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.

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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

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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.

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Host Randeep Purewall initiated another evening of engaging presentations delivered to the group’s now signature warm, receptive, and diverse audience.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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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Contact Sonja Grgar
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sonjagrgar.wordpress.com

Contact Surrey Muse
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‘May 25 Surrey Muse Report’ by Randeep Purewall

The sixth meeting of Surrey Muse took place on the evening of May 25, 2012. The event was hosted by Poet Phinder Dulai, featuring Tariq Malik as its Featured Author, Valerie Parks as its Featured Poet and L.A. Burgess as its Featured Performer. The poet Susan Steudal was also on hand to sign copies of her new book of poetry, New Theatre.

Tariq Malik read from Chanting Denied Shores which explores the various streams that flowed from the 1947 partition of British India. His first story “Paani” (‘Water’), set in 1957, shows the life of a Pakistani Punjabi the village being slowly depleted of its vigor as its most ablest young men leave to pursue opportunities abroad. After Summer Pervez reciting Tariq’s poems, Tariq closed by reading from the prologue of Komagatu Maru which is told from the perspective of a Punjabi Muslim. Tariq also described the problems the book encountered in getting published given its controversial subject matter.

Valerie began with some ribald humor proving the point that women in their 50s are as sexy and as relevant as at any earlier point in their lives. She went on to read the first of four poems on the cello from her chapbook Pathways, followed by poetry on poets and women. In her Wisdom of a Thousand Fools, Valerie opened further the palette of human emotion reading poems on betrayal and hope.

The final artist of the evening, L.A. Summer, read from From LA to Paris: Dairy of a Grieving Mother, a story of loss of her daughter Paris and L.A.’s personal transformation. Moving between poetry and musical performance, from Paris conception, her body, going home, Paris’ final night, a vigil and a tribute to her, L.A. conveyed a poignant tale of grief but also triumph while weaving in Cole Porter and touches of Sally Bowles and Marlene Dietrich.

The open microphone session opened with the poems of Summer Pervez which had been composed in the days leading up to the meeting. Following Summer was Susan who read poems from New Theatre inspired by the spirit of Lenin, the Russian Revolution and the rolling fields of the Caucasus. Hari followed with his urban style poetry which reminded us why “rap” stands for rhythmic American poetry. The evening closed with two poems by Nirmal.

We are in the process of improving the quality of our photos.

Randeep Purewall is a lawyer, a writer and a cultural activist. Contact him at: surrey.muse@gmail.com
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April 27 Gathering of Surrey Muse – Report by Sonja Grgar

The April 27th gathering of Surrey Muse was yet another rich offering of poetic and social sensibility, and was rife with exploration of unique formats of literary expression. The evening was hosted by Manolis, who provided a suitably creative opening with the mention of the muses from Greek mythology that were emblematic of the arts, and with an especially pertinent reference to Calliope, the muse of poetry.

Daniela Elza began the evening’s featured presentations as the featured poet, taking the place of Bonnie Nish who was unfortunately unwell. Ms. Elza hosts the Twisted Poets Literary Salon, and is the Vancouver/Lower Mainland representative for the Federation of BC Writers. She read from her first independent collection of poetry titled ‘The Weight of Dew’, which was published in March of this year. The collection features a literal and metaphorical exploration of the landscape in Vancouver and in British Columbia, and the creative wonder and self-discovery that travelling through that area involves.

The work was imbued with delicately woven elegance, and Ms. Elza’s reading was expressive and performative. Poems such as ‘Pilgrims of Light’ depicted her experience of travelling through the Rockies, whereby the richness of the poem’s language contrasted the, as the poet put it, tendency to collapse into monosyllabic expression when faced with majestic landscape. ‘Negotiating With the Dead’ and ‘The Weight of Dew’ highlighted what is magical and mysterious in the everyday experience of life and death, and of the world in which ‘the living are the ones who are upside down’.

Ms. Elza also shared a poem called ‘Crumbling Into Harmony’ that she wrote in response to a challenge issued by a friend who claimed to dislike poetry, and who said that they might feel differently about reading it if it were about ordinary things such as yogurt. Ms. Elza was up for the challenge, and created a poem that incorporated yogurt into a poetic exploration of travel. She also shared with the audience that her friend not only enjoyed the poem once it was finished, but ended up attending a number of the poet’s readings as a result. In addition, some of Ms. Elza’s work explores the very role of poetry. In ‘About a Puddle’, she wonders whether poetry is a pathology, a dare, or a puddle that is seductive, or maybe misleading enough that we could drown in it, perhaps when we least expect it.

