Youth Literary Writes Judge Renée Saklikar Gives Helpful Hints for Poets

Our Literary Writes Youth Judge Renée Saklikar generously took time from her busy schedule to share insight into her poetry journey and tips for poets entering this year’s contest.

Cynthia: Who are your favourite poets?

Renée: So many! I’m always on the look out for local, BC and Canadian poets, particularly those whose poetics touch on “the urgency of now.” For example, I just reviewed a book published by Caitlin Press, by Vancouver author Onjana Yanghwe. It’s called The Small Way

A few others: Ottawa poet rob mclennan; the late, great Peter Culley (from Nanaimo). American poets Rusty Morrison and Terrance Hayes. And I’ve a soft spot for poet laureates such as Vancouver’s former poet laureate Rachel Rose, having just completed my term as Surrey’s first ever Poet Laureate. Another big favourite: Indigenous poet Joshua Whitehead. Also Metis poet, Tristan Greyeyes, who is also a film/maker.

Cynthia: Who was your favourite poet when you were a youth?

Renée: Walter De La Mare: my father would read me his poems: “Someone came a knocking on my wee small door” (from memory…)

Cynthia: When did you start to write poetry?

Renée: I’ve been scribbling away since I was a little girl…not really knowing that my love of sound and image, then my habit of jotting down words, was part of what poets and writers do…

Cynthia: How has poetry helped you in life?

Renée: Saved me! American poet Theodore Roethke, “in a dark time, the eye begins to see.” My first book, children of air india, un/authorized exhibit and interjections (Nightwood Editions, 2013), totally changed my life.

Cynthia: What did it mean to you to be Surrey’s Poet Laureate these past three years?

Renée: Such a rich, rewarding, complex, experience! I learned so much about language, culture, identity, geography from connecting with teens, seniors, and everyone in between. An honour to be the first Poet Laureate for a large, fast growing suburban/Edge city. Huge props to the Surrey City Libraries who hosted and supported so much of the laureate program.

Cynthia: How does poetry help society in your view?

Renée: Maybe poetry and the making of poetry helps us to not look away from what is jagged, incomplete, hurting or abandoned. But that’s just a guess. Poetry just is. That’s its particular beauty.

Cynthia: How do you know when a poem is finished?

Renée: May the poem never end! I’m always wanting to re/vise, to see anew, to surprise. Restless for another way to make the page come alive. Also, perhaps paradoxically, maybe the poem stops and rests, and attains a kind of solidity, and then, if I’m attentive enough, I find a way to step back and give space to what the work wants/needs. The work will tell you what it needs.

Cynthia: What do you look for when editing and polishing a poem?

Renée: Pretty much everything, particularly what I call “unity of voice,” where all the parts seem to fit into something greater than the whole, but each poem and every poet’s poetics (theory of language/anti-theory) is so unique, that one of the things I look for is how the words and the language do more than describe or narrate: how does the language, how do the line breaks and the sounds and rhythms, and devices of the words, evoke and embody the secret dark heart at the centre of any poem?

Cynthia: What has most surprised you about poetry?

Renée: Pretty much everything! The way that almost anything can be made into a poem.

Cynthia: Do you have any suggestions or tips for youth entering the Literary Writes contest?

Renée: Sure thing: Golden Rule: try and leave time for revision; we all benefit from having a chance to take a second or third, or fifth look, once the poem has poured out of us… Let the words find their own space for a while. Then come back to what you’ve tapped out on your phone or scribbled in your bullet journal or scribbled on those scraps of paper crumpled up in your pocket: Time is your friend.

Canadian citizens and residents can submit to Literary Writes at this link, $15 per entry for adults, $10 for adult FBCW members, and only $5 for any youth by February 1, 2019: