond of Kayla Czaga's first book we named it winner of the 2nd annual Kitty Lewis Hazel Millar Dennis Tourbin Poetry Prize.

Czaga's second book, Dunk Tank, is another masterpiece.  The poems aren't all perfect, but damned near.  It doesn't matter what Czaga talks about in her poems because she does the same trick in almost every poem.  The trick is hard to explain because it falls somewhere between happy childhood memories and a profound and darkened whimsy.

Dunk Tank

The volleyball girls wrestle in Jell-O.
Travis Lechner, lead screamer
of Occult Nosebleed, commands
the tenth-grade stoners to live real.
The French teacher struts
like a heron, beige socks hiked up
to his knees. You've been suckered
into a shift at the dunk tank
to fundraise for a school in Tanzania.
You'll be dunked six times—
twice by a boy named Brice you love
but never talk to. When he runs out
of money, he'll throw grass
at you, chunks of hotdog, himself.
You climb up and wave
to your friends eating Filipino kebabs
by the track. Tonight you'll all
drink coolers by the waterfall.
This is the year Dustin Klepsch will drive
his ATV off a cliff. You sit
above the drunk goggle obstacle
course and rootbeer-guzzling contest
and you know you know everything—
can diagram reproductive systems
of worms, know exactly when
two trains travelling 60km/hour
will meet in Kitwanga for lunch.
This is the year your mom's kidneys
will fail while you're in History
and the year Kristie will stop talking
to you and painting sad-lovely
portraits of her dogs. Brice pays
two dollars to throw three balls
at you. The wind sighs like it's locked
its keys in its car. You're sitting
on your chair, smart girl, only
your chair drops and before you fall
there's this moment you're sitting
on nothing and you think maybe
you won't fall after all — maybe
you'll just hover here forever.


Kayla Czaga is a smart woman, just like her poems tell you.  She is also a social historian and an academic juggler.  Today's book of poetry suspects that somewhere Czaga has a shrine that includes Lucille Ball.  Why?  Because Czaga has the same genius timing and the same ferocious gaze.

Ok, silly Today's book of poetry.  Our Jr. Editor, Kathryn, showered considerable scorn in our direction over the Lucille Ball idea.  Kathryn said look at Suzannah Showler, Catherine Owen, Sharon Olds instead of Ms. Ball.  And of course Kathryn, as always, was right.

Today's book of poetry wasn't suggesting the Dunk Tank is a comedy, nope, Dunk Tank is as serious as it gets, we get love, sex and death, old dinosaur bones and more.  But Czaga never loses her ability to laugh it all, herself included.


I am very avant-garde in what
I use for bookmarks. That
look on your face would do.
A clump of my hair in a pinch.
At sixteen I dumped
coffee into Jane Austen
and still she crackles open
on a botched proposal.
I am a monster dogearer.
I use Joan Didion as a napkin.
Before I became a person
my dad lived on a farm
with no electricity, only
Louis L'Amour for toilet paper.
So it is my birthright to defile
the printed word. Instead
of depositing my book
into my bag when my hands
are doing other things
like masturbating or thumbing
avocados I dangle it
from my teeth like a retriever
presenting her retrieved.
If you love something so much
why do you keep it
up on that shelf and never 
touch it? It's like you want
a virgin wife while all
I want is a girl I can bend
backwards over tombstones
lick Pringles from her cracks
and cackle with. We stay
up all night with seances
and french-braiding and neither
of us ever wears white.


Even when naming villains Czaga is affectionately honest.  Dunk Tank lets us in fairly easily but it's hard to get out of it.  Does Czaga cast a spell over the reader?  Today's book of poetry thinks so.

There is so much to like in Kayla Czaga's sophomore collection.  Today's book of poetry fell for Czaga's garlic-eating grandmother and you will too.

Our morning reading was more a celebration than the normal read, everyone in the place was glad to have Czaga back in the house.

