From her home in North Saanich, poet Ulrike Narwani is surrounded by mementos of her travels, among them trunks, tapestries and a two-faced shadow puppet from Bali. Her husband Dru’s position as a high-level banker took them to Wall Street, London, Mumbai, and finally Bangkok, where he was the CEO of Standard Chartered bank’s Thai operation. These big moves were supplemented by smaller vacations in their Cessna 182 which the couple flew themselves, and these travels are reflected in much of her poetry.
On Nov. 24, she will be sharing poems from her new collection, Collecting Silence, at the SHOAL Centre along with former Parks Canada warden George Mercer. The reading is to support the 2019 Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival.
Narwani always had an interest in writing and literature, but did not start writing poetry in earnest until her mid-60s after seeing her ailing father walk down a laneway between trees, which she said captured his tenacity, perseverance and desire for life.
“There are moments, memories that grab you and make you want to find the words to express them and make them come alive,” she said.
The poem took her three years to write, and she had no intention of continuing with poetry, but she said “more poems kept coming.” She credits Yvonne Blomer, Victoria’s poet laureate, who she said “helped me pull my bundle of poems together and help me shape them into a book.” Narwani has become a regular attendee at the Planet Earth poetry reading series — a regular open mic night at Hillside Coffee and Tea in Victoria.
She did not have a theme in mind when she wrote the book, but she noticed recurring themes of loss and separation, walls and distance. She was particularly moved by an image of ghost lillies, which sprouted up from the abandoned buildings in Detroit. She reads poetry in the morning, which often inspires her.
“Because these thoughts percolate in the back of your mind, something comes up. A word, a phrase, sometimes a poem starts coming out on the page.”
When the family moved every few years, the Narwanis made good use of their Cessna.
“When my friends were on the golf course on a Saturday morning, we’d get into my little airplane and fly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, or go from Mumbai to Agra, or we’d go from Bournemouth in England to Dinard in France. That’s what we did on our weekends and holidays,” said Dru.
After overseeing the $300 million USD acquisition of Nakornthon Bank in 1999, Dru was looking for a change in lifestyle.
“I’m 50 now, banking’s been a lot of fun but I don’t want to die a rich banker. I want to do more with my life,” he said.
He wanted to connect with friends, family, his daughters. The family originally moved back to Toronto, but found it too busy. They sold their plane in Australia before moving back to Canada, and Dru was looking for a replacement. The right plane happened to be in Comox, which brought them by chance back to the same island they went for their honeymoon in 1972. They have, however, moved on from Ulrike’s old Volkswagen and the pup tent they used the first time around.
Tickets are $10 at Tanner’s Books and online at sidneyliteraryfestival.ca/tickets