Grace Kennedy Renée Sarojini Saklikar is in the middle of her teen writing camps this summer, and has two more scheduled: one in the Guilford Library on July 20, and one in Cloverdale on July 25.

Surrey poet laureate hosts teen workshops

Surrey’s poet laureate is teaching youth about writing without judgment

The last thing Surrey’s poet laureate Renée Sarojini Saklikar wants her teen writing camps to do is make youth think of school.

“In the act of creation … you’re not going to be criticized,” Saklikar said. “You’re not going to be judged. It’s about playing with language and having fun. Making things. Having fun creating.”

“Don’t get kids talking about meaning — we leave that to the gods and to the readers,” she said, talking about the common practice of teaching students about the meaning of poetry.

“Our job is to make. To make words. Make language. Play. Make poetry.

“So that’s what I tell the youth. If you take nothing else: don’t focus on what it means, focus on how it’s made.”

That’s the theme of Saklikar’s teen summer writing camps, being held in four Surrey library locations. The goal is to give youth ages 13 to 18 skills for writing a variety of creative genres, including personal memoirs, poetry, short stories and novels.

She’s already completed two of her teen workshops — one at the City Centre library and one in Fleetwood — but has exciting ideas planned for the one in Guilford on July 20, and the one in Cloverdale on July 25.

“One of the things I love doing in the teen writing camps, because Surrey is so diverse, and the teens are from every possible background you can imagine, I get them to talk about themselves,” she said.

It’s not always easy to get teenagers to open up,

“You’ve got to build trust. You only have a couple hours,” she said. “I want them to feel at ease with me, so I share a bit about my own background.” Saklikar was born in India, and moved to Canada with her parents.

“I had no concept that I could be a creative writer and I could be successful at creative writing,” she said about herself as a young writer. “I was so shy. I was so very shy.”

Continuing to build trust, Saklikar gets the teens to create name cards. Then she asks them about their names.

“I get them to talk about themselves through their name, because it’s a safe thing,” she explained. “It’s not really about them, it’s about the name. It creates a bit of distance. And it’s amazing how they just open up.”

Of course, Saklikar’s workshops don’t just involve sharing. There’s writing too — timed freewrites based on various prompts like “your favourite day in Surrey” or “I remember when.”

“The idea’s to free yourself up from criticism and judgment,” she said. Although criticism and judgement are important skills for revision, she doesn’t focus on those during the freewrites.

“Every single time, it’s unfailing. When we write together in silence, we just go into ourselves and centre, and we’re writing without judgement, we’re just writing to play and create, magic happens. It’s amazing.”

At the Cloverdale workshop on July 25, Saklikar will bringing a variety of prompts to the table. She’s heard from one of the librarians that the teens who have signed up for the program are interested in a range of genres, including short stories and novels.

“I’ll do some prompts that kind of feed into that,” she said.

Ultimately, Saklikar said, the goal isn’t too teach teens how to write.

“I guess one of my goals as poet laureate for teens is to show them a lot of love,” she said.

“One of the things I say is everything you create is beautiful to me because you created it.”

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