Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Kuldip Gill was an award-winning poet, professor and mentor based in BC. She had an elegance and class about her that was so charming it was hard to ignore. Kuldip mentored me for my MFA summer thesis, a project that eventually became my first book-- Bleeding Light.
The first and only time we met was a sunny day in Toronto. We agreed to meet at the hotel she was staying at. When I greeted her in the lobby, her pure white hair and tasteful red lipstick proved to me that you can be beautiful at any age. She was the epitome of grace. We had a coffee at the hotel cafe, brainstorming about the etymology of words and the structure of ghazals. We had a buffet lunch at an Indian restaurant and returned to the hotel so she could change for the book launch we planned to attend in the evening. Dressed in black with a subdued but intricately designed Kashmiri shawl, Kuldip apologized for making me wait for so long in the lobby (in truth, the wait was quite short). After the book launch, I offered to catch her a cab, but she insisted that she would be okay. She was independent, strong and resilient.
Kuldip was one of the first Canadian poets to experiment with the ghazal form in English. She insisted that before I could write a ghazal, I needed to research the form. She taught me to respect and study the tradition and then formulate my own poetic voice. It was one of the most valuable lessons I've learned as a writer.
Throughout the summer, we communicated via email. We exchanged comments on my ghazals and she sent me her own poetry, asking me for my opinion. It was a rewarding process, intellectually challenging and creatively stimulating. She responded to my edits within a day, always with positive and useful feedback.
Kuldip passed away before Bleeding Light was published. I was shocked and stunned. I had no idea she was ill, and didn't know how to deal with her death. The only way I could honour her was to dedicate my book to her memory.
I ordered Valley Sutra, the last book she wrote before she died, and read it cover to cover. In between the free verse poems, I found a handful of ghazals. I felt connected to her through the couplets, through the fact that a part of me stayed with her, and a part of her will always stay with me.
Our whole lives,
by this flowing river.
Our whole lives
flowing -- by this river.
Kuldip Gill, Valley Sutra