PRISM 53.1 Fall 2014

531_storePrism 53.1 launched on a glorious teacup-and-octopus filled Sunday at WORD Vancouver. The issue, the first from new editors Nicole Boyce (prose) and Rob Taylor (poetry), is filled with good ink (cephalopod or otherwise).

The prose in PRISM 53:1 explores a wide range of perspectives, captured by both emerging and established writers. On the fiction side, “Everything Here Reminds Me of You” by Amy Jones looks at the relationship between a woman and her boyfriend’s ex-wife, beginning with the woman’s decision to crash a family funeral. “Postcard from the Adriatic,” a coming of age story by Jasmina Odor, is told through the shifting lens of multiple family members who have taken refuge on the Adriatic Coast during the Bosnian War. Moving from the Adriatic Coast to the West Coast, we have two stories set on islands in the Pacific Northwest: “The Troubles of North LaPorte” by Anne Trooper-Holbrook takes a month-by-month look at a teenager’s life after he finds out his girlfriend is pregnant, while “Witching Hour” by Toni Hiatt is a haunting portrait of a mother-daughter relationship impacted by mental illness. Finally, “Flight Simulator” by Michael LaPointe details one man’s nostalgic search for identity—by way of childhood computer games. On the non-fiction side, PRISM 53:1 includes K.A. MacKinnon’s “Character Sketch,” a uniquely-structured piece about two women traveling through Europe as circus employees.

For poetry, PRISM 53.1 brings you four Canadian voices: two well established (Elise Partridge, Peter Norman) and two you’ll be hearing more from soon (Raoul Fernandes, Michael Lockett). Joining them are three American writers who are most likely unfamiliar to Canadian readers: Gwen Hart, Emily Tuszynska and Mark Parlette. If one thing unites all of these poems and poets, it is their desire to pay close attention: Fernandes’ itemizes a playground in “Suspension,” Lockett explores the world both inside and outside a Sri Lankan bus in “Vavuniya via Anuradhapura,” and Tuszynska considers every angle as a boy is dressed for Halloween. Partridge, for her part, studies hard the sound, shape and meaning of words and letters in poems like “Before the Fall” and “The Alphabet.”

Put together, it makes for one fantastic issue. But don’t take our word for it – suction-cup up a copy and see for yourself!

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Birney/Purdy Letters Excerpt #3: “Before I get nasty I want to thank you”

we go far backIn celebration of the publication of We Go Far Back in Time (a new book collecting forty years of letters between poets Earle Birney and Al Purdy) and in preparation for The Al Purdy Show: Vancouver Edition, PRISM international and Harbour Publishing have partnered to present you four excerpts from the Birney/Purdy letters throughout October (you can read all the posts in the same place here). Last Wednesday we presented you a letter from Earle Birney to Al Purdy, informing Purdy that PRISM was rejecting his poetry submission, and taking issue with Purdy’s assertion in a review that poets in the 1940s were influenced by the work of Bliss Carman (you can read that letter here). Today, we share Purdy’s reply. Both letters have been posted 50 years to the day after their composition.

To Earle Birney (Vancouver, British Columbia) from Al Purdy (Ameliasburgh, Ontario)
October 19, 1964

