The preciously rare, sun-soaked Surrey days were not enough temptation for the literature and art enthusiasts of the Surrey Muse group, as the members showed up in plentiful numbers for the July 27th meeting.
Host Randeep Purewall initiated another evening of engaging presentations delivered to the group’s now signature warm, receptive, and diverse audience.
He first congratulated Gomathy Puri, whose novel Islands Unto Ourselves was published in June, and then he introduced Joanne Arnott, the evening’s featured author.
Ms. Arnott is a writer and activist of Metis background who draws on the interplay between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal backgrounds in her work. She is originally from Manitoba, and currently lives in Richmond, BC. In addition to being a writer and activist, Ms. Arnott is a poet, educator, and speaker who is also a founding member of the Aboriginal Writers Collective West Coast, and the 1992 winner of the League of Canadian Poets Gerald Lampert Award for her first book of poetry, Wiles of Girlhood.
The author talked about how in her family the parts that no one wants to discuss are the Mohawk and possibly Anishinabe ancestry, and that she hopes that one day that will all be clearer, but until then, she is ‘travelling without papers’. Ms. Arnott mentioned that she got into writing as a means of expressing her many thoughts and ideas. She described herself as very opinionated, but also afraid of people, so putting thoughts on the page seemed like a perfect way to nurture them without having to be immediately confrontational.
She began today’s presentation by reading from her book Breasting the Waves: On Writing and Healing, and sharing a narrative about a woman having a baby in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Then we heard a piece that was published in West Coast Line magazine about a young woman taking dance classes, and trying to understand her life in the context of Vancouver’s Aboriginal cultural landscape.
The desire to connect with one’s Aboriginal roots, and yet the complexity and perhaps even confusion that arises in that process, permeated many of the works Ms. Arnott shared, including one titled Small Birds, Sounds Out of Silence that will be coming out in an indigenous anthology. The piece focuses on a woman attempting to raise a baby in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and desiring, but not getting input from the Aboriginal Elders. The author closed the presentation with a pithy rhyme that many writers can likely relate to, and which, to paraphrase it closely, read as, ‘I’ve got a dollar, cigarettes, card from the library / they won’t employ me in a poem breaking factory’.
The discussion following Ms. Arnott’s presentation touched on several interesting points. When asked how and when she writes, Ms. Arnott said that she usually writes out of a mood, an irritation, out of something uncomfortable, but not necessarily negative. She tends to write long, and then cuts back afterwards, and is particularly attentive to how the work sounds when she performs it in front of an audience because that experience gives her clues for editing. She also says that she never throws out what she thinks is not good, because what she hates now, she knows she might like later, or find some sort of ‘meat’ in it to fuel future projects.
One of the audience members was curious about Ms. Arnott’s activist background, so the author explained that it reaches back to her childhood, when her parents took her to peace marches. A turning point in her activist work was participating in a retreat with a Mohawk writer, which encouraged her to apply activist ideas in her writers collective because she felt that just listening to powerful, and at times sorrow drenched stories, was not enough.
The evening’s featured poet Franci Louann followed Joanne Arnott’s presentation with a very different literary style and subject matter. Ms. Louann is the author of four collections of poems, and is a writer who is unconditionally committed to the development of poetry and poetics. To that end, she organizes poetry readings in New Westminster and Vancouver, and is the co-founder of Poetic Justice, a New Westminster poetry group that meets weekly.
Ms. Louann prefers shorter poetry of varying style and content, and has an expressive and melodious performance style in which she delivers each word with measured impact, and thereby allows the audience to absorb her work more fully. The author shared with the Surrey Muse audience a varied selection from her rich body of work. She began by reading a poem called Encounter from Woman’s Eye, an anthology assembled by Dorothy Livesay, and followed it by a poem that won the Reverberations Magazine 25th anniversary contest. It is titled Sideview, and is about the experience of watching a Solomon Island musical group perform at Vancouver’s Folk Music Festival.
Ms. Louann also shared a haiku poem that she wrote in the memory of Anne Mackay, a brilliant haiku poet and her friend, and then followed by a few samples from her collection Beach Cardiology including poems titled Tsunami News, Completion, and the titular Beach Cardiology in which the speaker ponders whether on a beach where stones resemble the shape of a heart, the hearts of people present on the beach are unmoved, and stone-like themselves. Morning over the Frasier is a poem from the New Westminster’s Royal City Poets Anthology which pays an homage to the unique poetic quality of the Frasier Valley landscape.
Ms. Louann’s eclectic offering also included poems that dealt with emotional and physical longing such as her erotic poem Rhapsody in Red with the memorable last line, to closely paraphrase, ‘When our love came red, it filled the room’. Half-Moon which was featured on CBC radio deals with the loss of a loved one’s presence by referencing the speaker as ‘This half’, and extending that description at the end of the poem to ‘This half without you’.
