The Ottawa level boss has one weakness: his hair
The myth says until it is shorn the black temple shall stand

He shall slay the green dragon
He shall cast darkness over the waters

He shall kill a thousand men with the jawbone of a beaver
He shall offer tax incentives for mineral exploration

With one hand he shall grant child care benefits
With the other hand he shall end child care

Who will dare to become his Delilah?
He shall close down her satellite office

There may be iniquity but no inquiries
Both honey and lion lost through trade agreements

At the end of this age all nations shall gather
Out of the eater, nothing to eat

“for play” — a poem by Kayla Czaga

followed by an interview about the poem

Kayla Czaga is the author of For Your Safety Please Hold On (Nightwood Editions, 2014), which won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the Debut-litzer. Her chapbook, Enemy of the People, is published by Anstruther Press. You can follow her on twitter @kaylaczaga.

Kayla_Czaga_Jul15_Janet_Kvammen copy

Photo credit: Janet Kvammen

for play

This is a game for girls: putting a hat
on the cat, putting pants on
the cat, drawing a turkey by tracing
her hand. Little girls like cats.

A dress is a game with armholes.
A dress is played with a waistband.
A waistband is a game with a firm
winner and sore loser. A dress is
plaid or floral or polkas. Dispersed
vertically with gathers, a dress is
a section of flowers in a dancehall.
A waistband plays flat music a little
girl will twist. This is a set list. You
play a girl by flipping through her.

the girl crayons little girls are like that
the little boy is blue
the duck is yellow
the duck is yellow tumbles forever into the green lake
the beginning of the black cat waxes in the red tree
the little girl is a sweet sad colour–bruised or blushing?
the little girl holds out her blank hands toward the little boy is blue
the little girl holds out her hands filled with little girls are like that
the sweet sad colour accumulates in the pencil sharpener
the little girl tumbles forever into the boy is blue
the little boy is blue accepts little girls are like that
the little girl is faceless until she colours it on

A girl is game with how many licks
gets to her centre. Little girls like
a firm licking. Little girls play will he
call on the third or fourth day
after a successful date. Little girls
play Friday flip-up day. What did
he mean, keep it casual? What did
he mean, that girl is asking for it?
A girl replays twenty unsayable
questions in her head. Little girls
lose the game inside their heads.
What was she asking for, exactly?


This poem covers a lot of ground, from childhood gender indoctrination to rape culture apologists — I think it works partly because of the four-part structure. Do you ever pre-plan this kind of structure, or does it develop in a different way, when you work on poem sequences?

When I started writing the poem, I knew it would have sections. I was trying to make the content and language age throughout the poem, becoming older and darker, and it seemed that sections would make this progression more graceful. I didn’t preplan specifically for four sections — it just sort of ended up there. I’m glad it seems to work for you even though I think three or five sections generally feels more stable.

Every time I write a poem, I have to improvise a structure to contain its content. They never completely come out in the same way twice. I always have to ask, “why this length of line?” “sections or no?” “stanzas?” Some are more similar to other poems [in the book] — “for play” was similar enough to “gertrude stein loves a girl,” and “I forgot to mention the thunderball,” echoed “Gone is the VHS. Gone is the Whir.” enough that I could reuse formal elements between those pairs of poems.

This poem recalls Gertrude Stein stylistically, which is something many poets attempt and few pull off. I think it works especially well in the third section, which contains my favourite line in this poem, “the duck is yellow tumbles forever into the green lake.” You play with Stein-esque lines elsewhere in your book For Your Safety Please Hold On — can you explain why you chose to tackle Stein lines and what you had to do in editing to make them work?

There is something so subversive and sexual about Stein’s writing. I knew as soon as I read her that she was teaching me to write about some of the things I wanted to explore — sexuality, violence, the strange half-there memories of childhood. Her style and my subject matter were a perfect fit.

When I overthink and tinker with Stein, she falls apart. Instead, I read her over and over to absorb her music as if I was a sponge. It was like rereading picture books to learn language. Every time I reread her, her work felt new to me. Then I started mimicking her in a playful way tangential to my subject. I knew that if I tried to tackle sexual violence and gender roles head on, my poems would be too polemical and tract-like. I had to get there through images, through colour and music, in a more-body-than-head way.

