Two important books: Manolis’s ‘Vernal Equinox’ and Fauzia Rafique’s ‘Skeena’

Manolis’s poetry collection ‘Vernal Equinox’ and Fauzia Rafique’s novel ‘Skeena’
By Sana’a Janua
April 9, 2011
Surrey Public Library
Newton Branch

I want to thank everyone for coming out today. For me it is a great day for many reasons. I am happy to see the shift of celebration from Vancouver to Surrey. Vancouver being the heart of culture has a lot of events happening that pertain to arts, culture, books, and other literary nuance. Surrey is popular for different stuff, mainly loud music on the streets, good bargains at Punjabi market, and lately, lots of police and street regulations. So, today as we celebrate two writers, and their books, in my opinion we are making a statement here. Surrey too holds what it takes to be the heart of culture. Somehow, I feel that it is my duty to be a part of it, and just seeing so many faces today, I feel confident in saying that everyone in this room is enabling this shift to take place.

The second reason that pleases me is that we are going to talk about two very important books today. The first one is ‘Vernal Equinox’ by Manolis published by Ekstasis Editions from Victoria, and with this, I will introduce our first speaker who has written the book that I hold in my hand. After working as an iron worker, train labourer, taxi driver, and stock broker in Canada to support his writing, Manolis now lives in White Rock where he spends his time writing, gardening, and traveling. He has written three novels, over ten collections of poetry, and has published short fiction and non fiction in Greek and in English. Toward the end of 2006 he founded Libros Libertad, an unorthodox and independent publishing company in Surrey BC with the goal of publishing literary books. Eduardo Bettencourt Pinto has said this about the poet and the poems:
‘Book of tenderness, Vernal Equinox is also the Adam’s apple mythology whirling in the eyes of the far away lover, the body’s appeal, desire and ardency, which are the unavoidable delight of carnal fire. Eloquent and sensitive, the poetry subjects crossing the pages of this book are vivid metaphors of beauty, poems of a lifetime. I mean: of a mature poet giving to the world a transcendent memory of the senses on its purest form.

This is the beauty of Manolis’s poetry. And, I’d share some of it with you before I invite him on stage. It might not be Manolis’s favorite poem, but I connected with it on the level that the above quote testifies to. It says:
Things Past
She stored his pictures in the album
dusted the chest carefully
hid her sighs inside an envelope
placed it on the side of her heart then
sat mesmerized by the memory of him
lingering in her mind as a crystal laughter
like when he used to take her hand saying: love you

So, I’d be honored today to call Manolis to the stage and share his insights on his poetry.
(Poetry readings by Manolis from Vernal Equinox, and from his translation of Yannis Ritsos’s poems.)

For our second book Skeena by Fauzia Rafique, I have a list of many strong speakers from both the academic and the literary world. This event will see us discussing Skeena from various eyes, each pair just as literary attuned and intellectually distinctive as the other. I am very interested in seeing how this event opens up and where it leads us to. So, before I begin to call upon my speakers for today, I want to set forth a few questions that we should always attend to when we are discussing literature like Skeena.

I want to know as a reader how such a book, that can be read as resistance literature, ethnic literature, political literature, minority literature, feminist literature, and even like a travelogue, should be treated? How do we shelf it? Do we call it, to remove the strain of literary canons, simply Canadian literature?

It gets complicated to know that a Pakistani immigrant woman writes this book. Pakistan, that arouses in the readers’ minds a distinct map, a different region, a different race, and most of all, her politics. So, does it become a Pakistani novel, when we have many writers from different races in Canada writing about places that are not Canadian, and yet, it is Canadian literature?

It is here that I want to also mention how in Pakistan, when Fauzia went in 2007 to publish this novel, the Literary Society of Lahore Press Club, who had insisted on holding the launch, backed out 24 hours before the launch after reading it. Academy of letters, Islamabad did not allow it to launch at their premises.

So, we have a history of reactions attached to Skeena. While Skeena continues to challenge, it does so with grace and perseverance. Fauzia’s book is going to challenge the norms that we comfortably attach to the literatures of Canada and Pakistan, and perhaps even the market of global literatures. I use the word literatures to emphasize the importance of heterogeneous quality of literature, because in doing so, I want us to remember the distinctions in literature. No two novels are alike, and the tradition of transformation and canons tells us that labeling is never easy. That a single novel Skeena, that is written in two languages Punjabi and English simultaneously, can be canonized into two different locales. That Skeena can belong in Canada, as much as in Pakistan. That it too can take the condition of the very woman who writes it, the condition of being here and there. English Skeena and Punjabi Skeena, the twins that were conceived together, but born at different times, are like the face of the earth, West and East, South and North. Here, i quote a reader of English edition of Skeena.

It is a simple novel, yet the control of vision with which it targets the literary nuance speaks to the condition of clarity. It is an issue-oriented book. The form is simple, the content is not. Here, we question the old question: does form follow function? Yes (for Skeena). The ‘function’ (of Skeena) is to stimulate our minds, and to bring us out of the comfort we attach with speaking about women’s issues in an Islamic state, and in the western state(s), and the book makes us do that by remaining simple and transparent ‘in form’.’ (From ‘Skeena Brings fever to the Mind’ by Rajkumri Fehmida)

As for the writer, Fauzia Rafique, I want to congratulate her for conceiving this novel that beautifully unites the world, and then separates it with dignity. I present to you, the novel ‘Skeena’.

Parveen Malik: Review of Skeena presented by Dr. Saif Khalid.
Surjeet Kalsey: ‘Skeena: SarhaddaN toN paar de aurat, a woman beyond borders’
Sadhu Binning: ‘Skeena’
Ajmer Rode: ‘Fauzia Rafiq da novel Skeena’
Fauzia Rafique: Reading from Skeena

Launch organized by Libros Libertad, uddari books and Sanjh Publications

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