Once again, an involved discussion with the audience followed this presentation as well. When asked what her writing space is like, Ms. Louann revealed that she prefers working in a public space such as a café where there are less distractions than at home. She also workshops her poetry with her writers group, and edits heavily based on their feedback. She says that she enjoys workshopping because of the intelligent input she gets from others, and she finds that it ultimately helps her to create better work. One of the writers in the room responded that she finds that interesting because she herself never workshops, and doesn’t find the process useful at all because it can interfere with the uniqueness of one’s creative voice.
Another person asked Ms. Louann what she thinks a poem should do for its audience or its reader. She responded that perhaps a poem should change someone’s feelings about something, or give you imagery that takes you to a previously unvisited intellectual or creative place. However, she said that poetry for her is not about reaching a designated impact, but rather that hearing a good poem is like listening to a piece of music – it’s about the process, and the aesthetic experience of that moment. Other audience members echoed that sentiment by questioning the notion that a poem has to do anything specific at all; just the experience of hearing it can be its own reward.
The evening’s last featured artist, Hari Alluri, took the stage after Ms. Louann. Mr. Alluri is a Vancouver based Filipino South Asian filmmaker and poet, who, in addition to his latest film project, Pasalubong: Gifts from the Journey (NFB, 2010), also created Memory Block as a part of The Colouring Book: Digital Shorts by Artists of Colour (NFB, 2008), and Acknowledge (2009), which is part of Cineworks’ Cinematic Cartographies workshop.
Mr. Alluri is a poet himself, and before screening the film, he shared a poem of his titled Director’s Notes for Memory Blocked Script. The work had a list poem, as well as spoken word qualities that were reflected both in its written form, and in Alluri’s performance style. The poem was an excellent introduction to the film because poetry led Alluri towards filmmaking. A producer took an interest in his work at one of his poetry readings, and suggested that he consider making a short film loosely based on his poetry. The producer was able to secure the interest and the funding of the National Film Board of Canada for Alluri’s first short film titled Pasalubong: Gifts from the Journey (2010). The film was screened at this gathering, and was followed immediately by a discussion with the audience.
The film follows Bonifacio, a young Filipino man who is returning to his birthplace for his grandmother’s funeral, and is wracked by anxiety and guilt towards his roots, and with regards to what his cultural and emotional loyalties should be. The film is a reflection on the seemingly never-ending partings with loved ones that the lives of most immigrants are consistently punctuated by, especially when they revisit their birthplace either in person or in their imagination. The film is filled with reflections, shadows, and memories, and has a dream-like quality.
Mr. Alluri received diverse feedback upon the film’s screening. A number of individuals spoke to the fact that they enjoyed the loose narrative structure, and the reflective tone, while one audience member expressed that he would have liked to have seen more explicitly detailed background on all of the characters in the film. Mr. Alluri listened to both types of feedback attentively, and explained that he left the pieces missing in the narrative on purpose because he really wanted to draw on the audience’s own imaginative capacity to fill in any existing blanks.
There was also a lot of interest in how Mr. Alluri got involved with filmmaking, and what the process was like on his very first project which he directed. He mentioned that he attributes his interest in film to an interest in people, and in the human psyche, and that those both reach back to his childhood. He found the filmmaking process to be challenging, but rewarding, and said that one of the most interesting things was how quickly everything had to be done in order to meet budgetary demands. Also, creative adjustments had to be consistently made during the filming in order to meet budgetary, time, and location constraints, and he found that balancing act to be particularly fascinating.
As usual, Open Mic readings followed the evening’s featured artists with Timothy Shay as the opening performer. Mr. Shay read several of his poems, including My Mother Dreamed, which featured an emotionally loaded recollection of a family’s past, and featured visceral contrasting imagery such as ‘idiot songs of hopeful children’, which brought out the speaker’s emotional conflict and pain.
Then Valerie B-Taylor took the stage to read for Gomathy Puri. We heard the few opening pages of Gomathy’s recently published debut novel Islands Unto Ourselves, featuring the arrival of an immigrant family to 1970’s Winnipeg, and their first impressions and thoughts in the new environment. Helga Parekh followed with a haiku offering titled To China I Fly, and a poem Under Currents which mused on a breeze that equally touches ‘the lonely, the happy, and the forgotten’.
Jo Martinez was the next performer, and read My Heart, a poem which used free verse to explore the varying complex emotions that the speaker’s heart stands for.
Tarek Kashef followed with a whimsical offering of a couple of poems; Blaine Come Here explored the concepts of light and magic, while I am a Fish weighed in on the notions of humility versus conceit.
Lastly, I, Sonja Grgar, shared three poems that explored a longing for connection, and in If I Could Only Tell Him, elegized the speaker’s inability to share deep and difficult truths in close personal relationships.
Copyright Sonja Grgar 2012
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