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For Your Safety Please Hold On by Kayla Czaga
reviewed by Katie Stobbart

For Your Safety Please Hold On
Kayla Czaga
Nightwood Editions


“I think the world is running out
of poetry. We can’t prove there will be more clear days
to compare to apples” (Czaga, “Poetry Shortage”).

Meet Kayla Czaga. For this volume of poems is, among other things, your introduction to a new, strong voice in Canadian poetry. Where many modern poems can be described as convoluted, Czaga’s verse is clear and solid: accessible but no less nuanced than her contemporaries.

For Your Safety Please Hold On, words derived from the advisory sticker on the windows of public transit buses and trains, is divided into five sections: Mother & Father, The Family, For Play, For Your Safety Please Hold On, and Many Metaphorical Birds. In keeping with the idea of transit, Czaga takes the reader from home and childhood through the city to revelation. This also gives the collection a steady, story-like arc from start to finish. It makes sense then, that the third and fourth sections are the climactic points of the book, and contain some of the strongest poems. In For Play, “Gertrude Stein Loves a Girl” is a five-part poem written in a style emulating Stein, and was recognized with the Malahat Review’s Far Horizons award for poetry in 2012. Most of my own favourites are from the (fourth) title section. “23rd Birthday” and “Poetry Shortage” each convey a kind of yearning: the first for connection and love, and the second for creative inspiration. In the former, Czaga writes:

Maybe I’ll collect puddles
or clock out like so many people I’ve seen
on buses, that man who wept

violently into his scarf and the rest
of us trying to ignore him, turning up
our not-listening devices. Tonight

I am twenty-three and looking
for someone gentle enough to hold back

my hair—this could be you, stranger

This desire for understanding and connection are not exclusive to the later parts of the book; it can be traced back to its roots in the section focused on the speaker’s parents—I’m inclined to read some of the earlier poems with the same speaker as “23rd Birthday” and “Poetry Shortage.” In “Another Poem About my Father” Czaga crafts an image, thick with nostalgia, of a parent who by the end of the poem feels familiar and endearing: giving his daughter an enormous sack of small change, with the kicker of dragging it to the bank to deposit, a man who surprises his wife with live birds, and seeks out treasures with a metal detector. In this poem Czaga introduces a simile comparing poems and people that seems to link the yearnings in the later poems I’ve mentioned together: “My father is more like a poem than most poems are,” she writes, and—in a way that recalls Seamus Heaney’s “Digging”, describes the way he goes about with his metal detector “until it beeps / solemnly above a nickel. With a butter knife / he cuts such slender metaphors from the earth.”
For Your Safety Please Hold On also includes the first poem I read by Czaga, which was pinned for some time to the wall of my office. “Poem for Jeff” is this surprisingly reverent poem full of expletives. It lists all the various people, animals, and things in the world as if taking inventory of the tragically doomed. For example, “Fucked / are the CEOs and the graceful lines of women buying oranges / in December”. In the language reserved for expressing intense, sudden pain or rage, Czaga draws our attention to the universality of suffering.

Innocence, experience, nostalgia, and the bittersweet are braided together throughout this collection to shape a thoughtful, down-to-earth exploration of love, creativity, and life in a modern, urban world. Besides that, it will transport you to a place of contemplation on your forthcoming public transit journeys.

Katie Stobbart is the editor of Raspberry magazine, a publication featuring coverage of art, culture, and community life in the Fraser Valley. She writes from Abbotsford. Her poetry and art has been published in Louden Singletree and by the Poetry Institute of Canada.

This review originally appeared in Pacific Rim Review of Books 21.