Dear Earle:
That’s a blockbuster of a letter. Before I get nasty want to thank you for Canada Council missive. You hit what’s nearly the crux of the whole thing in your comments about the travel allowance. On accounta I don’t suppose very much “lateral” travel is possible in the north, and I’d likely have to go back south in order to go east or west. By plane anyway. Tho of course I’ll take whatever transport is available. Anyway, it’s a good letter, with, I think, very accurate judgments and estimates throughout.
           I wish the rest of the letter was as close to the mark.
           Naturally, I disagree about the “Love Poem.” However, you either get and like such a poem or you don’t. No amount of explaining makes it better if you (or whoever) don’t get it themselves in the first place. And you certainly know what I mean here. I could talk about this one all night, and hope to do so on some later date with you. In the meantime I think your Poetry Ed. is full of shit.
           Anyway, you challenge me to name a poet who was influenced by Carman. That’s easy. ME. He was the first reason for my writing poetry, and no snide comments please. I got over him eventually as you know, but “Arnoldus Villanova, 600 years ago (not 20) / said peonies have magic and I believe it so.”
           Your list is damn impressive, and gives me info I didn’t have before. I could have guessed some of it, but not nearly all. However, one of the things it demonstrates very strongly to me is that the poets with good models improved, and those who imitated (or were influenced by) Carman didn’t. Moral: Imitate the best. I may say (modestly) that Birney too at one time was one of my influences. Still, despite this severe handicap, I survived. No kiddin tho, there is a point here. And don’t you remember Carman’s vogue at that time, and earlier?
           You say none worthy of the name was influenced. Of course you’re right. Except me. And I wasn’t worthy the name at the time. But there were also the Canadian Authors Association type (generalization) of poets who go nowhere. You know damn well they were influenced. Carman was worshipped among some of those people, just as Williams is now, he and the Black Mountain boys.
           Still, I’ll give you best somewhat, since it isn’t a precisely accurate generalization. If I’d written 40 pages tho would have done better. But I will not agree when you say that Carman had no influence. 20 years ago and farther back.
           I went thru most of the influences you name in that table, except Eliot. But I went from Carman to Chesterton, W. J. Turner, Hardy to Yeats. Then Dylan Thomas. The Americans I didn’t even know about a few years back.
           Among your particular influences, Auden and Jeffers have been strong. Hardy a little less so. The others not at all. Donne and Marvell to some extent. Even Kipling at one time. Yourself and Layton tho, in Canada. Eliot, beyond admiring somewhat “La something or other” and “Prufrock,” not at all. I can’t even understand The Waste Land, nor very sure there’s much to understand.
           So — you busy bastard, I expect you to either disagree with this and not write, or disagree and write a year from now. However, I’m pleased to see some of the awe that seems to permeate the atmosphere these days (no kiddin) is not breathed in by you. Tho you’ve probably noted some of it. Eh? And are about to kick me in the egotistic balls. We could probably have a good argument under the “right” circumstances?
           Next day — and where the hell was I?
           Anyway, I find your graph damn interesting. For instance, whatever happened to Wreford? Or did he ever happen in the first place?
           I see you have left out Pratt, perhaps thinkin he didn’t imitate anyone.
           What a nasty question. Do I know who was writing poetry in Canada in 44? I’ve written the stuff myself since I was 13 years old, and I’ve heard of or known most of them, including many who never got anywhere. Who weren’t, as you say, “poets” — depending on the level of merit you have to achieve to deserve the epithet. But why worry about nomenclature, let the old ladies have their magic occupation. “Honest definition”? I’ve never seen a valid definition yet, one that would hold up, either of poetry or poets. Lots of stop-gap ones tho. And nearly everyone I know (who writes poems) just loves to make such definitions.
           Anyway, before I stop, thanks again for your letter. Really, I should think anyone who was so sharp and perceptive in such a letter wouldn’t be the opposite in the accompanying letter. I’ll give you about 50% of your points tho. Will you be that generous/dishonest??? No. Anyway, if I get this thing I hope to see you in Vancouver, for I’ll be out there before leaving for the north.


Excerpts from We Go Far Back in Time: The Letters of Earle Birney and Al Purdy, 1947–1987, edited by Nicholas Bradley, appear with the permission of Harbour Publishing. © 2014 Nicholas Bradley, Eurithe Purdy, and Wailan Low. The excerpts have been edited for clarity and length.

The Al Purdy Show: Vancouver Edition is a PRISM international-sponsored event happening on October 26th as part of the Vancouver Writers Fest. All funds raised at the event will go directly to the Al Purdy A-Frame Association. Click here for tickets and more information.

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Theatre: Carmen Aguirre’s “Blue Box”

Carmen Aguirre. Photo by Megan Verhey.

Carmen Aguirre. Photo by Megan Verhey.

by Sasha Singer-Wilson

Blue Box
Written and performed by Carmen Aguirre
Directed by Brian Quirt
Arts Club Theatre Company
Revue Stage

Carmen Aguirre has got it goin’ on. She is a fierce force of bold sensuality and brash wit. She oozes generous warmth. She is an exceptional storyteller. To top that off, this is a story that warrants stage time, that deserves open ears and curiosity. No matter your background, your connection to the revolution in Chile or the sexy six-pack of a movie star, Blue Box will connect, via hot wire, to your heart.

