Surrey Muse October 26th 2012 Meeting Report by Sonja Grgar

A rich display of versatility and creativity is what we have come to expect out of Surrey Muse meetings, and October 26th gathering certainly fit that bill. Host Sonja Grgar began the evening by introducing guDSCF1259est author Cecily Nicholson.

Cecily Nicholson is a compelling voice connecting written word with the lives of people struggling in an urban environment. A powerful communicator, she expresses herself in poetry, prose, art, and activism, creating beauty in all. Cecily has worked in the Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community since 2000, and is currently the administrator of Gallery Gachet.

She has collaborated this past year with the Centre for Innovation in Culture and the Arts in Canada of Thompson Rivers University, the Audain Gallery of Simon Fraser University, and VIVO Media Arts. Cecily is a part of the No One is Illegal Vancouver press release collectives, and the Purple Thistle Institute. Cecily published her first book Triage (Talonbooks, 2011) last year, and new work is forthcoming.

Even though she was introduced as the guest author, Cecily mostly shared her poetry at tonight’s gathering. Her poetry has a strong political voice, focuses on the themes of urban grit and isolation, and has a stream of consciousness feel. The author recited her work with a subtle performance flair as she began her presentation with excerpts from her Image collection. ‘What Will’ was inspired by her visit to a former residential school, and features such memorable verses as, to closely paraphrase, ‘The kernel white and bitter in my mouth, an extraction’.

Cecily also shared a few pieces from Armed Cell 2, an online political journal. We heard a poem about imprisoned women in Montreal, and a poem titled ‘Hands’ with the intriguing image of ‘Rock takes flight’.

The lively discussion that followed Cecily’s reading centered on the author’s strong political sensibilities. She mentioned that she views poetry as a safe, rejuvenating way to express political thought, and that such work is meaningful to her because of its capacity to enhance compassion.

Cecily said that she is motivated to work with language in a way that undoes its oppressive tendencies. She believes in self-publishing, and writes poetry almost exclusively for her creative expression – prose is reserved for her academic writing. She also has strong ties to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside both in her professional and literary life, and that community continues to inspire her to write poetry.


Featured poet Ashok Bhargava followed Cecily Nicholson’s presentation with his soulful and nostalgic body of work. Ashok is the author of four collections of poems. Writing both in English and Hindi, he has published Mirror of Dreams, A Kernel of Truth, Skipping Stones, and Lost in the Morning Calm.

Ashok’s poetry memorializes people, places, and pleasantries. He is the soft-talker, the inspirational voice, someone who strives to bring joy to the people around him through his poems. At this time, Ashok is working on two interesting poetry book projects. Parallel Lines focuses on people and places we are close to but never meet or reach them, and Tomorrow Never Comes laments the loss of near and dear, as well as the loss of places left behind.

Ashok is a valued cultural activist who has worked to develop literary and art communities in the Lower Mainland. He is the founder of Writers International Network Canada (WIN Canada) which recognizes writers, poets, and artists of diverse backgrounds and genres on a yearly basis.

During his presentation, Ashok mentioned that he began writing when his children grew up. He finds the feeling of emptiness and loneliness productive, and these days he writes with a haiku group that has motivated him to focus on the aspect of breath in his work.

He began his presentation with love poems titled ‘A Perfect Moment’, and ‘Words’. The latter muses on the concept of ‘infinity of either side’ of love. We then heard ‘Clay Prophet’, as well as a poem where each section was dedicated to days of the week. This particular work mused on Ashok’s memories of life in India, and had a meditative and nostalgic tone epitomized by the striking line, ‘My silence is complete, my emptiness is full’. Discussion following Ashok’s presentation centered on form, and the fact that the author’s poetry often reads like narrative prose.

Finishing off the evening’s presentations was the featured performer Mariam Zohra Durrani who showed us an experimental short film that was still a work in progress.

Mariam Zohra Durrani is a poet who has branched out into multi-disciplinary art that combines drama, painting, poetry, and music. Mariam is a member of the New Westminster Writers group, and a founding Member and the Secretary of Surrey Muse. As well, she is the group’s Artist and Graphic Designer who creates an event poster each month.

Mariam published her first collection of poetry Not to Understand (Diva Publications, Toronto, 1990) at the age of fourteen, offering her poems from ages nine to thirteen. Later, her poems appeared in Toronto’s Feminist Quarterly Fireweed, and in Transitions, a textbook anthology produced for Grade 10 students by the Peel Board of Education.

A selection of Mariam’s poetry will be published in the upcoming anthology of New West Writers, Naked Crossings (Ed. Valerie B.-Taylor). In addition to Surrey Muse, Mariam has presented her poetry at Hogan’s Alley and Twisted Poets in Vancouver, and Poetic Justice and Renaissance Books in New Westminister. She is also a Desktop Publisher, Graphic Designer, and a Music Publishing Administrator in Vancouver.

Mariam’s short film was shot on video, and it opens with an image of a shadow that persists throughout the work. The film had a few words in the audio, but they were not the focus of the piece. The visuals in the film included shots of urban Vancouver landscape, and those depicting a woman dancing by herself in a room with her eyes closed, almost deliberately oblivious to anyone’s gaze, and fully in tune with her own inner world.

Mariam mentioned that she feels that a medium has its own authenticity, and that she wanted this piece to be about the integrity of the medium, and about subtext. She also commented on how certain features of the film came about quite accidentally, but ended up being a great addition to the final project.

The audience mostly embraced the abstraction in Mariam’s presentation, and felt that it was creative, and thought-provoking. However, a few individuals expressed that they would have been able to relate more easily to the film had it featured a more concrete narrative line.

In the last portion of the evening, Jo Martinez launched the Open Mic presentations with several poems: ‘Waves of the Ocean’ used rhyme and repetition to achieve its poetic effects, and ‘Red Turns Into Green’ urged that it is ‘Time to go for it, time to be seen’. Val Mossop followed with ‘Revenge’, a short humorous prose piece, while Helga Parekh shared a poem titled ‘Through a Darkened Door’ where each line began with a successive letter of the alphabet.

Toni Levi shared her piece ‘Twin Peaks’, while Sana Janjua read a short story about a first date between two people from different ethnicities and religious backgrounds, and the complexities that ensue as a result. Kate Sully shared her intellectually provocative poem ‘Drahma’ which contained a memorable line about ‘Mortgaging the unborn’.

Copyright Sonja Grgar 2012

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