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Athabasca University

P.K. Page

Patricia Kathleen Page was born in Swanage in Dorset, England, on November 23, 1916. She and her family moved to Red Deer, Alberta, in 1919, so that her father could advance his career in the Canadian military. She lived in various places across Canada, including Calgary, Alberta, and Saint John, New Brunswick, before settling in Montreal, Quebec, in 1941. While working as a filing clerk and historical researcher there, she helped found and worked on the magazine Preview (1942-45) with poets Patrick Anderson, A.M. Klein, F. R. Scott, Neufville Shaw, A.J.M. Smith and John Sutherland. Her poems first appeared in periodicals in the late 1930s, and later in Ronald Hambleton’s anthology Unit of Five (1944). Her first book was a romantic novel, The Sun and the Moon (1944), which she published under the pseudonym Judith Cape; she published her first solo book of poetry, As Ten, as Twenty (1946), under her real name. From 1946 to 1950 she worked as a scriptwriter at the National Film Board of Canada in Ottawa. In 1950 she married editor William Arthur Irwin, and between 1953 and 1964 she travelled with him to his postings as Canadian high commissioner to Australia (1953-1956) and as ambassador to Brazil (1956-1959) and Mexico and Guatemala (1960-1964). She has lived in Victoria, British Columbia, since 1964. She is the author of over two dozen books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, including books for children. Page is also an accomplished visual artist, having studied art in Brazil and at the Art Students’ League and Pratt Graphics in New York (among other places) in 1959 and 1960. Her visual art (as P.K. Irwin) is exhibited in several permanent collections in Canada, including the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Page’s first prize was the Oscar Blumenthal Award for her publications in Chicago’s Poetry magazine in 1944. She won the 1954 Governor General’s Literary Award for her second book of poetry, The Metal and the Flower (1954). She has also won the 1986 Canadian Authors Association Jack Chalmers Poetry Award for The Glass Air (1986); Canada’s National Magazine Award (Gold) for poetry published in Malahat Review (1985), the B.C. Book Awards Hubert Evans Prize for Brazilian Journal (1988); and the Banff School of Fine Arts National Award (1989) for lifetime achievement. Her poem "Planet Earth" from The Hidden Room (1997) was selected for the United Nations’ 2001 Dialogue Among Civilizations Through Poetry reading series; it was read at locations considered "international ground," from the United Nations to Mount Everest to Antarctica. In 1977 she became an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in 1998 she was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Throughout her long career Page has maintained a style of poetry in keeping with the modernist influences developed during her association with the Montreal group of poets in the 1940s. Among these influences are T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, and D.H. Lawrence, as well as the symbolist and metaphysical poets (such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Gerard Manley Hopkins and George Herbert) that the modernists admired. At the same time she has resisted the creative stultification that such longevity may imply. In an interview Page responds to the suggestion that her work expresses a belief in "multiple selves":

I am aware of the fact that we are multiple—all of us […] I now think there are many I’s in us [...] For instance, let us say I decide to go on a diet. The I that gets up in the morning full of resolve is not the I that goes out to dinner and has a drink and finds the food awfully good, and goes to bed full of remorse. Somehow we are deluded into thinking that all these I’s are one, but I don’t think they are. Perhaps if we could see them all and let them act out their little lives they might ultimately fuse. But in the unregenerate state [...] we can’t bring them all together. (Wiesenthal 14)

In combining notions of identity with the routines (and foibles) of daily life, this excerpt serves as a fair summation of the content and manner of her poetry, in which prosaic details of life rendered concrete through imagery serve to connect the individual with larger philosophical questions. Furthermore, such a notion of the multiple self can free the artist to explore the influences that make up the components of such a self, a freedom that Page’s poetry has taken up. Page’s interest in Sufi poets such as Rumi and in Spanish writers such as Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda demonstrate that her poetic purview is wider than the Anglo-American modernists of the early twentieth century. In another sign of her expansive poetic mode, she has collaborated in various projects, notably in her renga poems of And Once More Saw the Stars (2001) (in which Page and Philip Stratford contributed alternating stanzas to four poems) and in her book of glosas (a poetic form in which a stanza from another poet’s work is worked into an original poem). She has also collaborated with Italian artists in the bilingual Rosa Dei Venti/Compass Rose (1988) and in several musical and filmic adaptations of her work. Her interest in painting and drawing is seen in her willingness to combine text and image, as in Cry Ararat! (1967) and the autobiographical travelogue Brazilian Journal(1987). The influence of her visual arts is also seen in her poetry’s interest in light, sight, and the nature of representation. Though her poetry usually does not display overt didacticism, her work has demonstrable interest in social movements, from the socialism that infused her work from the 1940s and 1950s to the environmentalism of the present day. Even after a generation’s time as a poet, her work is fresh enough to receive critical esteem: Hologram (1994) was nominated for the 1994 Pat Lowther Memorial Award and Planet Earth (2002) was shortlisted for the 2003 Griffin Poetry Prize. (Vivian Zenari)

Updated February 12 2015 by Student & Academic Services

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