Why did you break up the two cat games and the line “little girls like cats” with talk of the turkey drawing in the first part? Did you play around with other images here? Can you give an example of an image you cut from this poem and explain why?

I know there’s a term in music or poetry that describes when a piece deviates from a pattern to create tension and then returns to it for closure, but I’ve forgotten what it is. I was trying to do that.

I chose the cat and turkey for several reasons:

1) I did both of those things as a girl.

2) I think they sound like funny and musically rich things.

3) There’s mention of a turkey in one of my other Stein poems: “gertrude stein loves a girl.”

4) Stein also uses the image of a turkey (and a very large one) in “Idem the Same: A Valentine for Sherwood Anderson,” which is a poem I love.

3 & 4 b) In both Stein’s and my other use of turkey, “size” is referenced. I was talking about eating disorders and Stein was asking what the difference between a medium sized turkey and a very large one was. There are undertones of body policing in this poem (i.e.: the waistband), so the turkey was sort of meant tangentially to tie into that conversation.

Those images came out very naturally together, so nothing was cut in editing that section. I’m sure that I made cuts in other parts of the poem, but I don’t keep copies of my edits and the poem was written so long ago that I can’t remember.

The third section has a nice move from the child colouring to a woman putting on makeup, two images you suture with the verbs “crayons” and “colours.” You also parallel the phrase “little girls are like that” at the start and end of that section. How much of editing for you is finding and developing, or adding, these kinds of parallels? Or do you spend most of your editing time on other things?

I find most of my editing time is spent cutting redundancies and improving rhythm. I may have added a repeat of “little girls are like that,” but it would’ve been more for sound than sense. I find that most of those parallels that you pointed out are found in my primary writing process during which I throw a lot of things on a page and see what sticks and what echoes, where the ideas and images and emotions want to go. My editing process is more of the flower arrangement/pruning part.

Your line “the little boy is blue” obviously refers to gender stereotypes but it could also be read as an allusion to the nursery rhyme “Little Boy Blue.” I’m wondering if you intended that, and also: (a) if you did, does it matter to you if a reader doesn’t notice it, and (b) if you didn’t, does it matter to you if a reader reads that in? How much do you try to guide readings when you write/edit?

I didn’t intend that reference, but I think it works. My friend spotted the “pink triangle” as a reference to a Nazi concentration camp badge (also unintentional.) I think that every reader is going to bring something I didn’t intend to my poems as a result of their own unique experiences. I read an essay in which Mary Ruefle talked about someone finding some of her poems funny, when they were sad for her. I think it would be a never-ending and joyless mission to try to control a reader’s whole experience even though one might want to.

Part of the fun of poetry for me is its openness to interpretation. A poem is a game that both the writer and the reader get to play. It depends on the thinking and pattern recognition of both parties. I am sometimes sad when a reader doesn’t pick up on some nerdy thing I did in a poem, but that’s a result of those differing experiences that made her pick up on some strange unintentional allusion or technique.

I do have a group of peers with whom I share my drafts and whose feedback I listen to closely, so if they say, “hey, Kayla, this made me really uncomfortable,” or “I think you are being unintentionally offensive,” I’ll listen. Likewise, if they point out a potential reference that the poem could be using better, I will look into it.

What do you think of Kayla’s poem? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook, or send me an e-mail — and if you haven’t already, join my mailing list and keep in touch.

Support this site, Kayla Czaga, and Nightwood Editions by buying Kayla’s book through these affiliate links:

For Your Safety Please Hold On ( McNally | Amazon.CA | Amazon.COM )

Loved (and blurbed) this book — looking forward to the videos! Backwards Walter Cronkite bodes well.

These are 11 of My Favourite Things

While the site is on hiatus, check out some of my greatest hits

I am in the midst of a combination of vacation and work, and need to put this site on hiatus for a few weeks. When I return, things will have changed — I am working on some cool secret projects, two of which mean BIG changes here at Writing the Wrong Way.


While you wait, I’ve selected 11 of my favourite posts for you to enjoy. You can also browse my archives and don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter to get a free ebook and notification when the site returns to regular updates (at that time I’ll send you a second cool free ebook, which is one of my secret projects).

My Top 11

1 My Interview with Frank Black from The Pixies

I’ve strayed away from interviews here, with one exception, because otherwise this would just be a list of interviews. (My favourite thing about the site is other people!) But hey, I don’t mean to brag, but like in 2002 for about five minutes Frank Black thought I was cool and thanked me for saying something. Frank Black!

