DiscoverVerse: Daniela Elza + the broken boat
Today's ALU DiscoverVerse poet is Daniela Elza whose new collection the broken boat (Mother Tongue Publishing) is about the undoing of a twenty-year marriage and what it means to sit with grief. Below Daniela talks to us about why grief is a good teacher, what it is to embody words, and where she draws inspiration from. Read on for our interview with the poet and the poem "autobiography of grief" from her collection.
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Interview with Daniela
All Lit Up: What did you learn writing the broken boat?
Daniela Elza: the broken boat began with a question. I asked a friend: How do you go through this kind of grief? He said: “You sit with it. You go through it.” I didn’t like the answer. There was no prescribed path, or language. But it stuck with me. Maybe because I was tired of listening to my mind, and bored with the dead-end question: Why is this happening to me? So, I turned to my heart and asked: What have you got to say in all this? What have I got to learn?
I learned that you cannot ignore loss and grief; it’ll keep circling back, come at you with more impact each time. I wanted to document the process and see if the book can simulate that, while also following a narrative arc.
I invited grief to have coffee with me, and help me make sense of what I was going through. We became friends. It takes time, and patience, and being honest with yourself. Grief is a good teacher. So is exhaustion.
With this book, I wanted to explore further how we embody words. I went visceral. Words can mutate like bacteria and viruses. For instance, once I remember chopping vegetables in the kitchen. “Honey?” I heard him say. I tensed up. What have I done wrong this time? I thought. I realized then that he only called me honey when I did something wrong, as if to soften what came after. The word honey changed forever. I didn’t liked it to begin with, but now I didn’t want to be a honey. I love the bees’ honey, though. It never fools me.
Words alter us, and we have grown more and more careless with them. Words can make us sick, or can make us glow with excitement. In this book I looked for language I could trust. My body taught me how to listen better.
I learned that after twenty years of building a home with someone, resentment and bitterness were the wrong paths. I tried it one morning, and quickly realized it wasn’t what I wanted to practice. That made space for me to ask better and more precise questions—to be curious, instead of furious. To find compassion for both of us. One has a choice to get off the merry-go-round of blame-guilt-shame-regret. I learned that there’s more to learn through curiosity than through hate. That we have to pause to make sense of what keeps coming at us at higher and higher velocities. I am still learning from this book. Emotional turmoil has a way of touching truth. So do wonder and awe.
ALU: If you were a character in a Choose Your Own Adventure story, what kind of quest would you be on? What three things would you have with you on your journey?
DE: I will be on a quest to secure that animals have the same rights as humans, and a river is its own being. Where a forest can say "no" to being logged, and you can buy bread with a poem. I’ll carry with me a dictionary that will help us, ignorant humans, remember how to speak with rivers, trees, bacteria, and animals. I’ll carry a journal. I’ll also carry yogurt culture, and teach people how to make their own yogurt. Teach them to make other things as well. When you know what it takes to make something, it’ s harder to destroy it.
ALU: Where do you draw inspiration from outside of poetry?
DE: A lot of my inspiration comes from questions that keep endlessly circling in my head, from experience, from reading non-fiction, news, science, etc. The world is infinitely full of puzzles and mysteries. My writing is a way of inching into these in-between spaces to make better sense of our predicaments.
ALU: Help us with a poetry prompt for our readers. Can you come up with a writing prompt for our readers to write their own poetry?
DE: Write three questions you do not have an answer to, ones Google cannot answer for you. Pick the most urgent one. Write for at least 10 minutes on it. Don’t stop until the time is up.
Leave it for a few days. Come back to it with fresh eyes and highlight your favourite fragments. Use those to create your poem. The rest is kneading the poem into shape. Be patient. It could take time, the way bread needs time to rise.
A poem from the broken boat
autobiography of grief
the copper snowflakes.
the broken boat in which
we sleep— our backs to each other.
self-portrait with bird. replicated.
over and over— a vow
cast in the heaviest steel
at the centre of our room.
there is no parting—
in the latest unfinished sentence
the image floats homeless
until someone walks away.
church bells briefly disperse the noise
of the city—
a city hammered out of copper
and clay. each morning
snapped tight on the forehead.
feet nailed to a floor they know too well.
an altar in the corner burns
as if it were lamp oil.
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Daniela Elza grew up and lived between three continents before immigrating to Canada in 1999. Her poetry collections are the weight of dew (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2012), the book of It (iCrow Publications, 2011), milk tooth bane bone (Leaf Press, 2013). the broken boat (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2020) is her fourth collection.
In 2011, Daniela earned her doctorate in Philosophy of Education from Simon Fraser University. She continues to contribute to the field of poetic inquiry.
Daniela's poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Anthology and has won numerous contests. Her essay “Bringing the Roots Home” was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize, and her essay “Is this an Illness or an Accident” was shortlisted in the 2019 EVENT Magazine’s Non-fiction Contest. Daniela lives in Vancouver, and works as a writing, and speech and drama instructor.
Photo credit: Wendy D Photography
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During the month of April, you can buy the broken boat and any of our featured DiscoverVerse books for 20% off! PLUS: FREE shipping!
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Play our Choose Your Own Poetry game where YOU are the narrator! Choose from multiple paths on the way to one ultimate goal: visiting your local bookstore to browse poetry. As you move through the story you will find poetry books to collect in your tote bag. There are a total of 36 poetry books to discover across the various paths with 12 possible endings. Which poetry collections will you find on your path?
Playing time: 1-2 minutes per path. To play, click the link below to start the download.
DiscoverVerse: Choose Your Own Poetry Game
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