Author Tags: Alcohol, Poetry
"The myth is that I'm some sort of barbarian. I hate that myth." -- Patrick Lane
Patrick was invested into the Order of Canada in 2014.
Patrick Lane was born on March 26, 1939 in the Kootenay mountain town of Sheep Creek, near Nelson, and grew up in the B.C. Interior, primarily in Vernon. His father, an ex-miner, had moved to the dry Interior because he was suffering from silicosis. Lane couldn't escape the pattern of futility in his Okanagan surroundings. "My brother Johnny got married in June because he got his girlfriend pregnant," he told the Globe & Mail in 2000, "My brother Dick got married in September because he got his girlfriend pregnant. And I got married in February because I got my girlfriend pregnant." Lane left school to work as a labourer, fruit picker and truck driver, later becoming a first-aid man because it paid an additional l5 cents per hour. In a company town of Avola, with 150 people, he sometimes dealt with grisly injuries. Having been a regular at Rivard's pool hall in Vernon, he dreamed of making his living as a pool player until his teacher said he could never make it because he wore glasses. Lane decided to try writing instead. He mailed three poems to Canadian Forum and they were all accepted. When other poems sent to PRISM at UBC were rejected, Earle Birney nonetheless sent him an encouraging letter of praise.
Lane came to Vancouver after the death of his brother Richard (Red) Lane, also a poet, in 1964, due to a cerebral hemorrhage. After three children, he and his wife divorced and she married a rich man. Lane was astonished to hear the poetry of Al Purdy, a mentor-to-be, who later drank with him at the Cecil Hotel in Vancouver, and his course was set. He also received some early encouragement from Earle Birney. In 1965, along with bill bissett, Jim Brown and Seymour Mayne, Lane began one of the first literary publishing houses in counter-cultural Kitsilano called Very Stone House Press. Its first books appeared under the imprint talonbooks/Very Stone House. Talonbooks and Very Stone House had become separate imprints by 1967. The latter would publish poetry by Red Lane and Pat Lowther's This Difficult Flowring. In 1968, Patrick Lane was jarred by the shooting death of his father by a customer who had a grudge against the earth moving equipment company for which his father was an employee. In 1969 Lane moved to Trumansburg, New York to work on the New American and Canadian Poetry periodical. Very Stone House Press became Very Stone House Press in Transit for ten years. Down and out in Toronto, Lane sold his literary papers to McMaster University for $3,000 in 1971 and took off, wandering through South America for three years. He almost died after being bitten by a poisonous centipede. It was one more close call, having survived several severe car crashes.
In 1972 Lane was awarded the York University Poetry Award for his book Mountain Oysters. Since then he was won some of the major poetry prizes in Canada including the Governor General's Award in 1979, the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry in 1988 and the Dorothy Livesay Prize. His first published story 'Rabbits' appeared in the Canadian Forum in 1985 and received a National Magazine Award; seven years later he published his first collection of fiction. Having survived broken marriages and addiction to alcohol, Lane has produced more than 20 books of poetry and now lives comfortably in Victoria with his partner and fellow poet Lorna Crozier, both of whom teach writing at the University of Victoria. They met a writers' workshop in Saskatchewan in 1976 when Crozier was married. He is the father of five children and the grandfather of five. Fellow poet Susan Musgrave organized a 55th birthday celebration for Lane in 1994, gathering 54 poets for a commemorative volume called Because You Love Being a Stranger. He is well-liked by his students and revered by his writing colleagues, but his reputation for bluntness often precedes him. "He's like a dog that sometimes pisses on the rug," says Victoria writer and friend Linda Rogers. In fact, Lane has mellowed somewhat into a ruminative soul, writing evocative descriptions of wildlife and flowers as a passionate gardener for his memoir called There Is a Season: A Memoir in a Garden. "Guilt is the emotion that wastes a life," he writes.
Regret, guilt, violence, shotgun weddings, thievery, carnivals, drunkenness, deaths. Ostensibly There is a Season: A Memoir in a Garden is an uplifting work of a man who kicked alcoholism in 1999 by taking refuge in his garden, observing his pond and flowers, but it’s mostly memorable as autobiographical litany of finely etched pain. The death of Lane’s revered older brother Richard 'Red' Lane, also a gifted poet, was fundamental. At his wife’s urging, Lane had kicked his brother of their trailer in Merritt two months before his death.
“Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s while I struggled with my early poems, I lived in a trailer park in Merritt, a wretched, dusty mill town in southern British Columbia. My two children were three years and one year old and my young wife tried and failed daily to be happy in the miserable trailer the bank owned. I left that flaking aluminum prison each morning for a job in the sawmill, the only life I knew then, though I laboured late into the night on writing my poems. I think it was poetry that save me from killing myself or killing others. There were times when I sucked the steel barrel of my Lee-Enfield rifle or, worse, aimed it at a passing pickup truck. What saved my wife I do not know. In December 1964, there was a phone call late at night from my sister, Linda, telling me Dick was dead. I borrowed my boss’s car and drove crazily over the winding mountain roads to Vernon, where my birth family huddled, waiting for his ashes to be shipped up from Vancouver. In four more years I would be gone, my wife remarried and my children lost to me. After my divorce I lived in a fury. I ranged from woman to girl, friend to stranger, bar to barrio, city to village, all designed with one end in mind, to kill myself or at least kill whatever it was that daily ate me alive. I made women fall in love with me and then discarded them like chaff. Guilt, fear, self-pity, self-loathing, self-destruction, all and none of them. I remember little of those years. Much of it is blacked out by depression, alcohol, and drugs. I remember waking up in a car wreck in a snowbound field south of Prince George and wondering why I was still alive. I pried the barbed wire off the door and walked away in search of a bar.”