The questions that Ms. Elza received after her reading focused on her background, and on how she got involved with writing. She told the audience that she had an extensive academic career during which she realized that her passion and interest in language and poetry were more than a hobby, and indeed grew into a life calling. She then transitioned from academic life into that of a writer by writing a thesis about poetic experience. In addition, she indicated that the poetic exploration of travel figures prominently in ‘The Weight of Dew’ because of her life experience which exposed her to a variety of cultures early on since she was born in Bulgaria, raised in Nigeria, and has also travelled extensively.

Following Ms. Elza’s presentation, Gomathy Puri took the stage as the evening’s featured writer. Ms. Puri is an Indian Canadian writer of fiction and non-fiction. She has a background in civil service where her position involved diplomatic and business writing. Upon her retirement, she realized that she wanted to extend her writing experience into its more creative formats. Her first novel titled ‘Islands Unto Ourselves’ will be published this June, and Ms. Puri read several excerpts from that work.

The novel is set in 1970’s and 1980’s in Winnipeg, and explores the lives of Indian immigrants, and the complexities of negotiation between Indian and mainstream Canadian cultures, with the latter being decidedly less used to diversity than it is today. Ms. Puri chose that particular era because she feels that the perception of many social and gender issues in that period was vastly different from what it is today, and she wanted to remind us of how our values and beliefs have evolved since then. The novel explores issues of race and culture, of changing gender and social dynamics in the lives of the Indian ‘visible minority’ – a term which Puri astutely labels as an unfortunate epithet.

The main protagonist of the novel is Kamala who emigrates to Winnipeg with her husband and children, and is faced with the task of raising them in a new environment where she ‘wanted to make sure that the children were equally comfortable in cultures of inheritance, as well as adoption’. The novel, among other things, chronicles the shift that takes place in Kamala’s marriage where life in the new country with different values displaces her husband’s stature as the undisputed head of the family — something that he does not approve of. In addition to patriarchy, the novel explores domestic abuse through the character of Rekha, Kamala’s friend who came into the country through an arranged marriage, and finds herself in an abusive domestic setting.

Ms. Puri’s narrative style is almost journalistic in its exposition, and rich with intelligent social commentary. Moreover, it has a discernible note of compassion for human failing. The author mentioned in the discussion following her reading that it was really important to her to not only convey conflict and injustice, but to present it in a context in which redemption is always possible even in situations which are easily dismissed by society as beyond repair.

One of the questions from the audience following Ms. Puri’s presentation focused on the possibility of autobiographical influence in the novel. Ms. Puri said that although she certainly used elements from her life and the people she has known, that the novel is not autobiographical in the literal sense of the word. One of the audience members wanted to know about Ms. Puri’s creative process in writing the novel. She mentioned that although she did some of the traditional plot charting, that she already had distinct characters in mind before she began to write – and that once she started, they seemed to take on a life of their own, and they developed quickly. When asked if she prefers writing fiction or non-fiction, Ms. Puri said that non-fiction writing comes more easily to her, but that she felt that fiction was the more appropriate form for expressing her desire to write about the difficulty of finding a new identity, and about the violence and the possibility of its reform.

Following Ms. Puri’s reading, Sana Janjua took the stage with a unique performance narrative piece that is based on some of the characters from Ms.Puri’s novel. Ms. Janjua took several characters from ‘Islands Unto Ourselves’, and wrote a series of what can tentatively be described as their dramatic inner monologues. One piece was titled ‘Walls’, and seemed to present an allegorical exploration of identity where walls of a room which are bland and empty, yet have the potential to be painted, symbolize the struggle between status quo and change.

Monologues titled ‘Demon’ and ‘Husband’ were loosely based on the abused character Rekha from Ms. Puri’s novel. While ‘Demon’ personifies violence and explores it in a creative way, ‘Husband’ provides an insight into the stream of consciousness of someone committing a violent act against their partner. Overall, Ms. Janjua’s work was not only dramatic in its delivery and unique in its voice, but also was reflective of an interesting symbiotic relationship to Ms. Puri’s work where Ms. Janjua gave characters from ‘Islands Unto Ourselves’ an expanded literary identity.

Open Mic presentations were the last offering of the evening.

Open Mic began with Sonja Grgar who read four selections of her newer poetry. The poems ranged from those that used natural imagery to explore notions of mortality and the transient nature of life and creativity, to a lighter reflection on the casual contact made on the dance floor.