Blue Box was commissioned by Nightswimming and is masterfully directed by the company’s Artistic Director, Brian Quirt. Nightswimming is one of Canada’s leading creators of new works of theatre, dance and music, and Blue Box is one of its great successes, having premiered in 2012 at the Cultch in Vancouver. The ninety-minute, one act show has since toured to Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Regina, Banff, Victoria, Whitehorse and St. John’s.

Aguirre is the vibrant soul of Blue Box. The writer and actor has co-written over twenty plays and her first book, Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter, won CBC Canada Reads in 2012 and is a national bestseller. She’s at work on two new plays as well as a second memoir. In Blue Box Aguirre weaves together two incredible autobiographical stories. One is powerfully political and chronicles her underground life in the 1980’s Chilean resistance movement combatting the Pinochet dictatorship. The other is keenly personal and accounts her passionate and tumultuous relationship with an irresistible actor. She manages to knit these starkly contrasting and yet profoundly connected stories together, often only a breath in between them, with grace and clarity.

The set is bare, with only a black stool and water bottle upstage. This leaves the necessary emotional space for Aguirre and her story. The thrust of the Revue Stage serves the intimacy and up-close-and-personal nature of the play. Set and Lighting Designer Itai Erdal leaves room for the audience to process the scope of Aguirre’s life, as we follow her into the cockpit of an airplane with her resistance fighting first-husband, to a phone-sex call center in Vancouver’s Lower East Side, to the steamy bedroom of her lover in Los Angeles. The lighting is bright and dramatic one moment and gently subtle the next, illuminating both Aguirre and the audience with intuitive skill.

Music is central in Blue Box and Sound Designer and Composer Joelysa Pankanea, a multi award-winning musician, carries us to smoky salsa clubs and dark Chilean streets. The soundtrack includes La India’s “Ese Hombre” and “Ya No Queda Nada” by Tito Nieves and inspires shoulder shaking and head bopping throughout the audience. The music both facilitates the joyful moments of levity and helps to build the mounting tension. All design elements unite in simple service and honour of the story, a rare experience.

Upon leaving the theatre, my date said, “I’m going to IMDB Carmen and figure out who that actor is!” I responded, “So, you think it’s all true? You think you’ll find someone?” A passionate discussion ensued in which we debated the truth of the story, and if it mattered if all the details were real—we were invested and engaged. Given that Aguirre was playing “herself”, we inherently trusted her and therefore believed that what she told us had actually happened. My date felt disappointed that I’d even introduced the possibility that anything might have been exaggerated or fictitious, and felt somehow manipulated if it was. Is part of going to the theatre seeking a kind of “manipulation”? In “confessional” theatre, is the artist accountable to tell the “whole truth and nothing but the truth”? When you go to see a play, do you care more about the “truth” (a slippery notion no matter what the circumstance) or more about being engrossed and entertained?

I invite you to engage in this discussion and have a unique and invigorating evening at the theatre. Be sure to catch Blue Box. Carmen Aguirre is an artist to follow closely. Wherever she goes there is sure to be a dance party and an uprising.

Blue Box runs at The Arts Club Revue Stage until November 1st, 2014. Click here for tickets and more information.

Sasha Singer-Wilson is a Vancouver based and Toronto bred writer and performer. She makes theatrical things with the blood projects and literary things with these five minutes. She’s in her first year of the joint Creative Writing/Theatre MFA in Playwriting at UBC and has a serious crush on the mountains.

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Review: “Placeholder” by Charmaine Cadeau

Charmaine Cadeau
2013, Brick Books, Canada

The future is elusive and uncertain. The past is exact, a known experience that marks like “road salt from the side of the car / sticks to your jacket, tells where you’ve been.” (49) Placeholder, the second book of poems from Charmaine Cadeau, takes residence in the moments between these opposing abstracts of time.

