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
Contact Surrey Muse
Surrey Muse 2013 Program
Information on Surrey Muse Gatherings