Any Anxious Body by Chrissy Kolaya $18.00 | 83 pages | Broadstone Books, 2014
Review by Joshua Preston
A mother, daughter, and teacher, Chrissy Kolaya is an alumna of the Norman Mailer Writers Colony and her poems have been compared to those of the New York School. Her first book of poems, Any Anxious Body, joins together a passionate love of Frank O’Hara with a natural affinity for archival poetics. This is not a book of Lunch Poems; instead, it is a book of particular moments, captured words, the weaving of a narrative that is more than a day in the life. This collection has the remarkable ability of presenting whole lives through single days. It illustrates that sometimes the things one remembers says more about the recorder than the record.
Everyone who walks through these poems are learning the same lesson:
Her father tells her one night – I got news for you, kid.
You’re not getting off this planet alive.
with which any anxious body
might find solace. (76)
This single revelation is what connects the sometimes-disparate scenes of Any Anxious body. These are the stories of household economics and children growing up too quickly. There is anxiety in the words of an old man recalling his first memory. There is solace in the stories of young lovers navigating Chicago’s streets. Kolaya is an historian, and the charm of her writing comes from her talent of pulling manuscripts from the memories of the men and women who came before her.
The long poem “Reckoning” is worth the price of the book alone. In it she draws upon two texts: the notepad her great-grandmother used to communicate to her family while in hospice and her grandmother’s twenty-page letter to her children. The first is filled with little calls for assistance, the second is a confession. It is the story of two generations of women, the narrative of one’s resistant exit interwoven with another’s grasping. They are two different experiences, but they encapsulate the same struggle for survival. Kolaya writes of her grandmother:
She’d made it far enough -- seventh grade -- to know how to handle guys like Owens who’d get you up against the counter and grow a thousand hands.
And then her husband when she gets home 2 a.m. Didn’t he know she’d spent her night like this swatting paw after paw?
Didn’t he know she just wanted to sit out on the porch put her feet up and light up a Viceroy like a lady? (47)
In only a few pages, “Reckoning” records two journeys of life, marriage and the debts we leave behind -- financial as well as familial. The poem ends with a photo of an expenses/assets list in her grandmother’s notepad, written “in someone else’s hand” (25). In words one intuits are as much Kolaya’s as her great-grandmother’s, they read, “We/ will never/ pay for this” (53). And how could we? These are the debts, the relationships that shape our time here. All of these things we continue to pass on if not unpaid, then forgotten. That is until we find them. And write.
The book ends with lines inspired by Ephesians. As we anxious bodies find solace in the lesson that our time is short and there is nowhere to go but down, we do so while quoting from “You Were Dead.” As you contemplate these debts, someday you will
remember that at one time
you lived among the natives and in you
the whole world was joined together. (83)
Chrissy Kolaya is a poet and fiction writer. Her short fiction has been included in the anthologies New Sudden Fiction (Norton) and Fiction on a Stick (Milkweed Editions). Her poems and fiction have appeared in a number of literary journals.
She has received a Norman Mailer Writers Colony summer scholarship, an Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies fellowship, a Loft Mentor Series Award in Poetry, and grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Lake Region Arts Council, and the University of Minnesota. She teaches writing at the University of Minnesota Morris.
Joshua P. Preston is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Morris and currently a research fellow at Baylor College of Medicine's Initiative on Neuroscience and Law. He is the curator of Giraffes Drawn By People Who Should Not Be Drawing Giraffes and his writings have appeared or are forthcoming in The Rain Taxi Review of Books, The Humanist, and MAYDAY Magazine. Find him online at www.JPPreston.com.