Cadeau’s placeholder seems both metaphor, as a marker or trigger to memory, and literal, like a pause button, a time out for reflection. The poems straddle the narrative and philosophical, and the ambiguity in the stream-of-consciousness verse lends itself to multiple readings. Structurally, the text reinforces this conception. The book uses a variety of forms—from couplet to prose poem to sprawling free verse that layers in stanza bunches like a textural moraine of image—and the lack of unity seemed symbolic of fragmentary remembrance. Memory is not static, but open to environmental stimulus, open to deterioration. The speaker’s frequent use of the ‘we’ pronoun suggests an attempt to democratize access to the placeholder itself. We seem to know that there is no use in burying the past, “as if anything could be safely / sealed away.” (19)

The poems are infused with anxiety and a careful control of diction leads the reader through runs of subtle sound play. From “Queen bee”:

her cell’s architecture is the same as steroids, cholesterol,
graphite lines ghosting up through watercolours, aspirin
loose in the desk drawer…

The workers hum and build like canary

girls in a munitions factory—skin yellowing from TNT. They
think about demolition,
what the last sound would be, the catch—


Cadeau’s is a line possessed of itself and its shifting auditory rhythms.

Seduced by memory and the past, an honest fear of what next? rises from the language, “flicking between when to hold out / when to let go.” (14) “Glasshouse” proceeds as a series of questions: what if, what then, what now? “How we reminisce” further elaborates this complicated comfort, describing reminiscence as both a scarred red pear and the sweet juice beneath its skin. There is an inescapable pull in memory that “swims in your blood. And it washes up, no matter how far the toss.” (41) And as captivated by memory as the speaker is, she is equally contemptuous of “tomorrow,” a “tease hiking up its skirt at today’s loneliness.” (21)

Near the end of the book the reader realizes something has changed. From “Overexposure”: “Our photographs came back white, or mostly / white like froth, traces of something else / pressing from the other side.” (40) Here the past doesn’t give the speaker what she wants, the easy access, the placeholder, what Aislinn Hunter has called the object as repository of memory. Looking forward with “compass at the ready,” the speaker is plagued with doubt and can’t help remind the reader “the hippo— / campus is your ticket home.” (57)

In the end, Placeholder faces up to what is approaching and describes “how kids chase / after the flashlight’s pool moving always slightly ahead,” (62) the book and these lines a powerful reminder that the future holds our understanding of the past.

Geoffrey Nilson is a writer and musician from New Westminster, BC. His poetry has appeared in a variety of publications across Canada including PRISM internationalsubTerrainThe Rusty ToquePulp, and rip/torn. In 2012, he was a finalist for The Malahat Review Far Horizons Award for Poetry. He studies Creative Writing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and is attending The Banff Centre‘s Wired Writing Studio in the fall of 2014. Find him at his website or on Twitter @GeoffreyNilson

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Birney/Purdy Letters Excerpt #2: “An orgasm not a belly rub”

we go far backIn celebration of the publication of We Go Far Back in Time (a new book collecting forty years of letters between poets Earle Birney and Al Purdy) and in preparation for The Al Purdy Show: Vancouver Edition, PRISM international and Harbour Publishing have partnered to present you four excerpts from the Birney/Purdy letters throughout October (you can read all the posts in the same place here). Today we present you a letter from Birney to Purdy involving (among other things) the rejection of a poem Purdy had submitted to PRISM. On Sunday, October 19th we will share Purdy’s reply to the rejection and Birney’s other assertions. Both letters will be posted 50 years to the day after their composition. [Update: You can read Purdy's reply here]

A note from Nicholas Bradley, editor of We Go Far Back in Time, on the next two excerpts:
In this selection of letters from 1964, Earle Birney and Al Purdy write about several matters of concern: Birney’s letter in support of Purdy’s application to the Canada Council; the state of Purdy’s submission to PRISM, the journal of which Birney was the editor; and the influence on Canadian poets of Bliss Carman. As the letters show, Birney and Purdy took literary history very seriously.


