KAYLA CZAGA is the author of two collections of poetry—For Your Safety Please Hold On (Nightwood Editions, 2014) and Dunk Tank (House of Anansi, 2019)—as well as the chapbook Enemy of the People (Anstruther Press, 2015.) Her debut was awarded The Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and nominated for The Governor General’s Award for Poetry, The Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, and The Debut-litzer. Her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including The Fiddlehead, The Walrus, ARC Poetry Magazine, and The Best of the Best Canadian Poetry in English. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC and lives in Victoria, B.C.
Michael Edwards: Your most recent collection, Dunk Tank is a book largely concerned with the speaker’s coming of age. This past Summer of 2020, The Walrus published a new poem of yours, called “The Peace Lily.” It is a poem that seems to deal in a blend of the existential and more daily things of adult life, through caring for a potted plant. I wonder, how do you feel your writing has changed from your earliest poems, to this point you currently find yourself? Do you see a pattern or progression in your work?
Kayla Czaga: I no longer feel compelled to write about childhood and adolescence. Having spent the better part of two books there, my work on the subject might be done. Lately my poems are less concerned with “coming of age” and the associated disappointments and more concerned with “being of age” and the similar but different disappointments. My voice hasn’t changed much (I’m still asking can I make it funny and sad and also weird and relatable?), but my speaker is older now and I’ve acquired more tools for getting through my poems.
ME: Poet Sharon Olds has talked about “being brave” in poems. Does this resonate with you in any way? The sense of being more brave on the page, than in everyday life? Other than bravery, what are some qualities a poet (poet as poet, persona, speaker), can bring to their work to make for compelling and interesting poems?
KC: Always with a poem I believe something must be at stake. Like in poker, you have to make a bet in order to have a chance at winning. When the bet is larger, you have the chance of winning more. There’s a natural bravery involved. If I try to capture a moment, if it feels necessary to do that, I run the risk of not doing it justice, of failing, of losing my shirt, my car and my house. Coming back to a new page again and again, failing constantly, not doing my memories and the people in my life justice is tough work, but if I don’t make the bet I’ll never have the chance of winning the whole pot.
A thing that’s fun about poetry is that every poet is going to bring their own personality to the genre. That’s why I need to read one million poems about childhood or lost love or anything else. It’s like hearing the same story retold by all of my best friends: they all find a different way of telling it. Some are funny or melodramatic or serious or mystical. Some are straightforward and some take detours. Some are full of empathy and some are totally ruthless. And they’re all totally necessary.
ME: What keeps you writing poems, where do they come from for you? Are these things possible to articulate?
KC: What keeps me writing is the part I can’t articulate. Though I have more skills as a poet now than I did a decade ago, I still can’t plan a good poem. Every time, it feels like a miracle to write one. And that feeling never gets old. It’ll always be magical. To some extent I can encourage my process through reading, routine, and exercise, but there’s still no formula, no predictability.
ME: You are currently a mentor with The Writer’s Studio Online (SFU). How has teaching and mentoring in creative writing and poetry informed the way you personally write? Has it altered the way you think about writing?
KC: I have written a few poems about teaching poetry. They’re not very interesting, but they’ve been a natural byproduct of the job. To some extent, teaching has kept me curious and it’s increased my own experimentation as a writer. My students are often very curious about poetry, about what it can be and do. Talking about those things has kept me asking the same questions and because I encourage my students to try writing exercises and consider new creative strategies, I’ve been trying new things as well.
ME: In 2021, what are some collections of poetry you’re most looking forward to reading?
KC: I’ve been on a bit of a social media break, so I might be missing some, but these are the titles I will absolutely be pre-ordering: How to Not Be Afraid of Everything by Jane Wong, Walkman by Michael Robbins, Intruder by Bardia Sinaee and Exhibitionist by Molly Cross-Blanchard.
Michael Edwards lives and writes in Vancouver, BC. He is editor of Red Alder Review.