In 2005, There is a Season: A Memoir in a Garden was nominated for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction, the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize, the Pearson Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize and the new British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. It received the first BC Award for Canadian Non-Fiction [See press release below]. In the same year Go Leaving Strange was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Prize.
In 2007, Patrick Lane received the fourth annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence. Later that year he released a new collection of poems, Last Water Songs, that included poems about deceased Canadian writers he had known: his brother Red Lane, Adele Wiseman, Al Pittman, Al Purdy, Alden Nowlan, Anne Szumigalski, Bronwen Wallace, Earle Birney, Elizabeth Smart, Frank Scott, Gwendolyn MacEwan, John Newlove, Milton Acorn (known as "Uncle Miltie" to Lane's kids), the murderer Roy Lowther, Pat Lowther and Irving Layton.
Anyone somewhat familiar with Patrick Lane's past will see autobiographical elements in his his first novel, Red Dog, Red Dog, about two brothers in a unnamed Okanagan town--and the possibilities for redemption and forgiveness. The story is redolent of Lane's harrowing upbringing and the desperation of feeling trapped within patterns of violence and secrecy. The story is partly narrated by one of the dead infant daughters buried by the boys' violent father, Elmer Stark. While the older brother, Eddy, acts out with drugs and weapons, the more introspective brother, Tom, tries to keep a lid on his feelings. Red Dog, Red Dog was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.
After Red Dog, Red Dog, Patrick Lane believed his poetry career was at an end. It was only while revisiting his poems for a collected works that he experienced a rekindling in his love for poetry. That rebirth launched him on a new phase and style of poetry composition with Washita (Harbour $18.95), his first collection of his new work to appear in seven years. Honest and reflective, Washita evokes the loss of loved ones, the breakdown of our bodies and the acquisition of hard-won wisdom. For Washita, Patrick Lane won the Raymond Souster Award for the best book of poetry by a League of Canadian Poets member published in the preceding year. The award honours the late Raymond Souster, an early founder of the LCP. Washita was also shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize.
Patrick Lane has lived and travelled extensively and his work has been published in England, France, the Czech Republic, Italy, China, Japan, Chile, Colombia, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands and Russia. He has been a writer in residence and teacher at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, the University of Victoria in British Columbia, and the University of Toronto in Ontario.
Patrick Lane lives near Victoria, B.C., with his wife, the poet Lorna Crozier.
Reviews of the author's work by BC Studies:
Red Dog, Red Dog
Letters From the Savage Mind. Very Stone House, 1966.
Calgary City Jail. Poster Poem 6. Very Stone House, 1969.
Separations. Trumansburg, N.Y.: New Books, 1969.
Mountain Oysters. Very Stone House, 1971.
The Sun has Begun to Eat the Mountain. Montreal: Ingluvin Publications, 1972.
Passing into Storm. Vernon, B.C.: Traumerei Communications, 1973.
Beware the Months of Fire. Toronto: Anansi, 1974.
Unborn Things: South American Poems. Madeira Park, B.C.: Harbour, 1975.
Albino Pheasants. Madeira Park, B.C.: Harbour, 1977.
Poems, New & Selected. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1978. -- winner of the Governor-General's Award
The Measure. Windsor, Ont.: Black Moss, 1980.
Woman in the Dust. Oakville, Ont.: Mosaic, 1983.
A Linen Crow, a Caftan Magpie. Saskatoon: Thistledown Press, 1984.
For Riel in that Gawdam Prison. Burnaby, B.C.: Blackfish Press, 1985.
Selected Poems. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1987. -- winner of Canadian Authors Association Award
Milford and Me. Regina: Coteau Books, 1989. -- poems for children
Winter. Regina: Coteau Books, 1990.
Mortal Remains. Toronto: Exile Editions, 1991.
How Do You Spell Beautiful?: and Other Stories. Saskatoon: Fifth House, 1992. -- stories
Too Spare, Too Fierce. Madeira Park, B.C.: Harbour, 1995.
The Bare Plum of Winter Rain. Madeira Park, B.C.: Harbour, 2000.
Notes From the Belly of the Beast (edited w/Lorna Crozier). Greystone 2001
What the Stones Remember - Trumpeter Books (USA) 2002
Moving Small Stories (Victoria: Frog Hollow Press, 2003). Limited edition, edited by Patrick Lane.