To Al Purdy (Ameliasburgh, Ontario) from Earle Birney (Vancouver, British Columbia)
October 15, 1964

Dear Al,
Haven’t had a chance to answer yours of Sep 24 till now. However, I did send a chit to the Canada Council. I hope it helps. I thought you might like to see what I wrote, and attach a copy.
           The Poetry Ed. liked “Mr. Greenhalgh’s Love Poem” which you sent on Sep 15 but wasn’t too happy about the way in which the associations get so loose at the end; most of the way, he says, they’re exciting and free; at the end, for him, just free. Well, it’s a criticism, though I suspect if the poem had been shorter it would have passed more easily through his needle’s eye. There wasn’t time for it or the other one, for this Prism anyway, so I am returning them both so that you can feel free to get them in somewhere else earlier than we could now plan for. You asked me whether I think “On a Park Bench” is a poem. Of course I do, though for me an incomplete one, one that leaves the essence unexplored, the mysterious moment of communication between poet and mother-on-bench: what happens to it? How did it start, finish, or didn’t it happen at all, didn’t her nerves quiver at all in the poet’s? I want to know more, and a poem for me isn’t just a titillation, it’s a satisfaction, an orgasm not a belly rub.
           You have a review in the September Canadian Forum containing, in the opening of its 2nd para., one of the more remarkable misstatements of the year. “Twenty years ago young poets,” you tell us, “imitated Bliss Carman (in Canada anyway), Eliot, Auden and the 19th century romantics.” Jesus! What “young poets”? Name ONE in Canada (you certainly couldn’t outside of Canada) who was imitating Bliss Carman in 1944 or indeed in 1934 or 1924, anyone who was, is, a poet by any honest definition, and who was young, or even not really young, say under forty. NAME ONE! Do you know who was writing poetry in 1944 in Canada? I’ll tell you, and I’ll tell you who I think they were imitating, insofar as they were imitating anybody:

Anderson at age 29: Dylan Thomas
Bailey at age 39: Eliot, Pratt
Avison at age 26: Marianne Moore? Yeats
Daniells at age 44: Eliot
Dudek at age 26: Pound, Auden
Finch at age 44: French symbolistes
Gustafson at age 35: Hopkins
Klein at age 35: Eliot
LePan at age 30: Lewis
Livesay at age 35: Auden, Sitwell, Symbolistes
Lowry at age 36: Aiken, Melville, Elizabethans
MacKay at age 43: MacNeice, the Greek poets
Page at age 28: Anderson, Thomas, Barker
Wreford at age 29: Auden, Lewis
Whalley at age 30?: Lewis
M. Waddington at age 27: E. Sitwell
Souster at age 21: Whitman
Wilkinson at age 34: Dickinson
Smith at age 42: Yeats, Eliot

There isn’t one damn poet, old or young, worthy at all of the name, none writing & appearing in the mags and anthologies, who was being influenced 20 yrs ago by one damn nineteenth century romantic or by Bliss Carman. No nor 25 or 30 yrs ago. Forty years ago, yes. Man, don’t think everybody a little bit older than you is CGD Roberts vintage. You’re half right about Eliot & Auden, if you have to make superficial generalizations, but the real truth is more like this column — all over the place. I left myself out because I KNOW how scattered & unconcentrated my influences were. Sure, they included Audenspenderlewis, & Eliot whom I always despised, but these influences were no more important than those of Cynewulf, Chaucer, John Skelton, Herrick, Homer, Hardy, Robinson Jeffers and Wilfred Owen. And of all these only Chaucer seems to have been abiding within me, and yet led to little I could claim by kinship with him.


Excerpts from We Go Far Back in Time: The Letters of Earle Birney and Al Purdy, 1947–1987, edited by Nicholas Bradley, appear with the permission of Harbour Publishing. © 2014 Nicholas Bradley, Eurithe Purdy, and Wailan Low. The excerpts have been edited for clarity and length.

The Al Purdy Show: Vancouver Edition is a PRISM international-sponsored event happening on October 26th as part of the Vancouver Writers Fest. All funds raised at the event will go directly to the Al Purdy A-Frame Association. Click here for tickets and more information.

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Prompt: Falling

danger_cliff_faller1As an Irish person, I’m used to saying “autumn” instead of “fall”. No offence, but I prefer “autumn”. I like how it sounds and how it looks on the page. And what’s more, you can’t confuse it for anything else. “Fall” can mean many things. So I looked it up in the dictionary… Turns out “fall” ranks ninth in the top ten words with the most definitions – it has 264. (“Set” is at number one with 464 definitions.)

