Q&A with Renée Sarojini Saklikar

Photo by Sandra Vander Schaaf.

Renée Sarojini Saklikar is a poet and lawyer who lives in Vancouver on the unceded traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples. She is the author of four books, including the ground-breaking poetry book, children of air india, about the bombing of Air India Flight 182 which won the Canadian Authors Association Poetry Prize and is the co-author, with Dr. Mark Winston, of the poetry and essay collection, Listening to the Bees, winner of the 2019 Gold Medal Independent Publishers Book Award, Environment/Ecology. She is currently working on Book 2 of the THOT J BAP series, an epic fantasy in verse.

Select Interviews:

Q: What is epic fantasy in verse? 

It’s a blend I’ve created of two genres: high fantasy fiction and epic poetry. 

High fantasy fiction often involves alternative worlds where time travel and magic happen alongside battles for good and evil. Epic poems are long narrative stories told in different styles of poetry.

In the THOT J BAP book series, you’ll find both genres combined within the structure of an epic, written in verse. 

Q: What drew you as a writer and a poet to write in this format? 

Two things: long form writing and the fantastical.

I’ve always been intrigued by long form writing: epics, sagas, cycles of stories, and long poems just seem to beckon me into a creative space: when I write poetry, I almost always think in series, sets, cycles, interconnected parts. 

As a child, I loved fantasy fiction, especially stories featuring time travel and magic. I also loved ballads, fairy tales, and rhyming riddles.

In writing this series, I experienced two “break through moments” over the years:

The first “breakthrough moment” occurred when  I discovered that my imaginary world-building, fit well into long form writing. I started playing with sound and images and things just clicked, like a key turning a lock. As I wrote the poems, I found ways to embed the poetry with pattern.  I just tried to stay open and go where sound and image took me.

My second “breakthrough moment” occurred when the poetry started revealing characters such as Bramah and The Beggar Boy. These characters sprang out of the world building, almost always in snippets of verse!  Over the years, the more I read about climate change, political issues, racial and gender inequities, all these fed into my imagination and world-building. I realized I was writing an epic.

Side Note: As a writer, working on my first book, children of air india, about the bombing of Air India Flight 182, I returned to both fantasy and rhyming poetry as a way to relax from the burden of writing about a very traumatic subject. The fantastical gave me permission to roam my imagination and I’ve always been drawn to sagas and “rattling good long reads.”

Q: Can you tell us about the title? What does THOT J BAP mean?

The title of the series, THOT J BAP, came to me while I was reading and responding to T.S. Eliot’s poem series, The Four Quartets

THOT J BAP stands for The Heart of This Journey Bears All Patterns

I remember, one afternoon, many years ago, at the beginning of writing this epic, watching the sun on the Fraser River. I was living in New Westminster at the time, with a south facing view of the river and Mt. Baker. 

As I wrote out some lines of poetry, this phrase entered my consciousness. And I liked it and one day, weeks later, noticed that the phrase contains ten beats. I loved that. And I love the way the acronym, THOT J BAP, sounds vaguely foreign or even Arabic or Asian. And it’s as English as you can get. I love the subversive slant of that!

Q: What elements inspired the world of THOT J BAP? 

Book one in the THOT J BAP series, Bramah and the Beggar Boy contains elements from the genres of fantasy fiction and epic poetry, including a hero, Bramah, on her quest to battle the evil Consortium in a world ravaged by accelerated climate change.

On her journey she rescues an orphan beggar boy, and he becomes The Beggar Boy, her apprentice. Together they go on many adventures and find a parchment scroll with stories of seed savers, scientists, and a doctor, born in the year 2020.  

The setting, is an alternative world, Pacifica, based on the west coast of North America. 

Our hero, Bramah is unaware of her semi-divine origins and this idea of the hero’s mysterious heritage is also often found in fantasy fiction. A few famous examples include J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia

Q: What themes run through Book One of THOT J BAP: Bramah and The Beggar Boy?

I’ve only just begun to parse these out: as a poet, when I’m deep into my creative process, which is like a kind of playtime for me, I’m homing in on sound and image. I don’t think a lot about themes. That comes much later. Usually once the book has gone to the printer!

Here’s my list of the three major themes in Bramah and The Beggar Boy:

-accelerated climate change

-the eternal battle between good and evil

-female centred mythology

And here’s my list of the subsidiary themes: 

-these run deep and are woven into all the books in the THOT J BAP series:

-family origins and heritage

-the tension between “East” v “West” and colonialism

-language, documents, fragments

-survival skills and the power of making,

 as seen in crafts such as seed saving and soap making

-racial and gender identity 

 I’d be very interested in reader responses.  What themes resonate for readers?

Q: How long is THOT J BAP the series?

THOT J BAP is well over 1000 pages, divided up into a set of epic fantasy book length poems. Bramah and The Beggar Boy is Book 1 in the THOT J BAP series. THOT J BAP stands for The Heart of This Journey Bears All Patterns. I’m currently working on Book 2 and there are several other books in the works.

Q: Who designed the book cover? 

Bramah and The Beggar Boy features the artwork of Nadina Tandy, a B.C. artist whose paintings and collages really speak to me.

The THOT J BAP series logo is designed by Top Shelf Creative and the interior of the book is typeset by Carleton Wilson. I’m grateful to my publisher Nightwood Editions for this beautiful production and to all these independent Canadian artists and designers. I love that my work connects to their talent and skill. Nadina’s work really connects to the spirit of this series and I love the way her cover art for Bramah and The Beggar Boy picks up on so many of the themes and symbols in the book.

Q: Can you give us a sample poem?

Here’s one of my favourites from the beginning of Bramah and The Beggar Boy.

Resistance Song

At the year's midnight, we sighed, heads bent—
Perimeter where oracles foretold
colony collapse, our aunties saving
mason bees, small finds in handmade glass jars.
Wildfires in November, ash mixed with ice
our skin dry and cracked, scalps covered in lice,
grey skies unending, snow drought extending
salal leaves withering, their spines snapped in two.
At Tower Juniper, Rentalsman stood
ready to accept payment for shelter.
We bartered our daughters, we sold our boys
WiFi on ration, our androids, no toys:
Toxic Alert on high, we ached for green
who would have thought of us, standing, unseen.

>>>>>>
♛♛♛

mind those drones
they'll break your bones
hide and sweep,
duck and swerve
watch us, learn
these raindrops, burn.

(excerpted poem from Bramah and The Beggar Boy, an epic fantasy in verse, © Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Nightwood Editions, 2021).

Q: Is there more information on your poetics (the way you write poetry and your ideas about poetry)?

Yes. You can find out more information in the end notes to the book, Bramah and The Beggar Boy.  

Have more questions for Renée? Ask below or email her at portals@thotjbap.com.

© Renée Sarojini Saklikar 2021.
© Nadina Tandy Cover Art. © Top Shelf Creative Book Design.
© Nightwood Editions 2021. © Isaac Yuen Website Design. All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “Q&A with Renée Sarojini Saklikar

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s