The newly appointed Poet Laureate for the City of Surrey, Renée Saklikar, incorporates her poet practice of place and community to connect people living in Surrey.
“Being a Poet Laureate for the City of Surrey is both terrifying and wonderful all at the same time,” says Renée Saklikar.
Saklikar, a local author, won the 2014 Canadian Authors Literary Award for her book of poems children of air india: un/authorized exhibits and interjections. In November of 2015 her book of poems was turned into an opera and presented at the SFU Woodwards campus.
Saklikar makes use of place and community, literacy and language, to foster connections between people of different cultures who reside in one of the six towns that shape Surrey. She digs deep, behind the news headlines and into everyday life, to understand what is actually happening in the city. She is intent on using her heart, mind and voice to create spaces for people who are interested in coming together through poetry and to create art, and culture, that reflects the beauty and potential of Surrey.
Neighbourhood stories reclaim Surrey’s identity
Saklikar is eager to address what it means to be part of an intercultural and multilingual community. Her immediate plans include working with youth and seniors to form poetry ambassadors, members of the community who are willing to share their personal stories of immigration and settlement. By focusing on the richness of different cultures that exist in Surrey, Saklikar hopes to use storytelling to reclaim the identity of one of the fastest growing cities in B.C.
Another priority for Saklikar is to work with local cultural and arts centres to generate a network of support from institutions across the city. She has already arranged listening tours with nine community partner organizations, and she continues to receive invitations from important events like Surrey’s International Writer’s Festival.
Community through poetry
According to Councillor Judy Villeneuve, the Poet Laureate position is important for building a welcoming and inclusive city that creates space for the more than 40 different cultures residing in Surrey.
“We want to give a voice to the people living in Surrey to help elevate the goals of the city, to build and promote art and culture as part of a healthy and sustainable community,” says Villeneuve.
The City of Surrey is also interested in the economic development prospects of creative industries that are just as lucrative as tourism and the sports industry. Villeneuve is keen to encourage people to live, work and play in Surrey, rather to go somewhere else where the arts might be more appreciated.
Villeneuve, who chairs both the Public Arts Advisory Committee and the Metro Vancouver Cultural Committee, expressed a great deal of admiration for Heidi Greco, a local writer and poet living in Surrey who brought the idea forward to establish a Poet Laureate. Villeneuve and Greco, along with various community institutions and colleges involved in public art and culture, worked together to establish the first Poet Laureate role for the City of Surrey.
Saklikar is now figuring out how to balance her hectic work schedule with her pioneering role as Poet Laureate. Like any artist, she craves the variation, flexibility and space to be creative and make connections.
“It’s about finding time to do the reading, the writing, and then being part of the community, so I can help build the community using poetry,” says Saklikar.
Her most recent publication is a collaboration with Wayde Compton called The Revolving City: 51 poems and the stories behind them, which includes a number of entries from poets who call Surrey home.
For more information visit www.surreylibraries.ca