Which leads me to today’s prompt. Below are some of the uses of “fall”, with examples. Read through them and see if any jump out at you – it can be the context or the example given. Choose three and then see what narrative forms for you.

There are plenty more ways of using “fall”, so you can look through the dictionary yourself, or use one of the other many-meaninged words, like “set”, “run”, “go”, “take”, “stand”, “get”, “turn”, “put” or “strike”.

Good luck!

fall |fôl|
verb (past fell |fel| ; past participle fallen |ˈfôlən| ) [ no obj. ]
1 move downward, typically rapidly and freely without control, from a higher to a lower level: bombs could be seen falling from the planes | (as adj. falling) : the power lines had been brought down by falling trees.
• (fall off) become detached accidentally and drop to the ground: my sunglasses fell off and broke on the pavement.
• hang down: hair that was allowed to fall to the shoulders.
• (of land) slope downward; drop away: the land fell away in a steep bank.
• (fall into) (of a river) flow or discharge itself into.
• (of someone’s eyes or glance) be directed downward.
• (of someone’s face) show dismay or disappointment by appearing to sag or droop: her face fell as she thought about her life with George.
• occur, arrive, or become apparent as if by dropping suddenly: when night fell we managed to crawl back to our lines | the information might fall into the wrong hands.
2 (of a person) lose one’s balance and collapse: she fell down at school today.
• throw oneself down, typically in order to worship or implore someone: they fell on their knees, rendering thanks to God.
• (of a tree, building, or other structure) collapse to the ground: the house looked as if it were going to fall down at any moment.
• (of a building or place) be captured or defeated: their mountain strongholds fell to enemy attack.
• die in battle: an English leader who had fallen at the hands of the Danes.
• archaic commit sin; yield to temptation: it is their husband’s fault if wives do fall.
• (of a government or leader) lose office.
• (in sports) lose or be eliminated from play.
3 decrease in number, amount, intensity, or quality: in 1987 imports into Britain fell by 12 percent | we’re worried that standards are falling.
• find a lower level; subside or abate: the water table in the Rift Valley fell.
• (of a measuring instrument) show a lower reading: the barometer had fallen a further ten points.
4 pass into a specified state: many of the buildings fell into disrepair | she fell pregnant.
• (fall to doing something) begin to do something: he fell to musing about how it had happened.
• be drawn accidentally into: you must not fall into this common error.
• occur at a specified time: Mother’s birthday fell on Flag Day.
• be classified or ordered in the way specified: canals fall within the Minister’s brief.

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An Interview with Kayla Czaga

PRISM Poetry Editor Rob Taylor talks with Kayla Czaga about her debut poetry collection and that moment when your Mom catches you saying the F-word…

Song – Kayla Czaga

Outside my window, seagulls and crows continue
the discourse on language, insisting it need not be beautiful
to be song. If song accompanies their shallow black
and white bickering over garbage at 5 a.m., do I still believe

language needs to be beautiful? Their insistent discourse
pecks holes in the morning. Here I am still trying
to believe, at 5 a.m., despite the bickering over garbage
because faith describes perfectly how my mother is dying.

Here I am still trying to peck holes in the morning;
song is just another word I use for wanting
faith to describe how perfectly my mother is dying
thousands of miles away, in a small town I rarely visit.

Song is just another word I want to use.
Illness is just another word. Mother is just a word
thousands of miles away, in a small town I rarely visit.
The winter light pours slowly into my window.

Illness is just a word. Mother is just a word
with someone in it. Can I sing without words?
The slow winter light pours through my window.
Long after I’ve stopped making sense, I’m just a sound

with someone in it. Can I sing without words
and still be song, accompanying the crows, shallow and black,
making sense with just sounds? Long after I’ve stopped,
seagulls and crows continue outside my window.

from For Your Safety Please Hold On
(Nightwood Editions, 2014).
Reprinted with permission.


Full Disclosure: Kayla Czaga is an editorial board member at PRISM international. That doesn’t stop her debut collection of poems, For Your Safety Please Hold On (Nightwood Editions), from being fantastic. And it certainly doesn’t stop you from attending Nightwood Editions’ Vancouver book launch on Sunday, October 19th, which will feature readings from Kayla and three other Nightwood authors: Matt Rader, Alex Leslie and Elaine Woo.

