Surrey will soon search for a new literary ambassador, now that Renée Sarojini Saklikar has ended her three-year term as the city’s inaugural Poet Laureate.
The position was created by city council in 2015 as a way to “champion the literary areas and to raise the profile and image of Surrey as a creative and cultural centre that values literacy,” at a cost of $30,000 for three years.
The program, deemed “a great success” in a recent corporate report to council, will again receive city funding – with a twist.
On April 1, council voted to amend a staff recommendation of another $30,000 over three years, and instead approved $10,000 from the council initiatives fund this year, then directed staff to put the remaining two years into the city’s grants budget for the next cycle.
With funding in place, program co-ordinators plan to put out a call for applications for a new Poet Laureate later this spring, with the chosen candidate to start work this fall.
Saklikar, who will be involved in the selection process, told the Now-Leader it was an “amazing opportunity to be the first ever Poet Laureate for this thriving, diverse city.”
On April 2, Saklikar marked her first day as writer-in-residence for Surrey English Teachers Association, a role that involves doing poetry workshops across the school district.
— reneesarojini (@reneesarojini) April 4, 2019
Continued civic funding of Surrey’s Poet Laureate program, she said, is “great news indeed.”
Surrey Libraries’ Meghan Savage, who helped launch the Poet Laureate program here and now branch-manages Guildford and Port Kells libraries, said the program “was fantastic, and Renée did a great job of connecting with the community.
As for a new Poet Laureate, Savage said, “we’re looking for someone keen to be involved and connect with the community and create a legacy project, as Renée did – and she actually did two.”
Those projects were the publication of the anthology Surrey Stories Connect: Teens and Seniors Write Surrey, and a series of teen chapbook-making workshops.
In the report to council, it’s noted that Saklikar engaged with residents at civic events, festivals, programs, and other initiatives: “Passionate about connecting people through poetry, Renée worked hard to create a legacy program of poetry outreach that is multi-lingual and inter-cultural, partnering with many local organizations, including Arts Council of Surrey, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Semiahmoo Arts Council, Simon Fraser University, Surrey Arts Centre Surrey International Writers Conference, Surrey Arts Centre and Surrey Muse.”
Saklikar also mentored 110 people in 29 writing consults, “helping over 400 youth and adult writers in 34 writing workshops, and contributing to an additional 160 events, programs and meetings with community partners including high-profile events such as the Surrey International Writers Conference and the Surrey Children’s Festival.”
At the April 1 city council meeting, Mayor Doug McCallum recommended council approve the $10,000 for the Poet Laureate program this year, “then make a recommendation that it be put into our grants budget for next year’s budget, which we’ll be starting on pretty soon then we can look what council would like to do in future years.”
During discussion, Councillor Steven Pettigrew balked at spending $10,000 a year on the program.
“I’ve had numerous, numerous people come up to me over the last several months, they’re all petitioning for their causes and wanting moneys to support various things, so I think the cause here is good just the amount is a lot,” Pettigrew said. “$10,000 is a lot. I have a concern with that. If we’re giving $10,000 to this one particular cause, how much do we have left for these other people that keep coming up?… It would be nice to possibly split that and have $5,000 for other causes.”
Councillor Laurie Guerra said she favoured having a Poet Laureate in Surrey, “however I’m not in favour of funding it through the council initiatives,” she said. “So far $30,000 has come from this funding source and a further $30,000 is being requesting… I would be in favour of the first $10,000 coming from this initiative and then perhaps the rest out of the upcoming parks, rec and culture budget for the next two years.”
To mark National Poetry Month, Surrey-based poet Heidi Greco opened the council meeting by reading “Window on a City,” a poem she was commissioned by the city to write in 2012 and first presented to council that year. It’s subtitled “Surrey: A City in Six Poems.”
“In writing the poem,” Greco notes, “I took inspiration not only from historical information (much of it from the treasure trove of Jack Brown’s wonderful website), but from the fact that, for the purpose of development proposals, Surrey is divided into six town centres – thus, the poem’s six parts.”
“I’ve decided to honour him by reading the whole thing again,” Greco told the Now-Leader.
“He was an important person, and I think Surrey should do something to honour him.”