Helga Parekh – Surrey Muse


Helga Parekh is a writer, artist, sculptor, potter, and a performer. She published a self-made chapbook of her poem ‘Learning from the Timeless Beauty Of a Tulip‘ in 2016. She won first prize from the Arts Council of Surrey for Christmas Card Verse competition in 2018. Her poetry has appeared in various publications including Saving Seeds (New West Writers, 2014), and her poems were the finalists in the Burnaby Writers Society annual writing contest in 2012. She has illustrated a children’s book ‘Ramya’s Stars‘ by Mala Ashok. It was published by Pratham Books, a not-for-profit organization in India, in multiple Indian languages to promote reading among children. It is available in Hindi and English at the Surrey Libraries. In 2017, Helga completed the Southbank Writer’s Course at the SFU Surrey. She was a member of New West Writers, a member and sometimes facilitator of Renaissance Book Writers, and she was the Group Facilitator of Surrey Muse Writers. Helga is a supporting member of Surrey Muse since 2012. At this time, she is working on another book of poems that also may contain her illustrative art.

Contact Helga

At the March 22 gathering of Surrey Muse, Helga will begin the Open Mic session. More information about the event is here:

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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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Surrey Muse August 24th 2012 Meeting Report by Sonja Grgar

The August 24th meeting of Surrey Muse offered another eclectic cocktail of literary and artistic offering. Hosted by Mariam Zohra Durrani, the event began with the featured author Sylvia Taylor reading from her newly published literary memoir Fisher Queen: A Deckhand’s Tale of the BC Coast.

Before reading from her new work, Ms. Taylor explained that it was inspired by her experience of working as a deckhand in BC’s salmon fishing fleet some years ago. She noted that it was important for her to convey a sense of being grounded in a particular place not only in this work, but in her writing in general. She mentioned that she doesn’t believe in barriers between fiction and non-fiction, and thinks that all forms of writing have an equal capacity to be authentic, and full of life.

Ms. Taylor read from several chapters of her memoir, sections titled ‘Salmon Prince’, and ‘No Atheists At Sea’. Those excerpts conveyed the experiences of looking for a catch, and the difficulty of docking the boat in the harbour on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, as well as the mysterious, and the almost mythical presence one feels at sea.

An involved discussion followed the presentation, and it touched on many different points, including the source for the book – Ms. Taylor’s journals from twenty five years back. She said that she saw the process of transforming those into a memoir as one of gathering and layering, or building what she calls a writing sandwich. She said that she sees writers as needing to have an engineer’s mind and an artist’s heart, or a combination of discipline and creativity.

When asked how she approaches memoir writing that inevitably involves descriptions of people she knows, Ms. Taylor said that she feels that as long as the writing is respectful, and does not sensationalize individuals or events, she feels okay about using material directly derived from her life experiences.

Jason Sunder was the evening’s featured poet, and followed Ms. Taylor’s presentation. He is a Vancouver writer of experimental poetry and prose. His poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming in Alive at the Center (Ooligan Press), ditch, filling Station, Memewar, Westcoast Line, and other journals of poetry and poetics.

Sunder began his presentation by reading several poems for a project he is currently working on that is all about capturing odd, involuntary moments and bodily reactions. Poems titled ‘Belch’, ‘Hiccup’, and ‘Deep Time Cough’ featured Mr. Sunder’s signature experimental poetics with elements of humour and satire. These poems draw on evolutionary, medical, and scientific jargon, and feature an involved experimentation with language structure and meaning. Sunder is a wordsmith who uses alliteration, assonance, inner rhyme, and a juxtaposition of seemingly discordant terms to achieve unique poetic effects.

An engaged discussion followed after Sunder’s reading as well, and began with a comment from someone who has heard his work read several times, and who commented that Sunder’s slower and more pronounced delivery this evening allowed the work to gain another dimension – though this audience member considered both experiences of hearing the work read quickly, and getting a fleeting trail of words and images, and being able to grasp the structure more clearly during a reading with a measured pace, meaningful in their own ways. When asked if he edits his writing a lot, Sunder said that he does, and that he always writes with constraints – focusing on certain words and certain concepts, and that those constraints give his writing a shape.