2 My Visit to the set of Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World

Oh wait, you know what was cooler than talking to Frank Black? That time I met Isabella Rossellini and then got scared and ran away. Man, I kind of suck and am cool at the same time.

3 The Haunted House

Ever want to read the first poem I ever wrote? No? Well, never mind then.

4 Write a Lot by Writing on Schedule

The most popular post ever on this site. Elisabeth de Mariaffi liked it, so you should like it! Peer pressure!!!

5 4 Simple Editing Tricks That Are All The Same Trick

I wrote this for my daughter, Jessie Taylor, because she asked me for some editing tips that would help her on her high school exams. And she got, like, an A+ and is the coolest and you should be more like her! She helped me make the cool green mug in the photo up top (it says “VENOM” on the side and has a snake on it).

6 Advice to Graduate Students

Another reader favourite: survival tips for graduate students. I did my PhD in 4 years, and also wrote 5 books in that time, which is maybe your goal?

7 Read 95 Books This Year

Ryan Fitzpatrick and I created the #95books hashtag, which you may have seen, and anyway here are my tips on how writers (and less deviant dudes and dudettes) can read more.

8 Don’t Attribute Dialogue

A reader non-favourite. Lots of people think I am the devil for writing this. I’m not the devil though! I just wish I was.

9 How I Wrote Clockfire

My favourite post about the idea development part of the creative process, using my favourite of my own books, Clockfire as an example.

10 Introduction to Why Poetry Sucks

Ryan Fitzpatrick and I co-wrote this lengthy and hopefully not too dry introduction to our anthology Why Poetry Sucks: An Anthology of Humorous Experimental Poetry.

11 Introduction to Tony Burgess’s The Bewdley Mayhem

I say it all the time: Tony Burgess is the best writer in Canada, and you probably never heard of him. One day, I will write a book about this dude. In the meantime, here’s an introduction to his three-book omnibus edition.

By the time you read all that, I’ll be back in the saddle of evil! Later, gators.

I will be a panelist at a CV2 symposium concerning the importance of Canadian literary magazines. I am on the second panel at 4:00, but come early (at 2:30) for the first panel (I’ll be in the audience for that one).

Jonathan Ball
Clarise Foster
Ray Hsu Maurice Mierau
Ken Norris
Jennifer Still
& More


1st Panel (2:30 – 3:45 p.m.)

40 years and still counting: the importance of CV2 and Canadian literary magazines.

In 1975, when CV2 was established in Winnipeg, Canadian literary magazines had a very important role in promoting new creative writing and new creative writing, but in the past 40 years the literary landscape has changed. This panel will discuss the traditional role of literary magazines in the Canadian literary landscape and how the rise of independent literary presses has changed that role over the past forty years and what this has meant for writers. This development has not only changed what literary magazines do but also how they do it. Issues of cultural exclusivity, literary innovation and other concerns will be discussed. A key focus of this panel will be why literary magazines are still important to the promotion and support of new writing and new writers.


Break (3:45 – 4:00 p.m.)


2nd Panel (4:00 – 5:15 p.m.)

Moving forward-the next 40 years

The expectations of literary publishing have change tremendously over the past few years—new technologies—new ways of looking at poetry and over genres—what does this mean for the future of writing—for literary publishers and magazines like CV2 and where might we all be going. Panel will discuss digital publishing, self-publishing, on-line publishing, collaboration as well as new and divergent styles and forms of writing and genre, what they mean for writers and publishing. Discussion will also discuss concerns over diversity, social media and other challenges that writers and literary publishing face in the future.

Date: November 13, 2015
Time: 4:00 - 5:15 p.m.
Event: CV2: A Putting Down of Roots Symposium
Sponsor: CV2
Venue: Room 2M70, The University of Winnipeg
Location: 515 Portage Avenue
Winnipeg, MB

Excited to read as part of CV2‘s 40th anniversary celebrations! My first professionally published poems appeared in CV2 so it means a lot to me. Come out and support this wonderful literary journal!

Date: November 12, 2015
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Event: CV2 40th Anniversary Launch
Sponsor: CV2
Venue: McNally Robinson -- Atrium
Location: 1120 Grant Avenue
Winnipeg, MB