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Valerie B.-Taylor followed with a prose piece titled ‘Comfort Blanket’, a lyrical and emotional reflection on her mother’s memory, as well as on solitude and mortality. This strong piece had a touching, seemingly autobiographical tone.

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Jo Martinez read a prose piece titled ‘Do You Have a Dream?’ which implored the listener to persevere in the often intimidating task of realizing what they most want in life, and then setting themselves up on course to attain those dreams and goals.

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Helga Parekh presented a short performance in which she assumed the role of a (inner) child; the phrase ‘Look, I’m Good’ transformed by the variations in Helga’s tone and expression it begins as a jubilant and self-confident phrase that becomes reluctant and self-doubting to then become a statement of defeat and humiliation.

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Mariam Zohra Durrani performed her poems ‘Boots’ and ‘Sour Crude Interaction’, reminding us all of how differently we perceive poetry when it’s read as opposed to when it’s performed, with the poet making a more immediate and intimate contact with the audience.

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Finally, Manolis read two of his poems combining poetic and historical sensibilities in their expression and content.


Thank you for hosting, Manolis.

Copyright Sonja Grgar

Contact Sonja sonja.grgar@gmail.com

Contact Surrey Muse surrey.muse@gmail.com

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March 23 Surrey Muse – Report by Sonja Grgar

Poetry, song, discourse, and, of course, samosas, all abounded at the March 23rd Surrey Muse gathering, hosted by Sana Janjua.

Betsy Warland initiated the evening’s featured presentations with readings of her poetry, and excerpts from her essays, as well as from an upcoming novel set in part in Vancouver. Ms.Warland is a creative nonfiction writer, poet, essayist, teacher, manuscript consultant, and editor. She is known as a writer dedicated to emerging writers, and is the director of The Writer’s Studio Program at Simon Fraser University’s Writing and Publishing Program, and of her own five month manuscript development program, Vancouver Manuscript Intensive.

Her poems “Dark Thoughts” and “Origin of Contradiction” explored the relationship between darkness and light in our lives. Ms.Warland commented that the complexity of that relationship is in her opinion particularly relevant in what she described as today’s somber times. She also reflected on that gap that almost always exists between the author’s ideas, and the manner in which the audience perceives their work. She mentioned that she is continually surprised to learn what a different identity her work can have for the reader – in some cases completely divergent from her intentions, and her inspiration for the piece.

Ms.Warland also read from the novel she is currently working on that is partly set in Vancouver. She read an excerpt in which Oscar, the main protagonist, negotiates her own identity in the face of rigid standards of femininity while camping with other youth. Oscar soon hears about the massacre in the Norwegian summer youth camp that made the headlines a little while ago. The horrific prospect of never being safe despite appearances to the contrary reflects on her own dilemma, and her life in general.

Ms.Warland’s reading of a poem about a missing Vancouver girl that was composed entirely from excerpts of missing women posters, drew an emotional response both from the author, and from the Surrey Muse audience. The author mentioned that she is touched by the injustice and violence that young people living on the streets of East Vancouver or Downtown Eastside experience on a daily basis, and that she felt compelled to commemorate their lives with this particular work.

A few of the questions that Ms.Warland received in the discussion period after her reading focused on her preferred form of writing. The author mentioned that she favours a fluid approach to form, and likes writing in lyric prose which blends elements of both poetry and prose. And while some audience members questioned the necessity of precise definition of form, others suggested that presenting a work with reference to a specific form has practical value in that it might make for a more accessible audience presentation.

After Ms.Warland, Phinder Dulai took the stage as the evening’s featured poet. Mr.Dulai is a Surrey based poet, freelance writer, editor, and journalist who has been writing and contributing to the development of cultural communities in Surrey for the past two decades. He introduced his work as having a strong social aesthetic, and frequently exploring the relationship between identity, race, and culture. The title of his poetry collection “Basmati Brown” was motivated by the corporate competition that took place some time ago, and that was to result in one company winning exclusive rights to growing a particular type of basmati rice grain. The commodification of South Asian culture implicit in this corporate manouver inspired the tone of that poetry collection. His poem “Desert Fragments” explored both the positive and negative aspects of being rooted in the Punjabi South Asian community, while “100 Ways to Die” delivered his unique take on the issue of gang violence in that same community.

The socially conscious aesthetic permeates not only the content, but also the form of Mr.Dulai’s work. This inclination is particularly evident in his “Ragas from the Periphery” collection, since ragas are traditional melodic modes used in Indian classical music. In Mr. Dulai’s work, ragas are poems that have musical, sing song elements. The mellifluous quality of poems like “Nocturnal Song” exemplifies the lyrical capacity of the raga form.

