George Bernard Shaw once said: “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will”
It is getting easier and easier to meet people in Newton who are imagining and creating a healthier and safer neighbourhood. This creative spirit might look a little different depending on whether you encounter it in a business meeting, community safety forum, policy discussion or poetry gathering, but it is the same creative spirit at work.
Surrey’s Poet Laureate Renee Saklikar dropped by the last gathering of the Cedar Bark Poets to celebrate and support this particular expression of creativity in our neighbourhood. She was joined by her husband, former provincial NDP leader Adrian Dix.
The Cedar Bark Poets meet on the second Saturday of every month at the Newton Recreation Centre. On a typical gathering of four to eight people, some participants come with poems that they have written while others come just to listen or read work brought by others. The group is facilitated by local resident Katheren Szabo.
Having Renee and Adrian present gave us a chance to demonstrate the creative power of our humble group!
Rhiannon went first. As a preschool teacher, Rhiannon’s poems often have a spirit of playfulness and joy. Rhiannon is also the daughter of Julie Paskell, the “hockey mom” who was murdered outside of the Newton Wave Recreation Centre, so many of her poems dig deep into aspects of our neighbourhood’s recent history that make us uncomfortable.
Rhiannon’s sparkling eyes and smile can brighten any room. But when she reads poetry about her mother and the experience of her mother’s death, she invites people in to a place behind her smile, where things are darker and where the weight of grief and sorrow can be felt in every word. I close my eyes when Rhiannon reads to be fully present in the darkness. I know I’m not the only one who does this. When the poem ends, we open our eyes, and she is always there smiling to greet us. Rhiannon’s poems and smiles are two powerful forces of healing in our neighbourhood.
Next it was Katheren’s turn and she asked if anyone would like to read her poem aloud. I treasure our practice of reading each other’s poems, and so I jumped at the opportunity. The poem, titled “The Lion’s Gate” opens with the following lines:
“I built cat’s cradles
Both my hands fluid
With emotion they spoke
String dropped, untied.”
Katheren’s writing is agile and tender. She creates shapes out of words much like a game of cat’s cradle. In some poems, a beautiful image emerges unexpectedly out of a tangle of words and ideas. In other poems, beauty and form are intentionally elusive and become tangled and irretrievable.
Steve went next. His poems are unapologetically whimsical and clever. What might seem at first like a casual or irreverent observation suddenly morphs into a powerful metaphor. We often ask Steve to read his poems multiple times in order to fully appreciate the layers of wit, meaning and intrigue.
Katie’s poems are a delight to listen to. The way she writes and reads her poetry reminds me of an archeologist, painstakingly uncovering hidden rhythms and patterns in the language we use and take for granted every day. Imagine gems being piled glittering on the dirt and you can imagine what Katie’s poems might look like.
Paul doesn’t read often, but when he does, he commands the room. He recites, by memory, a poem that he wrote thirty years ago and we are left spellbound. Jonah reads a touching Remembrance Day poem. I play “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” by Bruce Cockburn, one of my favourite songs. Adrian, who doesn’t usually read poetry aloud, reads one of Renee’s poems and she is delighted.
Our circle ends with Renee reading from her books and commenting on everyone’s poems. She leaves us copies of her books “Children of Air India” and “The Revolving City” both of which are now in the Cedar Bark Poets library and available for loan by request.
Days later, in an email, Renee reflects on her evening with the Cedar Bark Poets: “The poets who gathered with me on Saturday night in Newton shared such honest poetry, wrung from the challenges of their life: heartache, violence, and from their joys. It was wonderful, intense, thought-provoking: when each poet shared their work, I felt so in the moment with authentic experience.”
Each step we take towards building a stronger neighbourhood is a step into uncharted territory. The issues we face in our neighbourhood are complicated and messy and there are rarely well-defined answers or directions. Each step is a courageous act of creativity.
When I look around at who is making change in the community, I see people from all walks of life and from different organizations and agencies taking creative risks together. Each should be acknowledged and celebrated.
May you find people and projects in our neighbourhood that allow you to imagine what you desire, will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will.