Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Serial Interview with Renée Sarojini Saklikar : THOT-J-BAP (The Heart of This Journey Bears All Patterns)
Renée Sarojini Saklikar writes the life-long poem chronicle, thecanada?project and in it are many things, including books, chapbooks, poems published in journals and anthologies, and artistic and musical collaborations. Her books include the ground-breaking, children of air india, un/authorized exhibits and interjections (Nightwood Editions, 2013) about the bombing of Air India Flight 182; and Listening to the Bees (Nightwood Editions, 2018), (with Dr Mark Winston), as well as the anthology, The Revolving City: 51 Poems and The Stories Behind Them (Anvil Press/ SFU, 2016) (with Wayde Compton). Her work has been adapted into opera (air india [redacted]) and into music (Bee Studies) both with Turning Point Ensemble. She is the curator of Lunch Poems at SFU and Vancouver’s first free Poetry Phone, 1-833-POEMS-4-U (@downtownvanbia).
THOT J BAP is an epic fantasy written in poetry, selections of which have appeared over the years in chapbooks published by Nous-Zot, above/ground, and Nomados presses. The first book in the series, Bramah and the Beggar Boy, is forthcoming later this spring with Nightwood Editions and is available direct from Harbour Publishing: https:// harbourpublishing.com/products/9780889714021
This serial interview will take place over several months, with postings that occur in instalments.
CT: Before we formally jump into THOT-J-BAP (The Heart of This Journey Bears All Patterns), tell me a bit more about your blog, thecanada?project , which is described as a life-long chronicle and combines essays, interviews, and events/activities related to your own writing practices and that of others in the literary and arts communities. One could say that these forms are all part of one another,
including the epic form of THOT-J-BAP….
RSJ: Regarding thecanada?project…over the last two years I wrote an essay fragment about something momentous in the process of this life-long poem chronicle, of which all my creative work including THOT J BAP is a part...I’ve replicated the text here:
thecanadaproject is a life-long poem chronicle about place, identity, language. In it are many things, including published material and works in progress such as a prose poem novel, a series of essays about life from India to Canada, coast to coast as well as many sequences of poems, inpart, about the places I’ve lived: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Northern Ontario, Northern Quebec, Montreal, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. The project will end when I end. It is a series of fragments always asking, when does the poem begin?
thecanadaproject interviews series
To interview another is to engage in process: discovery, interrogation. The question as astrolabe can also be weapon. How to leave space for the subject – that’s what I think about when approaching writers and artists…this section is also about gratitude, for those who do the work. Always there is the challenge: how to stay open—what did Martha Graham exhort?— keep the channel open. Is poetry a project? Dorothea Lasky, whose work I love, thinks not. And yet…
“This is a site of fragments. This is part of a long poem. This is not enough time. This is time, and its dimensions.”
Rethinking Canada this new decade
One of my preoccupations as a creative worker: what does it mean to be Canadian? What layers of being make identity complex: citizen-settler-immigrant—Canada was/is a promised land, a paradise, but it is jagged.
For some time now, as I read and listen to Indigenous writers such as Jordan Abel, Joanne Arnott, Billy Ray Belcourt (A Country is How Men Hunt), Therese Mailhout (Heartberries) and many more; as I observe the pain and discomfort this word and concept, “Canada” carries for many—as I read and reread documents about Indian Residential Schools, I’m becoming more and more uneasy with my own implication in structures, and systems.
And this comes to me: Language is a structural system. So, this new decade: thecanadaproject, my lifelong poem chronicle, will now be thecanada?project.
CT: THOT-J-BAP is considered a long poem, but it's also described as an epic, as well as a multi-part series emerging in instalments. [Bramah and the Beggar Boy to be published by Nightwood Editions and distributed/marketed by Harbour Publishing in April 2021].
What attracts you to the epic, the chronology, the instalment, the life-long, and the blog --all of which have resonance with a notion of a 'public' -- in terms of Thot-J-Bap, and in terms of your own engagement with forms of cultural expression and how these forms are enacted?
RJS: So, about THOT J BAP. Yep. It’s an epic. Epic in that it is long; so long, that it will emerge in a series of books...and epic in scope, in that it encompasses lots of different elements. And it is epic in that it is written within that tradition and playful, too, with the tradition of sagas, story cycles, and mythic texts.
And about thecanada?project (my blog/website)….Indeed, that is my life-long poem chronicle. It will end, alas when I do. Although, hopefully, there will be readers and friends who will, by the act of reading the work, keep it alive.
An example of the playfulness [of the epic form], edging around perhaps more complex imaginings, is the title, The Heart Of This Journey Bears All Patterns. Since the start of the poems appearing in journals and chapbooks, that title is represented as THOT J BAP. I love the mouth feel of that! THOT J BAP. To my ear, the sounds are somehow a kind of “Eastern/Asian” influence, with a nod, to my mother’s mother tongue, Gujarati.
THOT J BAP started out in 2008 as a long poem but not an epic. The poem was written in the aftermath of my father’s untimely death in 2002. I’d wake, mornings, and after intense morning anxiety, which I still suffer from, I’d sit at a table with a cup of tea and read T.S. Eliot’s "Four Quartets". The poem began in response to verses and lines in the "Four Quartets". Early on in the writing process, I realized, with a shock, oh, this is going to be way longer. I recall the moment. I was working on a draft of the manuscript of what would become my first book, children of air india, un/authorized exhibits and interjections (Nightwood Editions, 2013). It was August, and I was at my friend Jackie’s place. We were taking a break from a summer work session, she with teacher prep, me with my long poems, and I remember just standing stock still, looking out at a pond in the park we were in, and saying, “oh I can’t do them both at the same time! I’m going to have to choose...and I thought, well, I’ll get through this first book, and then, I’ll get into THOT J BAP. Little did I know how long and intense and all consuming that first book experience would be...and through it, from publication to the intensity of its reception, I kept working away at this epic, much more slowly that I’d intended, and so the months, became years, and the poem lead me deeper and deeper into, well, a kind of altered state, of another time and place...and then,wham, the pandemic happened, and I went deeper even still…
[Re: “what attracts you to the epic, the chronology, the instalment, the life-long”…] If I knew the answer I’m not sure I’d still be obsessed with these things! Since I started developing a consciousness of myself as a writer, which happened somewhat later in my life... For example, as a child and young adult I was always scribbling...always trying to understand the world and my place or lack of place, in it, through writing. But only much later, probably when I joined SFU’s The Writer’s Studio, did I permit myself to put the cloak of “writer” around my shoulders. And once that happened, I, too, noticed, this compulsion: to chronicle; to envision the poem both as fragment, incomplete and also, as part of a historical/social context; also just sound, waves of sound; or one image, reoccurring.
Always, the first thing is sound. Then image...I don’t really think too much about meaning. And perhaps the long poem, the epic, the chronicle, is a way to hold fragments of sound and image inside a kind of a vessel? That’s where poetry, all aspects of poetry and dance and movement also come in...and somehow the epic holds a key to how to be in the moment, still and sweet and slow and also right inside the now, the urgency of now, all the things buffeting at once... And the poem, or the act of making poems, sound to sound, with image, in fragments, and then held and documented in the epic, the long form, is about this tension between lack and abundance, belonging, not belonging, which is how I experience, this, my mother – tongue, English.
[You can hear Renée read from a section of THOT-J-BAP on Soundcloud. children of air india, un/authorized exhibits and interjections with music by John Oliver and poetry by Renée Saklikar can also be heard on Soundcloud. Her chapbooks can be ordered from above/ground and Nomados Press.]