Mr.Dulai demonstrated the diversity of tone in his work by reading a few humorous poems as well like the “Atomic Eeyore”, and the “Soothsayer’s Word” – the latter being a comic take on the meant-to-be-narratives, featuring a contrast between the author being told that he was destined to influence and direct people, and the realization of that notion in the somewhat modest reality of working as a parking lot attendant in his college days. Mr.Dulai reflected on the fact that a significant part of the writing process for him consists of asking what is poetry, and continually evolving the answer. He said that he is greatly influenced by a modernist contemporary aesthetic, but is open to expanding his writing style.

Much of the discussion following Mr.Dulai’s reading echoed the concepts and ideas brought up after Ms.Warland’s presentation, in particular those about form, genre, and the interpretative role of the reader. When asked whether he consciously changes his language when writing socially and politically pointed work, he answered that he used to write in a more emphatic political voice in those situations, but now tries to make sure that the language is more nuanced, and therefore more suitable to poetry. One audience member wanted to know if Mr.Dulai writes in forms other than poetry. Mr. Dulai replied that although he would like to embrace prose, that he finds himself unable to balance being inspired while writing in the longer format that prose most often requires, and therefore ends up always reverting to poetry. There were also a few questions about whether reading his work in front of an audience makes him experience it differently, and the author affirmed that he definitely catches different nuances on each different reading, thereby modifying, and in a sense, recreating the work at each different presentation.

The last presenter for the evening was Enrico Renz, a Burnaby based musician who is coming back more actively to his music after a twenty five year hiatus, and is poised to release his first cd this year. Though he plays several instruments, Mr.Renz focused on acoustic guitar during this gathering, and played a selection of songs that blended humour with socially and environmentally pointed sentiments, even featuring a bit of physical comedy and mimicry. He opened with a poem that used a fishbowl as a metaphor for our society of constant surveillance and invasive transparency, and obsession with technology that not only greatly contributes to the demise of environment and our health, but also frequently commodifies and stifles creativity.

“Oh, Humanity” was a song about monkeys that satirically reflected on the supposed progress humanity has made from its tree climbing primate days, and the abuse of other living beings that has occurred as a result. There was a song about a woman lost in the urban cityscape that no one is looking for anymore, once again highlighting the isolation of modern life. “Labyrinth” was the last song Mr.Renz performed, and the lyrics spoke about loving one’s own labyrinth before getting out – a poignant and beautiful metaphor for owning the complexity of one’s life, and exploiting the creative potential of pain and confusion.

Mr.Renz received a few questions about his writing and composing process, and also about performing for different types of audiences. He mentioned that he often plays music for contact dance groups – where dancers improvise spontaneous and interactive movement to music, and naturally that environment demands a very different musical sensibility than performing at a gathering such as the Surrey Muse. Mr.Renz is known for his gradual and thorough process when it comes to creating music, and in fact describes himself as not so much a music builder as a music gardener – someone who nurtures ideas patiently, and builds them to maturity over time.

Following the featured artist presentations, several writers took the stage for open mic readings. Mariam Zohra Durrani initiated the open mic presentations with a reading of a haunting poem in which the protagonist seemed to wrestle with raw and painful memories. Franci Louann, who was the featured book signing author that evening, read a couple of her poems that explored the loss of love (or, possibly, loved ones), and the painful fading of memories that goes along with that process. Valerie B.-Taylor read a prose excerpt about a woman sleeping, where the image of her body mummified by the sheets that enveloped her seemed to stand as a metaphor for the complexity and the confinement of her femininity.

Jason Sunder followed with his eclectic combination of experimental poetry that seemed to mix a modernist aesthetic with a postmodernist and absurdist subject matter and tone. Jo Martinez followed with a prose piece about the value of exploring one’s dreams and ambitions. Sonja Grgar read a micro-prose piece that is to be published this year in an anthology, and three poems featuring a raw exploration of love, loss, and gratitude. Fauzia Rafique closed the evening’s open mic with her poem “Sharia Compliant Bra” which used a humorous mother-daughter dialogue to provide a satirically biting critique of how female bodies and sexuality are handled in a conservative Islamic environment.

Copyright By Sonja Grgar

surrey.muse@gmail.com
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‘February 24 Surrey Muse’ by Sonja Grgar

 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.

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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.

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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.

Copyright Sonja Grgar
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