by Renée Sarojini Saklikar
Dear Poets of the League,
At month’s end, the new year, and it is raining—
I’m writing to you this afternoon having attended an ekphrasis workshop last evening at the Surrey Art Gallery. Alongside students from Kwantlen Polytechnic University and their teachers, award winning authors Jen Currin and Aislinn Hunter, we spent time with Graeme Patterson’s Secret Citadel, of which curator Jordan Strom writes, “it is…at once a portrait of the artist, ….also a revealing portrait of male identity and friendship…anti-selfie in self-absorbed times.”
Fascinating, to enter into an exhibit where instead of framed paintings, we are greeted by a series of installations made of found furniture, sculpture enlivened with stop motion animation. I asked students to look closely at the exhibit Grudge Match, comprised of video projections, a set of wood benches, bleachers, and a floor model of an old high school gym locker. Everywhere we saw, in those presences, absence.
Earlier that afternoon, absorbed in materials, I had printed a set of writing prompts–black ink on paper, torn into strips, my hands on a straight-edged ruler. The pieces then affixed to recipe cards with translucent tape. Time, that old watch-maker, an observer. Gratifying, to later give these prompt-cards out to the students who stood, sat on the floor, in conversation with art, writing—
This emanation, absence/presence is a continuing obsession, particularly when encountering other art forms: here’s an ekphrasis piece I wrote last year for the glorious online magazine, LineBreak, courtesy of subTerrain and LineBreak editor Shazia Hafiz.
In early March, working with KPU instructor and award winning author Aislinn Hunter, we hope to extend this ekphrasis experience more widely into the community, bringing KPU students and Surrey youth back to the Patterson exhibit.
One of my great joys as laureate in Surrey is to meet with writers in one-on-one consultations. Since my appointment in October, I’ve met with writers at my “laureate H.Q” the new Surrey City Centre Library and this spring, I’m based in the South Surrey Recreation and Arts Centre.
Each session, writers bring work in a variety of genres, and with their writing, they bring their hopes and dreams and questions and we share our reactions to what’s on the page. I’m struck by their desire to learn, by their shy acceptance of praise, their willingness to write down my suggestions. Always, these consultation sessions end with a sense of
energy and learning. I feel like the luckiest student. Many of the writers I meet express extreme vulnerability in sharing their work. It is a trust to receive the writing of strangers, to know someone primarily through their written word.
In February, I’ll be participating in two events that will continue what I think of as site research into Surrey: in Flux is an open studio night at the Surrey Art Gallery featuring local live performance artists, crafters, and stop-animation workshops. Later that month, I’ll be out in Newtown at Friends of the Grove and their poetry night grass roots revival, the Cedar Bark Poets Gathering.
Everything emits that continuing resonance: about the fragment, about sound and rhythm, about place—
Til next time, dear poets, I remain and faithfully, XRSS
This is the third post in an ongoing series about Renée Sarojini Saklikar‘s experience as Surrey’s first poet laureate. 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 Review and 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.