Poetry Primer #1: Elizabeth Bachinsky & Kayla Czaga

April 1, 2015

Our first established poet in our Poetry Primer series is Elizabeth Bachinsky. Applauded by Jeanette Lynes for her "sheer moxie" we knew she was a great poet to kick off our National Poetry Month festivities! When we asked her to select an up-and-coming poet Elizabeth chose a fellow West Coaster Kayla Czaga. Kayla published her first collection of poetry with Nightwood Editions, For Your Safety Please Hold On last fall and it was recently the only debut collection nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize.

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Our first established poet in our Poetry Primer series is Elizabeth Bachinsky. Hailing from British Columbia, Bachinsky has published five collections of poetry, including her latest The Hottest Summer in Recorded History (Nightwood Editions). She has been nominated for such awards as the Governor General's Award for Poetry and the Pat Lowther Award, and her poetry has been adapted for both stage and screen. Applauded by Jeanette Lynes for her "sheer moxie" we knew she was a great poet to kick off our National Poetry Month festivities!

When we asked her to select an up-and-coming poet Elizabeth chose a fellow West Coaster, Kayla Czaga. Kayla published her first collection of poetry with Nightwood Editions, For Your Safety Please Hold On last fall and it was recently the only debut collection nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Poet Paul Vermeersch said this about her collection: "... 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."

Enough of an introduction, over to Elizabeth!

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Elizabeth Bachinsky on why she selected Kayla Czaga:

I first met Kayla Czaga in 2013. She was one of my students in a graduate publishing class at UBC—the kind of class where you learn to tell your kerning from your leading—and one day after class, despite my protesting, she shoved a fistful of poems in front of me and we sat down to talk about them. I was not only taken by the talent evident in the poems on the table in front of me but also with the young woman who had produced them. Blushing, stammering, she gave me a history of the Stakhanovite movement in socialist Russia and her appraisal of the effectiveness of Russian propaganda which struck her, if I’m remembering correctly, as “effective.” Czaga was, I think, twenty-one at the time and was nearly through with her graduate degree. She came from Kitimat. She lived above a grocery store. She wrote these very grown-up insightful poems. It was as if a valkyrie had let down beside me.

Later on, I’d turn out to select one of her poems, the poem featured here for National Poetry Month, as a winner for a poetry competition at the Fiddlehead magazine. The judging was blind. They’d sent me quite a stack, and still that poem, hers, rose to the top of the pile. Blind. There’s just something about her voice. Funny, confident, unique. I can only describe it as the kind of voice into which one can relax. Because you can trust Kayla Czaga. She’s got this. She knows where she’s headed. It’s OK. You can just relax and enjoy the poems.

I don’t know what impact any of us poor poets can hope to have on Canadian poetry in the long run. But I hope Czaga will be one of those who keep adding to it. Her first book is every bit as interesting as first books by Erin Moure or Karen Solie and, like them, I want to read Czaga in ten, twenty, thirty years and see what fascination she’s following now. Selfishly, I just want her to keep going. Keep going, will you, Czaga?

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Kayla Czaga on why she writes poetry & who her influences are:

I write because I like writing more than I like doing anything else. Why do I like writing? I don’t really know. I could’ve easily liked doing other things—playing tennis or saxophone or sculpting. I think it has something to do with my upbringing. I grew up in a small northern BC town where people didn't usually talk about a lot of deep issues. I don’t have siblings and my parents are quiet people, so I read a lot. Books spoke to me about a great many things. Is it cheesy to say they were my best friends? They were my best friends. I started writing instinctually in response to the reading I did. My entire childhood and adolescence I wrote—everything from screenplays to novels about my cat—and I haven’t stopped, though I mostly write poems now. I can’t really imagining doing much else with my time.

I am always accumulating new favourite writers, so it’s difficult to list writers who have influenced me without feeling I’ve skipped many people. I own most* of Anne Carson’s books, so I think she’s been significant. Matthew Zapruder. Mark Strand. Anne Michaels. Mary Ruefle. Dean and Kevin Young (not related). I am also inspired by language in the world. The title (and title poem) of my book For Your Safety Please Hold On comes from stickers on Vancouver buses. Another poem I wrote is called “May Contain Traces.” A few years ago, I was at a hostel in the Okanagan that was plastered with signs that said, “You are in video.” I loved that.
 
*I can’t say “all” because I lent one to a friend and it never came back, and I haven’t replaced it yet.

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We'll be back tomorrow with more poetry! Want to know which other poets we'll be featuring in our Poetry Primer series? Check out the details here.


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