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Reading Out Loud Together, with Elee Kraljii Gardiner and Renee Sarojini Saklikar

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I’m sincerely grateful to Erin Fields, Melanie Cassidy and Trish Rosseel of the UBC Library for inviting me, Elee Kraljii Gardiner and Renee Sarojini Saklikar to read beside the fireplace in the commons on the main floor of the Koerner Library yesterday afternoon. It’s a great venue: students are coming and going, and there was a tangible energy coming from the big room that made for a really wonderful event. I didn’t manage any photos, and my audio recorder jammed out, so I don’t have any archive-worthy material to offer here, but I can at least give a few impressions to make up for my lack of documentation.
         Renee started things by reading a reminiscence about her time in the former Sedgwick and Main libraries at the university, framing some of her experiences of cultural marginalization and of the negotiation of language and accent, and historicizing her account around a year – 1985 – that she said she regards as a kind of talisman. She held up a page filled with a repeatedly-typed date, “June 23, 1985,” which she described as a mantra emerging from the bombing of Air India Flight 182; her book, children of air india: un/authorized exhibits and interjections (Nightwood, 2103), from which she read a set of elegies and fragments “from the archive,” focuses on the complex tensions between bearing witness to lost lives and the fraught absences left in the wake of atrocity. One line describing a seven-year-old girl killed in the bombing powerfully enacts this tension and, despite its brevity, stays with me whenever I have heard Renee read: “Her name was [redacted]”— a life remembered and withheld simultaneously, a collision (as I think I heard her put it in another piece) between tears and terror.
         Elee read poems from her manuscript Serpentine Loop, a collection that employs figure skating as its key trope, reading the skating body, as Elee put it, as “a primary site of language.” She could skate, Elee told us, before she could speak. The blades of her skates inscribe and describe, as she remembers tracing out loose figures on the ice, “a string of unclasped pearls” that also form in four unclosed cursive loops the letters of her given name. She read “School Figures,” a poem that locates delicate resonances in the interstitial spaces between figure and figuration, scribing and script:
Voices are low yet perforate the liminal

zone between silence and song. Each one of us is alone

with something to do: trace a shape of infinity,

perfect the line we know dissolves under water and steam.
(There is audio of her reading this poem on the Radar site, linked above.) Her poem “Who You Are By What You Recognize,” comprised of an alphabetical list mixing figure-skating and military terminology, was for me both lyrically evocative and brilliantly disturbing.
         My own set list for the reading went like this:
                  Embouchure
                  “Hot Lips” from Embouchure
                  “Blue and Boogie 1: Blue” from Ammons
“Small Time Georgic IV (Meat Bees)” – a little local Nova Scotian transplanting of some Virgil
I meant to read a piece for Ted Hughes, called “Slug F**k,” but it got dropped by accident.
         Since the recorder didn’t work, here is an audio version of the piece from Ammons, with my colleague – the superbly excellent Geoff Mitchell – doing his modernistic improvised boogie woogie piano thing along with me. Thanks to everyone who managed to come out, and again to the library folks for putting it all together: I had a great time myself.


1 Comment

  1. Emefie says:

    Everyone was so amazing at this event Kevin. I have pictures if you want me to send them over to you! I'l also going to link this out on the Koerner blog. Thanks again and I'm loving listening to the tracks.

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