Wednesday, December 12, 2018

above/ground press 25th anniversary essay: Renée Sarojini Saklikar

This is the thirty-sixth in a series of short essays/reminiscences by a variety of authors and friends of the press to help mark the quarter century mark of above/ground. See links to the whole series here.

above/ & grounded: looking back on a fine press

When did you first hear of and/or interact with the press?

XRSS:  Somewhere back in 2009/2010, enrolled in the Writer’s Studio, I attended a presentation by Anne Stone: we were up in the Diamond Lounge on the third floor of SFU Vancouver, the light from the harbour drifting in on a June evening.  We exchanged stories about making little books of poetry and Anne said something like, “if you are ever in Ottawa, look up a guy called rob mclennan” and that’s how it all started. Once I graduated from the Studio, immersed in the wayward path that become the process that became my first book length poem, children of air indiaun/authorized exhibits and interjections (Nightwood Editions, 2018), I would visit all the “rob” websites: I spent lots of time online, fascinated onlooker, situated on The Outside, peering longingly Inside, to the world of small presses, all those poets, their work. I learned so much and still do by reading the poets published by above/ground press: all the ways a poem can be and become―

What did it mean for you to have titles through the press?

XRSS: Oh, everything! As if a door in a stone gate, locked for years, slowly swung open. Tribe/less, and as always, not really feeling too comfy with that word, and nevertheless wanting to belong to a cadre, a circle, a network of poets, from Outside to Inside, that helped me gain confidence in writing. I should have liked, looking back, to have not been needy for Belonging and yet—and so, when above/ground published After the Battle of Kingsway, the bees, a sequence of poems from my much larger work, THOT-J-BAP (a sci-fi epic), and the chapbook: sweet yellow paper—

―that was restorative, because the generation of those poems happened during the summer of 2013, a difficult time in my life. I remember writing After the Battle of Kingsway the bees, out of grief, and despair, the taste of aloes in my mouth. To see the book then bring delight to others: I am smiling my slow slant smile as I type these words—

Have you a story of something around the press? An event that was particularly good?

XRSS: Ottawa. Summer, circa 2014: Factory Reading Series. Upstairs in “The Tavern”.  With rob and the late Marthe Reed, both generously interested in seeking out and publishing those of us on the Outside, bringing us Inside. And Marthe invited me to submit work for DUSIE. These invitations by above/ground press, leading to other invitations, vital to a long poem writer, helping to keep me on the path of the epic, following that thread that pulls—I still cannot believe Marthe is gone, at least from this planetary orbit.

How did you see the press comparing to what else was around when you first heard of it?

XRSS: Everything that Jason Christie says!! There’s this sense of community, of work made on the margins, for the love of what is in us to make, to bring forth, despite seeming indifference from anyone else. Outside of the low misery of grasping for achievement, there abides the makers: crafting, stitching, folding, stapling, paper between our thumbs. Fragments pressed to our lips.

Renée Sarojini Saklikar recently completed her term as the first Poet Laureate for the City of Surrey, British Columbia. Her latest book is a B.C. bestseller: Listening to the Bees (Nightwood Editions, 2018). Renée’s first book, children of air india (Nightwood Editions, 2013), won the 2014 Canadian Authors Association Award for poetry. Renée co-edited The Revolving City: 51 Poems and the Stories Behind Them (Anvil Press/SFU Public Square, 2015,) a City of Vancouver book award finalist. Renée’s chapbook, After the Battle of Kingsway, the bees, (above/ground press, 2016), was a finalist for the 2017 bpNichol award. Her poetry has been made into musical and visual installations, including the opera, air india [redacted].  Renée was called to the BC Bar as a Barrister and Solicitor, served as a director for youth employment programs in the BC public service, and now teaches law and ethics for Simon Fraser University in addition to teaching creative writing at both SFU and Vancouver Community College. She curates the popular poetry reading series, Lunch Poems at SFU and serves on the boards of Event magazine and The Capilano Review and is a director for the board of the Surrey International Writers Conference.   Renée belongs to the League of Canadian Poets and The Writer’s Union of Canada (TWUC) and is active on the TWUC Equity Committee. She is currently working on an epic-length sci-fic poem that appears in journals, anthologies and chapbooks.

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