The details:

Nightwood Editions Fall 2014 Book Launch
Sunday, October 19th, 7pm
Grand Luxe Hall
303 East 8th Avenue
Featuring: Kayla Czaga, Matt Rader, Alex Leslie, and Elaine Woo

In anticipation of the launch, Kayla and I exchanged a few emails about her book. The conversation wandered (as they do) from kicked in front doors, to pigeons and coffee shops, to an overabundance of “fucks.” Enjoy!

Kayla Czaga, holding a beam of light (in baby form). Kayla stresses that this is not her beam of light, just borrowed for the photo op. Don’t worry Mom and Dad!

In reading For Your Safety Please Hold On, especially the poems in the “Mother and Father” and “The Family” sections, I got the sense that what I was reading about was your “poetry family,” a family adjacent to your actual family, stretched and transformed however your love of play and language suggested. In fact, it feels like you’ve built an entire “poetry family” cosmology (Mom, Dad, Grandparents, Not-Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles), which is probably what Paul Vermeersch is referring to on the back cover blurb when he says reading your book “feels rather like an initiation into the clan”.

Does any of the above ring true? Has your family seen the book? What has been their response?

It’s interesting that you use the word cosmology. I think I focused on family as a way to locate myself. Each of the family members expresses a different way of being in the world. In writing about them, I got a chance to try on their language, see how they fit, and decide how I wanted to live in response.

My dad has seen a few of my poems and he likes to “correct” details and tell me that he doesn’t quite “get” them. We have long talks about what he thinks is going on. Once, during a hockey period break, he wrote “his kind of rhyming poem” and mailed it to me, hand written on a piece of loose-leaf. So, he’s trying to participate.

Last night, my mom phoned and asked me to explain, “Poem for Jeff,” the poem in my book in which I use the f-word about a hundred times. “I’ve never heard you talk like that,” she explained. I think I actually offended her. I felt pretty embarrassed, but I think she likes the book, otherwise. She said she was going to read it again and call me back.

Ha! Yes, my first book had one “fuck” in it and I definitely hear about it a disproportionate amount (though my mother’s never mentioned it). Your answer got me thinking about the speakers and voices in the book. Would you say this book is written in one common voice/from one common speaker, or does it change from section to section, poem to poem? When your mom says she’s “never heard you talk like that,” do you think of it as “you” talking in the first place?

Sometimes it’s me. Sometimes, as in “My Father, Winning me $242 dollars at the Kitimat Golf & Country Club, Last Christmas,” I’m trying to speak as my dad, or someone else. More often, while writing, I feel like I’m just this device that poems get downloaded into on their way to the world. The poems are not me speaking, but speaking through me. I realize that sounds very strange, especially given the amount of details in the poems that come from my life, but that’s what it feels like.

One of the great pleasures of your book is its sense of play. Puns abound (“She was a hoot, owling outside / the barn”, 30) and so many of these poems are steeped in jokes and turns of phrase and a general relishing in language. Many of the poems, however, also deal with heady subjects – death, murder, grief, isolation, etc. What purpose does inserting playfulness into heavy poems serve for you? Have you written any poems, in the book or otherwise, where you felt that such play would detract from the poem, and avoided it?

Last summer, when my grandfather died, my father (who is in his 60s) had to kick down the door of his house because my grandfather never gave anyone a full set of keys. Sad, yes, but also very funny—all of us sweating in the driveway with our suitcases. I believe in the old maxim about light making the darkness darker. One of my favourite quotes goes, “How goofy and awful is life,” (Dean Young).

My classmates have accused me of using humour as a defense mechanism when talking about emotional things. Maybe they are on to something, but I prefer laughing to taking myself too seriously.

No, I can’t “play” with everything. The poem you chose to stand for the book (and coincidentally the book’s only formal poem), “Song,” is basically as serious as I get, as is the poem “Victoria Soto.” It is sometimes disrespectful to be funny.

I had the pleasure to hear you read Gertrude Stein at a recent Dead Poets Reading Series event. In introducing Stein’s poems, you mentioned that she had had a great impact on your writing – that she had been one of the poets who gave you permission to do new things in your writing. I was wondering if you could expand on that a bit more – which elements of this book do you think most clearly demonstrate her influence?