Sunder was asked if he would be interested in writing about conventional subject matter, and he responded that he wouldn’t disregard it, but that it would have to be done in an unconventional way. He said that he is mainly interested in words as embodiments of themselves, and that when he finishes a poem, he feels like a shape has been pulled out of his head, and had been given another life on paper.

After the featured poet, actress Ushna Shah took the stage as the evening’s featured artist. Ms. Shah is a Pakistani Canadian actress who has performed in various dramas, and radio and television shows. She has just begun hosting her own radio show ‘Saanjha Aasmaan’ on Radio Punjab, and she also hosts segments on ethnic television shows. She is in the process of writing a script for a television drama she plans to produce in Pakistan.

Shah comes from an artistic family, and has been acting virtually since infancy when she was cast as a baby in her mother’s play. She has since had a slew of fascinating parts such as her theatre roles in Caught in the Net, Phantom of the Opera, and Moulin Rouge. Shah says that she has found her niche in acting, and that it is her life’s passion. She is so meticulous about her work that, for example, even when once in the past she was given a chance to amend a broken romantic relationship, she purposefully put it off just so she could preserve the experience of heartbreak, and be able to apply it later on in her work.

She is currently working on a play titled Closer, based on a movie of the same name directed by Mike Nichols. With the participation of Surrey Muse’s own Randeep Purewall, Ms. Shah enacted an emotional scene from the play, which was followed by an involved, and at times, even heated discussion with the audience. Much of the discourse centered on Shah’s approach to identifying with the parts she plays. She said that she enjoys playing characters that are very different from her, such as, for example, overtly seductive and manipulative women. She said that actors don’t judge, and are in fact required to embody a character they play without censorship in order to do their job adequately and whole-heartedly.

After our last featured artist, it was time for the Open Mic, and Helga Parekh launched this portion of the evening with a pensive and touching ‘Universe Is Trying to Send a Message’. The poem’s memorable last line of ‘Will you come with me, while I am still me’ resonated with the audience. Helga followed this piece with a funny and sultry poem ‘This Dance’, which she performed to some guitar beats.

David Burnell followed with excerpts from Elevation, his first novel, and one from his latest fantasy book, The Coven of the Unholy, which featured a young woman alone, and caught in a storm with what appears to be a mysterious intruder.

Enrico Renz continued Ms. Parekh’s musical open mic initiative with a couple of songs sung to guitar music: a lyrical ‘Like a Flashflood’ that wanders if finding too true of a love can be unsettling, and the mournful ‘She’s Lost to the Town’, which depicts a woman lost to the streets, and whom no one is looking for.

Amy Girard took the stage with several pieces of expressive, musical poetry; poems titled ‘Dragonfly’, and ‘Sometimes That’s a Reason to Stop’ emanated deep lyricism, and were read in a melodic manner.

Roberta Joehle followed her daughter with a poem about a woman watching a dying relative, and a deeply emotional ‘A Bad Day’, which explores one’s journey of recovering from cancer.

Tarek Kashef read three short dialogues that were inspired by his experiences dancing salsa, while Farideh Kheradmand shared a poem inspired by the recent death of a beached whale on a local shore, as well as a piece about used books.

Kate Sully presented two pieces of socially and politically aware poetry, one exploring corporate greed, and the other inspired by an actual event, a hanging of a girl in Iran.

Sonja Grgar closed this evening’s extensive open mic offering with a few poems which lamented a sense of isolation in today’s technology crazed, and increasingly violent world.  


Copyright Sonja Grgar 2012

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Surrey Muse July 27th 2012 Meeting Report by Sonja Grgar

Surrey Muse - July 27-12-group

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 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.


Surrey Muse - July 27-12-arnott

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.

Surrey Muse - July 27-12-franci

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.

Surrey Muse - July 27-12-hari1

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.

Surrey Muse - July 27-12-shay
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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Nov 23-2012 Gathering of Surrey Muse – First Anniversary Celebration

Your Presence is urgently required
To celebrate
The First Anniversary of Surrey Muse
(a potluck!)

Guest Author Report on Surrey Muse
Featured Poet Open Mic
Featured Performer Open Mic
Open Mic Opener Sana Janjua
Book Signing Author All Authors Welcome
Host Valerie B.-Taylor

5:30 – 8:30 PM
Room 418 – City Centre branch
Surrey Public Library
Phone: (604) 598-7420
(Surrey Central skytrain)

Book Table

Free event
Donations welcome

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