by Renée Sarojini Saklikar
Dear Poets of the League,
This first day of March and outside my office window, intimation of blossom, a set of cherry trees, the park below. Yes, it’s raining, again, in torrents—and I’m inside working on volume two of thecanadaproject, a long poem, The Heart of The Journey Bears All Patterns, commonly known as Thot-j-Bap, excerpts of which will appear in chapbooks this spring, published by two micro-presses I admire: Nous-Zot (U.S.) and above/ground (Ottawa). I’m deep into my manuscript, first begun in 2008 and still continuing, a massive journey poem, with a vast amalgam of characters. Nothing like torrential rain to help seed the work inside—
As Laureate, two February events in Surrey, captivated my imagination: in Flux, an open studio night at the Surrey Art Gallery featuring local live performance artists, crafters, and stop-animation workshops: you can see photos from the event here.
Thanks to the Surrey Art Gallery and Surrey Libraries, I was given the opportunity to set up an “erasure poetry shop” replete with a long table, lots of discard books and material, glue, scissors: happiness. The text cut, redacted, transformed. I worked with a straight edge ruler, ripped out pages, used heavy black felt-tipped markers to blot out text, in order to foreground new ways of seeing. Head bent, seated at the table, I found a rhythm with gesture. And as I worked, I welcomed people to drop in and join me: we talked about books, about words as material, working as we talked. There’s a vibe in making things, the way we reach out to books, hold them, before that still slightly taboo act: to rip a book, bend the binding, strike through and mark another person’s narrative, in order to create new things: list poems, new stories from old words. Later, at an open-mic, we shared our found poems. I loved watching the care with which people held their new-old-found-marked work. The way surface material changes, blacked-out, taken out, revived.
Later in the month, on a “dark and stormy night” I joined a poetry circle in Newtown at Friends of the Grove and their poetry night grass roots revival, the Cedar Bark Poets Gathering. Here’s a snippet from a beautiful article about the event, which I hope you’ll read, courtesy of the writer and community activist, David Dalley:
“Our circle ends with Renée reading from her books and commenting on everyone’s poems. She leaves us copies of her books Children of Air India and The Revolving City both of which are now in the Cedar Bark Poets library and available for loan by request.
“Days later, in an email, Renée reflects on her evening with the Cedar Bark Poets: ‘The poets who gathered with me on Saturday night in Newton shared such honest poetry, wrung from the challenges of their life: heartache, violence, and from their joys. It was wonderful, intense, thought-provoking: when each poet shared their work, I felt so in the moment with authentic experience.’
“Each step we take towards building a stronger neighbourhood is a step into uncharted territory. The issues we face in our neighbourhood are complicated and messy and there are rarely well-defined answers or directions. Each step is a courageous act of creativity.”
Next week, I will re-visit Graeme Patterson’s Secret Citadel, delighted to do so with a group of Surrey teens. We’ll explore whether the exhibit will prompt ideas about living in Surrey and later in the month, inspired by the League, I’ll host another Honey, Hives and Poetry in the City event with GG winner, Dr. Mark Winston and League Poet, Heidi Greco.
Everything emits that continuing resonance: about the fragment, about sound and rhythm, about place—Till next time, dear poets, I remain and faithfully, XRSS
This is the fourth post in an ongoing series about Renée Sarojini Saklikar‘s experience as Surrey’s first poet laureate. Find the third post, “To share in the writing—,” here; find the first post, “Being Laureate,” here; find the second, “To travel the city, listening–” here.
Renée Sarojini Saklikar writes thecanadaproject, a life-long poem chronicle that includes poetry, fiction, and essays. Work from the project is widely published in journals, anthologies and chapbooks. The first completed book from thecanadaproject is children of air india, un/authorized exhibits and interjections, (Nightwood Editions, 2013) winner of the 2014 Canadian Authors Association Award for poetry and a finalist for the 2014 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Award. Trained as a lawyer at the University of British Columbia, with a degree in English Literature, Renée was called to the British Columbia Bar in 1991. A graduate of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University, Renée is currently a mentor and instructor for the university and co-founder of a new poetry reading series, Lunch Poems at SFU. In September 2015, with acclaimed author Wayde Compton, Renée co-edited The Revolving City: 51 Poems and the Stories Behind Them (Anvil Press/SFU Public Square). Renée serves as an advocate on the national council of The Writer’s Union of Canada and is at work on the second volume of thecanadaproject, excerpts of which can be found in the journals Eleven Eleven, The Capilano Reviewand online at DUSIE and The Rusty Toque. Renée is working on a sequence of bee poems based on her collaboration with well-known biologist, Dr. Mark Winston. On October 20, 2015, Renée was appointed Poet Laureate for the City of Surrey. She is a member of the League of Canadian Poets.