the broken boat by Daniela Elza

In the broken boat, her fourth book of poetry, Daniela Elza deftly builds a raft of questions to stay afloat amidst the breakage of things. The end of a twenty-year marriage mirrors subtler fragmentations in our world. How to survive this loss of meaning, this “wintering through”?

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] was isolated. Isolating. Like everyone, more or less. In my case, locked-down in a tiny apartment with glimpses of water through highrise steel and glass. When a parcel arrived – padded brown manilla, half folded, half stuffed in my mailbox. There was no accompanying correspondence. No introduction. No demand note made up of letters cut crudely from a magazine. No burner phone or dead drop instructions. There was a return address – shipper, not sender. If this was a precursor to ransom requests, it was shoddily executed. I admit I’d just finished watching all of Netflix, so my imagination was rife with crime-drama plotlines. However, receiving unmarked parcels at one’s home does prompt questions. [perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#B4D3DB” class=”” size=””]”Publisher Mother Tongue makes the most of Elza’s structure – innovative phrasing and line breaks, physical layout on the page that’s engaging, stimulating.”[/perfectpullquote] Turns out it was the broken boat, a striking new book of poems by Daniela Elza, who I know from Vancouver’s poetry scene and her work with Pandora’s Collective. I was privileged to have featured at a Twisted Poets reading event, this being the successful series Elza runs at a Main Street restaurant/bar where service is often friendly and beer surprisingly expensive. I’ve enjoyed Daniela’s readings around town – her work fluid, a blend of polished and raw, invariably sincere and insightful. In the broken boat’s opening suite, wintering through, this, from tossing & turning:

the rain reprints itself from yesterday / repaints a city where // objects have trapped the river. // a poem wraps around a stone / clinging –

Publisher Mother Tongue makes the most of Elza’s structure – innovative phrasing and line breaks, physical layout on the page that’s engaging, stimulating. From the comfort of home (irrespective of isolation) as though we’re witnessing the poet’s pulse in person. Which I’m unable to capture here but trust me, it’s impactful on paper.  

Again from wintering through, this, from drawing me:

you pick up charcoal draw me / again. As a child // mother and father drew me / made line after line. Sometimes // too busy to look at the whole picture. / it didn’t have to look like me. // the point was for me to look like / the portrait they so carefully // took to drawing. I could never tell // if or when / they were done.

Who says writing isn’t cathartic? Or cheaper than a therapist’s sofa? I want to give Elza a hug. Let her know she’s good at what she does. And admired.

From autobiography of grief II:

Our silences are geometric confessions now – / acquire more sharp angles each time. // metaphors are innocuous until we use / the wrong one.

The broken boat metaphor is assuredly relatable. But beyond allusion I’m pulled, tide-like, to actual broken watercraft experience – paddling, sailing, bailing, cursing, and once in violent sea muttering an almost prayer. Elza takes us there, fellow passengers on a heartfelt vessel, navigating gales, the new and familiar, windswept loss with elusive safe harbours of growth.

I needn’t have worried about the plain package thrust my way by someone (or something) unseen, its marine blue cover an invitation of voyages, some taken, some missed. Like a boat ride with a friend on a pleasant day, what a pleasure to read the work of someone you like, and discover it’s exceptional.


About the Author: Daniela Elza received her doctorate in Philosophy of Education from SFU and her thesis toward a Pedagogy of the Imagination was nominated for a 2011 distinguished dissertation award from the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies and she was awarded Dean of Graduate Studies Convocation Medal.

About the Reviewer: Author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott is the national bestseller of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Allan’s Wishes, and Dromomania. His work is published in dozens of literary journals and anthologies around the globe. Bill makes his home, most often, on Canada’s west coast.

the broken boat by Daniela Elza
Mother Tongue Publishing

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks! 

Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of the Gone Viking travel memoirs (Gone Viking: A Travel SagaGone Viking II: Beyond BoundariesGone Viking III: The Holy Grail) and A Season on Vancouver Island. He’s won numerous book awards and received a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.