It is Port Alberni’s rich setting that brings Renee Sarojini Saklikar, Surrey’s poet laureate, to the Valley in March for a reading and guided workshop.
“I’m interested in places,” said Saklikar. “I’m particularly interested in places that have history, Aboriginal history, settler history.”
Saklikar was born in India and moved to Canada when she was young. Her first book, children of air india: un/authorized exhibits and interjections, was a series of poems that explored the bombing of Air India Flight 182, which her own aunt and uncle perished on. In her poetry, Saklikar imagines the lives and deaths of all those on board.
“What I do is something called docu-poetry,” she said. “I look at documents and lived experiences and talk about their histories. I mine that, look into it, investigate it, write poetry about it. This is my practice.”
Saklikar is trained as a lawyer, but turned to writing and poetry later in life.
“I’m interested in exploring culture and place through poetry,” she said. “So I was asked to bring this model I’m using up to Port Alberni.”
The model that Saklikar uses is one of short writing prompts. She starts out with short, simple prompts like, “I remember when,” and then works up to heavier prompts. She particularly focuses on stories about where people live and what they do.
“It seems to be working really well,” she said. “There’s so much buried in our unconscious.” She said the short prompts work to trigger these thoughts and create poetry.
“Just write,” she said. “That’s my philosophy.”
Saklikar is Surrey’s first poet laureate. The job boils down to three main duties. The first is essentially a literary ambassador. She is supported by the city of Surrey, especially the library, where she offers free writing consultations to anyone who signs up. Secondly, she is asked to write poetry. The third part of her job involves travelling to schools, community events and even prisons to practice her model and get people to do their writing.
“Then they have something they can take away,” she said.
Saklikar will be holding a free guided workshop at North Island College from 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. on March 6. Later that day, she will be holding a meet and greet at the ADSS Auditorium starting at 6 p.m., followed by a free public reading at 7 p.m.
Children of Air India is Saklikar’s first book and the one that put her on the map in Canadian literature, so she will be reading selections from that. She’ll also be reading from other pieces, including a long poem she is working on that she describes as “science fiction,” and selections from The Revolving City, a collection of 51 poems written by B.C. poets that Saklikar co-edited with Wayde Compton.
“It’s an easy, accessible way to get into poetry,” she explained.