Not a Poetic One-Hit Wonder :
Danielle Janess in Conversation with Kayla Czaga

Kayla Czaga

Malahat volunteer Danielle Janess talks with the winner of our 2012 Far Horizons Award for Poetry, Kayla Czaga.

You’ve been winning a few awards lately (The Malahat's 2012 Far Horizons Award for Poetry and two Editor's Choice Awards in Arc's 2012 Poem of the Year Contest).. And you’ve only recently graduated from your undergrad in writing, at the University of Victoria. Does gaining this swift attention have any effect on your writing process?

Not really.  The attention sort of freaks me out.  I got an e-mail from Barry Dempster the other day.  Success is a lot of pressure.  Some days I worry the poems that have won contests are just flukes, that I’m not actually a very good poet, or I’ll turn into a poetic one-hit wonder. 

Speaking of that process, tell me about it.

This poem was written during a very interesting experiment.  A few months after we had graduated, a few friends and I decided to undertake a thirty-day poetry challenge.  We each were responsible for writing a poem a day and posting it on an online forum.  At about day twenty, I thought I was done writing poems forever—I was so creatively fatigued!  Then, all of a sudden and without warning, on day twenty-four, this series began to pour out of me.  I used it as my forum entries for the next days until the challenge was over.   

Typically I begin my poems while reading or brainstorming.  I’ll sort of jot words or notes in my notebook and they form phrases or lines.  Once I’ve accumulated enough of them, I start to sew them together, adding and removing lines.  At this time, I switch from pen-and-paper to computer.  I do a lot of editing during this initial writing process.  “gertrude stein loves a girl,” in the form it’s currently in, has undergone very little secondary editing, but I plan on going back to it soon and changing some things.   

Where are you from and where is home now? How, if at all, does where you are influence your work?

I was born in southern Alberta, grew up in Kitimat, lived and studied for five years in Victoria, and now inhabit Vancouver, B.C.  Though my poems don’t tend to focus on nature or landscape, I definitely think these places affect my writing.  I write my best poems when I’m visiting my parents in Kitimat.  I don’t write much while I’m on vacation—I’m a homebody writer, I suppose.  Weather is a key factor for me as well; I do very little writing during the summer when it’s hot.  

Why Gertrude Stein?

One of my more personal writing projects has been an exploration of childhood.  Part of the project has been to inhabit literary personalities to imagine what they would say about girlhood.  I felt Gertrude Stein’s playful and experimental language lent itself well to this subject.  She’s an exquisite and delightful poet, one of my favourites. In addition, she’s was such a strong woman of her day—self-sufficient, openly and verbally queer, and mentor to so many other notable writers.

Mary Dalton, who selected your piece for the win, noted the poem’s ability to convey the “endless energy and imprisonment” of being a girl. How did you set about making the poem buzz and constrain?

Girlhood is infused freedom of mind and boundless energy, but also the restriction of social conventions, the discipline of learning one’s place among others.  The form and language came intuitively to me via subject, which is how my poems tend to come together.  After informing me that my two poems had been selected for Arc, Katia Grubisic commented that she could hardly believe they had been penned by the same author.  I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to her—they were about such different subjects, how could they be similar poems? 

The poem’s movement is really something, especially for its authenticity. Through bright turns of detail you bring us into a world of hopscotch, to girlish sleepovers and temper tantrums, to adolescent struggles with mother, and later, to something of the loneliness of relationships.

This movement felt very childlike as well.  Kids are constantly bombarded with new images, people, relationships, scenarios.  Their brains do a lot of work trying to sort it all out.  Also, the poem was written over several days, several moods, several meals.  I’m actually not convinced about how it all came together.  It has gaps.  Why did I write about these aspects and relationships and not others?  I’m still not sure how necessary they feel together, though they do fit well.

You’re just about to begin an MFA in Writing at UBC. What are you most excited for?

My roommates and I just got a kitten.  That’s exciting.  Also, I double-majored as an undergraduate, studying both English lit and writing.  So I didn’t have much time to work in genres besides poetry.  Though poetry will probably remain my focus, I’m excited to take some classes in creative nonfiction and fiction.

Danielle Janess

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Check out the guidelines for our 2013 Far Horizons Award for Short Fiction.