Under Construction

You'd think that empty lot
had slaughtered their mothers
the way those men torture it
with yellow machines. With how
little sleep you've been
getting, you think a lot
of sinister things, especially
these mornings when light
is the translucent grey
of fake teeth. Your dad
used to bring you home
dinosaur bones from the foothills
he razed to lay highways.
You can't remember when
you realized trucks run
on a broth of ancient lizards
but now they'll never not 
feel haunted. It's important
to get places but you doubt
another condo tower
beside the train line
will do more than rattle
like a Yahtzee cup tossing
professional couples.
You keep the fossils
like jewelry on your dresser,
stroke their tar settings
until they look wet. A view,
more sleep, a new life
with fewer machines—
you've wanted so
much for so long you
don't remember living
without the fuel light on.
An invisible raptor stands
behind you in a business
suit, factoring in inflation
with his talon on your hand.


Quite simply, Kayla Czaga's poems are far more interesting, hopeful and confident than Today's book of poetry knows how to express.  Today's book of poetry can tell you how eagerly our entire staff waited to read Dunk Tank.  Our assessment was unanimous, everyone in the shop gave Dunk Tank the full burn.  Our highest marks.

Don't trust our puny point of view.  Go out and get a copy of Dunk Tank, now!

If you don't like it - Today's book of poetry will refund your money.  That's how strongly we'll stand behind Dunk Tank.

Copper Koi

My heart can barely spell
arrhythmia but still inflates
my fingers. A day like any other—
my hair worries my scalp
and I want to know what 
skin is made of. What wets
my mouth? Since learning
I harbour a uterus
I've been afraid of it
popping. Maybe while walking
or downward dog. Or when
our bodies play towards
one body. Maybe it's more
like a fish bobbing
in a small pond—copper
koi in the moon basin. Let me
cross this avenue lit with cherry
blossoms. Let me forget
pints of blood circling
my bones like nervous dogs.
On grandma's farm, I spent
entire afternoons lifting
cats, blissfully unaware of
the uterus flickering in me.
I believed if you cracked
me open, I'd be filled
with caramel or else
soft and hollow as a doll.


Make no mistake Kayla Czaga is just warming up.  The future of Canadian poetry is in great hands with poets like Czaga.

Image result for kayla czaga photo

Kayla Czaga


KAYLA CZAGA is the author of one previous collection of poems, For Your Safety Please Hold On (Nightwood Editions, 2014), and the chapbook Enemy of the People (Anstruther Press, 2015). Her work has been awarded the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the Canadian Authors Association’s Emerging Writer Award and has been nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, and the Debut-litzer. She lives in Victoria, B.C.

“These poems of love, service-industry jobs, and small-town boredom . . . buzz with fierce restlessness and longing.”
     — Toronto Star

“Dunk Tank trades in specificity, intimacy, weirdness, colloquialism, and dark humour.” 
     — Globe and Mail

“The author is always inventive in her metaphors and images . . . All in all Dunk Tank is smart and heartfelt.” 
     — Walleye

“Czaga manages to capture moments of maturation with the wisdom of a backward glance . . . Approachable and skillful in its poetics and narrative detail.” — Quill & Quire
“Seemingly effortless but brimming with craft, Czaga’s art results from her enviable agility with phrasing and expression. The poems in Dunk Tank are as immediate, honest, affectionate, raw, anxious, jokey, and thoughtful as an impromptu confession over an evening’s confab. Sparkling with recollection’s rich details, associative leaps, colloquial doses of energy and imaginative reach, Dunk Tank is exhilarating.” — David O’Meara, author of A Pretty Sight
“The author is always inventive in her metaphors and images . . . All in all Dunk Tank is smart and heartfelt.” — Walleye

“Czaga manages to capture moments of maturation with the wisdom of a backward glance . . . Approachable and skillful in its poetics and narrative detail.” — Quill & Quire

“What a profound, effortless spell Kayla Czaga conjures with this collection. In communion with an array of private and public selves, these poems convince me authentic connection is possible. Desirous and impulsive, problematic as any one of us, the speaker never exempts herself from the world she tallies in tacos, panties, inherited stress, taps on Instagram posts, seagulls heaped like Kleenex. When she confesses ‘it felt / like we could say and finally mean / something,’ I’m enlivened, senses heightened, as if my name is being called by someone who never calls me by my name.” — Sheryda Warrener, author of Floating Is Everything


Winner, Gerald Lampert Memorial Award
Finalist, Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry
Finalist, Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize
Finalist, Debut-litzer Prize

Featured Poet Kayla Czaga
Video: The Video Guy



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.