The third meeting of Surrey Muse took place on February 24th, 2012, and was hosted by Mariam Zohra-Durrani. The event featured another blend of versatile artistic presentations, diverse open mic readings, and lively discourse.
Ben Nuttall-Smith launched the evening with readings from his autobiographical novel ‘Secrets Kept / Secrets Told’. The novel is based on the author’s journey of healing from childhood sexual abuse.
Nuttall-Smith pointed out that, although dealing with difficult subject matter, his book is about survival and personal transformation, and therefore has a very positive tone in its essence. He explained that the reason he highlights that the book is not filled with despair despite its emotionally weighty subject matter is that, in his experience, audiences are less receptive to books dealing with heavy topics. It seems most readers don’t take into consideration that the same work can not only depict the negative experiences, but also convey how they have been overcome over time, and how they made the survivor more resilient, and once again capable of experiencing life fully.
The excerpt Nuttall-Smith read featured a childhood memory from war-torn England where boyhood mischievous victory of sneaking candy away from the boarding school dorm with his sister, was interrupted by a bombing. One got the sense that this contrast between childhood innocence and violence beyond one’s control is the overarching metaphor for many of the life experiences Nuttall-Smith wove into the book.
The author also read an excerpt from his historical fiction ‘Blood, Feathers & Holy Men’ which explores Precolumbian history in the Americas, and was specifically inspired by the legend of Quetzalcoatl, an alleged Toltec ruler of that period. The featured excerpt described a wonderfully detailed Quetzalcoatl’s vision of impending doom and destruction. Nuttall-Smith noted the great responsibility involved in depicting another culture’s history, and the joy of having the book serve as a testament to some of the great achievements of that civilization, thereby debunking deeply ingrained stereotypes that the Toltec culture was solely preoccupied with combat and violence.
Some of the questions that Mr. Nuttall-Smith received in the discussion period following his presentation focused on the amount of research it took him to produce ‘Blood, Feathers & Holy Men’, for which he made several trips to Mexico. Some also wondered about the amount of time it took him to write ‘Secrets Kept / Secrets Told’. He reflected that the latter was decades in the making, and that it paralleled the evolution of his healing journey, while also being motivated by the need to help other survivors. The author was particularly moved by the statistic that one in five men in the prison system today were victims of childhood sexual abuse.
Candice James took the stage after Ben Nuttall-Smith as the evening’s featured poet. Ms. James is the current Poet Laureate of the city of New Westminster, a full member of the League of Canadian Poets, member of the British Columbia Writers Federation, and Vice President of Poetic Justice poetry group. Ms. James is known for her distinctive reading voice, and her presentation had a quality of a dramatic performance. She read from several of her poetry collections, and her poems most often featured discernible rhyme which gave the work a melodic quality.
One of the audience members actually pointed out after the reading that the regular use of rhyme seems to be rare in poetry today, and commended Ms. James for the courage to go against that apparent poetic trend. Ms. James responded that she felt that, although not all poetry has to have rhyme, that all of it should have rhythm. Towards the end of her reading, she echoed some of Mr. Nuttall-Smith’s observations from earlier about audiences being more reluctant to embrace difficult or dark subject matter in writing. She said that in tonight’s reading, she specifically stayed away from some of her darker poems for that very reason. However, the audience present at this gathering obviously had a bit of a different approach since, upon hearing about that reservation, they urged her to read a few of her darker poems which were then very well received.
In the discussion period, several questions for Ms. James expressed the curiosity about what her writing process was like, and how she started writing in the first place. She mentioned that she began writing almost by accident when she was a young mother, and had to accompany her child to school, and wait there for her for several hours each day. She mentioned that she writes and jots down ideas all the time, and usually immediately after they occur.
In a unique set of circumstances, open mic followed Ms. James’ reading while some technical difficulties were resolved for the last presenter. Fauzia Rafique, Dulai sisters.
Jason Sunder began the open mic readings, and once again delighted the audience with his trademark poetic style that blends experimental technique with humour and social satire.
Ibrahim Honjo, who had a book signing that evening, also read from several of his poetry collections. His work echoed the negotiation with one’s past, and one’s cultural sensibility in a new environment.
The open mic readers in general had a range of writing experience, and presented with a variety of literary styles, subject matter, and even media.
We heard poetry, an essay, a recipe, and had a live performance of an original song set to the tune of a guitar.
Nadya Cleary Dulai
After the open mic, the last of the evening’s featured artists took the stage with a power point presentation about her work. Tabatha Visutskie is an actress, flimmaker, and a writer, and a member of the New West Writers group.
Her versatile artistic achievements include a Best Actress Award for the 2011 feature film ‘Forgive Me Father’; she wrote, executive produced and acted in a short film called ‘Making It’; the play she co-wrote titled ‘Green’ was performed at the 2011 Festival of Volunteers, and she provided two character voices on a popular children’s animated series ‘Snapatoonies’. Ms. Visutskie spoke about being creative from a young age, and routinely conjuring little theatrical performances with her twin sister. She said that she had a learning disability that, because of how it was presented to her by adults, damaged her artistic self-esteem, particularly when it came to writing. For years she shied away from fully engaging with creative writing, though she always kept a journal. She remembers that at one point one of her teachers made a world of difference by telling her that she had a gift for writing, and that she should make sure she used it to the fullest. With several writing projects currently on hand, Ms. Visutskie feels like these days she is indeed thoroughly exploring her gift.
After the presentation about her body of work, Ms. Visutskie and two volunteers, Jo Martinez and Robin Visutskie, read a scene from a play she is currently working on titled ‘Counting Down’. The scene featured a disgruntled waitress who is disengaged from her job, and rushes indecisive restaurant patrons on their order. The play was performed at the 2012 Festival of Volunteers.
Most notable comments Ms. Visutskie received in the discussion period focused on the audiences’ admiration highlighting the fact that she is in a position to inspire others to successfully engage with their talent.