Professional Profiles

Poet’s goal: To produce life-changing work

Renee Saklikar, a local author and a graduate of The Writer’s Studio.

By Amy Robertson

Renee Saklikar’s devotion to the work of writing is undeniable.

It’s in the light of her eyes as she talks about writing and in the rise and fall of her voice as she reads for an audience. It’s in her expression as she teaches her students about their own work.

Saklikar is living true to her calling: She is a poet.

Her career path has included law, communications and public policy—but always, something inside her has compelled her to write.

In 2002, she lost her father, and it changed her career ambitions. Her partner (now her husband) saw her passion—and her talent—and gave her two incredible gifts: First, affirmation: “You can do this.” Second, the space to do it—he’d help if she wanted to spend more time on her poetry.

“It sounds cliché, but it changed my life,” she says.

The Writer’s Studio helps poet find her voice

In 2009, Saklikar’s journey led her to The Writer’s Studio, part of SFU Continuing Studies. It introduced her to the writing life in a way she’d never experienced.

She learned about the discipline and craft of writing and performance from authors including Wayde Compton, Betsy Warland and Rachel Rose. She reaped the benefits of feedback from like-minded writers, and she was introduced to Vancouver’s rich writing communities and opportunities. She learned to call herself a writer.

Her mentors also helped her find her life’s work, which is manifesting itself in the form of a lifelong poem chronicle called thecanadaproject, in which she explores her life experiences from India, her birthplace, to each coast of Canada. Work from this chronicle has appeared in more than a dozen literary journals, newspapers and anthologies.

Grad gives back to Vancouver’s writing communities

In the fall of 2011, Saklikar was invited to help develop and later teach and mentor within SFU Continuing Studies' Southbank Writer’s Program. She, along with The Writer’s Studio team, envisioned a program shorter than the Studio that would meet the needs of writers who live in and near Surrey. Emerging writers would have access to published authors in a space where they could learn and grow.

Southbank is only one of many writing communities of which Saklikar is a part. In addition to participating in readings throughout Vancouver, she helps coordinate SFU Public Square’s Lunch Poems @SFU, a monthly poetry reading at SFU’s Vancouver campus. Saklikar sees Lunch Poems as a way to enjoy the music of poetry, but also as an opportunity to bring people together—it’s one way to address the isolation people feel within the city.

Saklikar is firm in her belief that writing and poetry are not just about feeling good, however. “It can also have an edge,” she says. “Poetry has an important response to injustice and social issues.”

This belief is evident in her first book of poetry, which stems from thecanadaproject. Called children of air india (forthcoming in the fall of 2013), it is a series of elegies about the 1985 tragedy of Air India Flight 182, in which her aunt and uncle, in addition to 327 others, died when a bomb went off mid-flight. It was, in terms of fatalities, the worst single act of terrorism in Canada’s history.

Poet calls Canadians to contemplate place, language, history

“My vision for the book is that these sorts of incidents call out to us—if not for action, then contemplation,” she says.

She’s clear about the fact that while the book bears witness to the tragedy, it doesn’t tell people what to think. “I don’t think life-changing work does that.”

Her goal is, ultimately, to do the great work—the hard work.

“Work that is going to last, that is going to be for the ages—I mean, why would you want to write anything but that?—there has to be some blood on the table,” she says.

“There has to be some risk. There has to be something happening. Otherwise, why would you do it? After Donne and Milton and Mozart and all the greats, after Emily Dickinson and Margaret Atwood, why would you want to write a line if you’re not going to try and do the absolute best you can and have something meaningful to say? Isn’t that what great art is about?”