SURREY — It was now Timothy Shay’s turn. He strolls to the podium carrying his book like he’s walking from his kitchen to his living room carrying a TV remote – casually. He addresses the gathering as if he’s sitting amongst friends in a pub, with humor and humility. But when he starts reading, his passion, and his sincerity, is unmistakable.
The book, a 2016 collection of his poetry called “The Dirty Knees of Prayer,” is gritty and great and sometimes a bit uncomfortable. Shay’s assertive reading only adds to its power. His stay at the podium is a highlight moment of the March 18th edition of Surrey Muse.
Founded in 2011 by local literary artists Sana Janjua, Fauzia Rafique, Randeep Purewal and Mariam Zohra D, Surrey Muse was initially conceived to give regional writers, poets and performers a place to go, a place where they could present their work and then talk about it amongst all in attendance.
(Pictured: Heidi Greco at the podium during the March meeting of Surrey Muse.)
Five years later, Surrey Muse is exactly that. Meeting on the fourth Friday of each month (except December) in Room 418 of the City Centre Library, the little group has been a constant in a city filled with change.
“When we created Surrey Muse, we were trying to build something that we needed and we thought other artists needed,” says co-founder Zohra D. “We wanted to break boundaries between mediums, so it’s not just a night for poets, not just a night for authors, not just a night for performers, it’s a place where all three can get together.
“It’s also a time to discuss with the artists the themes they brought up,” she continued. “And we assume that the art that’s presented here would bring up something to discuss. Some people are not used to it. Some audience members aren’t used to it – they don’t know what to ask. So usually one of our goals is to stimulate discussion so our audience gets practice at having that discourse.”
Gomathy Puri (pictured), a writer who didn’t seriously get into the craft until she’d retired, reads a lengthy passage from the still incomplete manuscript for her second book. It’s the story of a grandmother from India, now living in the Lower Mainland.
“She’s concerned she doesn’t have a very good relationship with her grandsons, who were both born and raised here,” Puri explained. “She wants to pass on the legacy she brought with her from India.”
Puri wanted feedback, and she got it. The discussion was lengthy.
It’s a good group. Comments are intelligent and attentive throughout the evening, and many are seemingly delivered via uncensored streams of thought. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s serious. And it’s so open at times that a newcomer could be forgiven for thinking everyone had sipped a couple drinks beforehand.
Later, Heidi Greco comes to the front of the room. The South Surrey resident and former Surrey teacher and Vancouver Sun book reviewer reads a variety of her works – published poems from several books that showcase everything from environmentalism to domestic abuse. They’re short verses and they hit home.
“I came back to writing in my 40s,” she says afterward. “My claim to fame, at least in Surrey, is that I was somehow appointed, I’m not exactly sure how, the ‘resident poet’ of the city in 2012, and was commissioned to write a poem about Surrey that I presented at city hall.”
(Pictured: Zohra D)
At one point, Greco was joined at the podium by Surrey Muse co-founder Fauzia Rafique. The two traded verses and the room became even livelier.
“I came to Canada as a Convention refugee (someone who fears persecution),” says the soft-spoken writer and blogger. “I was a journalist in Pakistan. There’s a lot of oppression there for people like me, especially women and progressive-thinking people.”
Rafique discusses the welcoming nature of Surrey Muse and the plans they have for the future, including the formation of a “critique group,” where “people can go to hash out stuff they’re creating right now. We’re thinking of doing something around Gateway because it’s a bedraggled area of Surrey (and) see how people respond to it.
“Something else we want to do is ‘Surrey Muse at Large,’ a smaller version of this program, and take it to places like youth shelters and senior centres – traditionally places where people don’t get to have this sort of experience.”
(Pictured: Tim Mar played a few songs at the gathering on March 18.)
The next Surrey Muse gathering is on April 22, once again in Room 418 of the City Centre Library. Food is served, donations are welcomed. For more information, or even to check out the way-cool posters Zohra D has created for each event throughout the years, head to Surreymuse.wordpress.com. The group can be reached by email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.