Renée Sarojini Saklikar was the inaugural Poet Laureate for the City of Surrey, British Columbia. Passionate about connecting people through poetry, she offered free writing consultations, taught poetry in schools and at community events, and hosted workshops with youth and seniors to tell Surrey stories (Surrey Stories Connect: teens and seniors write Surrey, Surrey Libraries, 2016). She is the 2019 Surrey English Teachers’ Association Writer-In-Residence.
Trained as a lawyer at the University of British Columbia, with a degree in English Literature, Renée teaches creative writing for Simon Fraser University and Vancouver Community College. Renée’s first book, Children of Air India, (Nightwood Editions, 2013) won the 2014 Canadian Authors Association Award for poetry and her second book, with Wayde Compton, The Revolving City: 51 Poems and the Stories Behind Them (Anvil Press/SFU Public Square, 2015) was a finalist for a 2016 City of Vancouver Book Award. Fascinated by artistic collaboration, Renée’s work has been made into opera and song cycles (air india [redacted], Turning Point Ensemble, 2015) and visual art (Chris Turnbull, see thecanadaproject on wordpress for images from Turnbull’s outdoor eco-installation featuring Renée’s poetry).
Renée is working on an epic sci-fi journey poem, THOT-J-BAP, parts of which appear in literary journals (The Capilano Review, Dusie, The Rusty Toque, Tripwire) and chapbooks (above/ground, Nous-zot and Nomados presses) and her chapbook, After the Battle of Kingsway, the bees, was a finalist for the 2017 bpNichol chapbook award. She recently published a long poem about her personal connection to the Air India Flight 182 bombing, in an anthology of scholarly and artistic work (Remembering Air India, the art of public mourning, University of Alberta Press, 2017). In 2018, Renée published poems about bees in the book Listening to the Bees (Nightwood Editions, 2018) in collaboration with scientist and Governor General award winner, Dr. Mark Winston.
On choosing law school:
A great desire to learn more about how things work, legislatively, historically. Certainly, my parents wanted me to enter the profession as my paternal grandfather had been a high court judge in Bombay. I had this idea, still have it, despite all the cynical comments about lawyers, that in a democracy, the rule of law means something, however one might deconstruct it. In 1985, my aunt and uncle died in the Air India bombing. In 1987, I entered law school. It took me a long time to understand how much those two events connected.”
On transitioning from lawyer to poet:
Difficult and marvellous, all at the same time, of course. As I ruefully say to relatives and friends: no corner office with the partners! The study of the law, the membership in the profession, I take seriously. I’ve never let my membership in good standing in the Law Society of British Columbia lapse, since my call in ’91. However, as I went deeper into poetry, of course, I had to give up being a full time practicing member. I’m now a non-practising member and share my experiences about being a lawyer and author with students in the department of continuing studies at SFU. I also serve as a member at large (National Advocate) for the Writers’ Union of Canada.”
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, in part, 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?
Learn more about Renée at the Simon Fraser University Alumni Appreciation Project. You can also contact her in the form below, or follow her on Twitter @reneesarojini.