I found Gertrude Stein at the right time in my life. I was pretty bored with lyric poetry and she set my hair on fire. I got shivers reading her. Still do. I think she helped loosen my fixation on “making sense.” Or, she helped me make a different kind of sense. The entire “FOR PLAY” section is a semi-homage to her and the influence of her writing.

Knowing a bit about your biography (born and raised in Kitimat, now living in Vancouver), I came to read the section “For Your Safety Please Hold On” as your “Vancouver Poems” – chronicling your shift from a small, intimate sense of community and family, to the big, chaotic urban mess that we rarely, if ever, consider familial. Reading poems like “23rd Birthday” and “For Your Safety…”, and lines from later in the book like “The Lord led me to a city / with a dripping, concrete sky / and fourteen thousand coffee // joints.” (82) gave me a clear sense of the city as seen from the outside. In what ways do you think your first book would have been different if you had never moved to Vancouver?

I spent five years in Victoria between Vancouver and Kitimat, so I don’t feel like my transition into Vancouver has been very extreme or disruptive.

I actually hadn’t even thought of that section as Vancouver poems until you mentioned it. You are right; they are predominantly set in Vancouver. I see it as my “I’m an adult now” poem section. I spent a while creating the poem-voice that speaks in the way that I think—that scattered, fascinated, shy way. That voice feels more like what that section represents than the background details that make up those poems, but I’m sure For Your Safety Please Hold On would be a completely different book if I had moved to Montreal instead, as I had planned to.

Montreal’s loss is our gain! Looking back through your book, are you able to better see or understand your own feelings about Vancouver? If so, what are they?

I wish I could just insert one of the poems as answer to this question because they do a better job of articulating my feelings. I am really fascinated by Vancouver—really excited about how much there is to do and how many pigeons and coffee shops and good bits of fish there are—but I’m also overwhelmed and I find myself less patient and willing to engage with strangers than in a smaller town because there are just too many of them and they are too often forced into my physical space due to overcrowding. I hope that comes through in the book.

It certainly does. Alongside the crowds and pigeons and coffee shops, God makes a few appearances in For Your Safety Please Hold On – mostly notably in poems like “Temporary” and in the long poem which closes the book, “Many Metaphorical Birds.” Could you speak a bit about whatever religious upbringing you might have had, and if/how your connection to religion has changed over the years? Has poetry come to compliment, or replace, any parts of your life that you consider (or once would have considered) “religious”?

My dad is an atheist and my mom is “spiritual” in a general way. I was a fairly rebellious teenager and one of the most effectively rebellious things I did was convert to Christianity. Since it’s always been a personal, rather than familial thing, I haven’t experienced the same falling out with it that some kids raised in religious homes have. My faith has changed and evolved, of course, as everything does all the time.

Spiritual traditions, family, and poetry—these are all ways of attaching to a bigger thing than the self, of plugging into a narrative. I think religion is a different barrel of fish than poetry, however, and I don’t think one can build a worldview out of a genre of writing, but it can compliment and help deepen many spiritual practices.

Now that you have your first book – now that it’s a real thing you can hold in your hands – what purpose do you think it serves? (i.e. if your book were a machine, what would be its function?) When you envision someone picking it up and reading it, what do you hope they get from it? And does your answer differ at all from the answer you think you would have given three or four years ago, when your first book was still an abstract concept?

Wallace Stevens said it is the poet’s job to help people live their lives. I don’t know if I can aspire to something so lofty, but that’s how poetry “works” for me.

Poems are little machines you pour your thinking into and your thinking comes out differently, hopefully better, from the dispensing end. Maybe my poems will be a partner in someone’s ongoing thinking, or maybe they will amuse someone on her long bus rides. Maybe they will be cut up into nice collages or used to line a litter box.

Years ago, I thought I would have more figured out by now, that by having a book I would have “arrived” in some way as a person. Nope. Still can’t find my keys. Still don’t know anything. I’m happier knowing nothing now, though—it means I can still be surprised.

Surprise Kayla by picking up a copy of For Your Safety Please Hold On from your local bookstore, or from the Nightwood Editions website or Amazon. Or better yet, show up at her launch. She won’t know to see it coming.

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