There Is a Season: A Memoir in a Garden (M&S, 2004) 0-7710-4633-2
Go Leaving Strange, Poems (Harbour, 2004)
Last Water Song - (Harbour 2007)
Red Dog, Red Dog - (M&S 2008).
Witness: Selected Poems 1970-2010. (Harbour, 2010) 978-155017-508-0 : $16.95
The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane (Harbour 2011). Edited with an introduction by Russell Morton Brown and Donna Bennett, with an Afterword by Nicholas Bradley. $44.95 978-1-55017-547-5
Washita: New Poems (Harbour 2014) $18.95 978-1-55017-676-6
[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2015]
Addicted: Notes from the Belly of the Beast (Greystone $22.95)
In her contribution to Addicted: Notes from the Belly of the Beast (Greystone $22.95), Sheri-D Wilson describes how partying fulfilled her desire to avoid the life of the ladylike housewife, to smash stereotypes that a woman couldn’t keep up with a man, and to swim in the exotic seas of Kerouacian reverence. She wanted to be a poet. Wilson did poetry readings in Vancouver for a small fee and an unlimited bar tab, assuming this was the way poets were supposed to act. She figured the more she drank, the more money she was making. Only hours after insulting nearly all the guests at an engagement party with her ‘swish frankness,’ Wilson sucker-punches an unwanted houseguest before abandoning him in a gas station and driving off in a drunken fit. Somewhere along that road from Romantic Artist to Ruthless Thug, she starts to wake up.
Booze and drugs can hit anyone, anywhere—in fact, addiction can be seen as one of the great unifiers of modern life. The world of art and writing, however, is unique in its romanticism of drunken rants and wild jazzy binges.
Edited by Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane, the ten essays in Addicted also expose some of the other private addictions from within Canada’s writing community—compulsive candy eating (Evelyn Lau) to morphine (Stephen Reid) to smoking (Peter Gzowski)—but mostly it’s demon alcohol that’s the problem. Patterns of abuse, self-destruction and procrastination for these ten writers are exposed, but they’re also intent upon exploring why the condition of ‘creating’ seems to so often lead to drug and alcohol abuse. For starters, the bohemian lifestyle practically requires a little dabbling in pot or wine.
Novelist David Adams Richards considers a childhood where drinking was everywhere. “It lay in the burdocks and pissed its pants, or came at me zigzagging up walkways, answering to the names of forgotten cousins and family members…It blossomed at weddings, got sentimental at baptisms; it carried the weight of a sagged paunch, had a sad grin or light whimsical eyes at forty…So before I ever drank or sang an Irish rebel song or shouted out in joy and rebellion, drink was part of me.”
[BCBW SUMMER 2002]
PATRICK LANE (1988)
PATRICK LANE was born in Nelson, BC in 1939. He grew up in the Okanagan region of the BC interior, primarily in Vernon. He came to Vancouver and co-founded a small press, Very Stone House, with bill bissett and Seymour Mayne. He then drifted extensively throughout South America and North America. He won the Governor General's Award for poetry in 1979 for Poems New and Selected and published his Selected Poems in 1987, for which he received the 1988 Canadian Authors Association poetry award. Patrick Lane lives in Saskatoon. He was interviewed in 1988.
T: How much do you see yourself as a product of BC?
LANE: Quite a lot. I grew up in British Columbia in the post-war years. This was before the industrialization of the late fifties when this province was transformed by Macmillan Bloedel and Weyerhaeuser and other large companies. Before that, the little towns where I grew up were tiny communities, self-contained universes all of their own. There was no television. The global village hadn't happened yet. We were a quasi industrialized collection of serfs and masters.
If somebody got injured or hurt, that was just too bad. There was no compensation to speak of. The IW A had organized only a few of the bigger mills. In fact, I hated unions when I was a kid. I thought unions were a sign of weakness. The real working class wouldn't belong to a union. I think if I remain true to anything I remain true to that world I came out of, and to the people I knew intimately. In that pure intuitive sense you understand the class you come out of.
T: Were you aware of your particular "class" at the time?
LANE: Oh, totally. Totally. Completely class-conscious. I hated the rich. And I was envious. I wanted that for myself. I used to go with a knife up to the neighborhood in Vernon where the rich people lived. I'd go down the blocks and the alleys and I'd slash the tires of the all the rich kids' bikes. I did that one September, every night. The Phantom Bike Tire Slasher. I was enraged and I hated these rich kids. They had everything. There was a profound hatred and I desperately wanted to be there in their world of privilege.
T: Was there any shame in being a tire slasher?
LANE: Oh, no. There was elation, triumph. A feeling of complete omnipotence. Of power. The lonely tire-slasher. I felt no guilt or social responsibility. I felt they deserved what they were getting.
By the time I was getting out of high school in the late fifties my father did move into the middle class. He got a good job and a brand new car every year. Suddenly the world changed. I had nice clothes. We had a big house. But then I left school and I plunged right back down into the working class again. There was no way to transfer that middle class onto me. I got married and I went to work in the sawmills. And it was horrifying. Living in "picker" shacks with the wife and kids. I became a first aid man. I was a first aid man for years because it paid fifteen cents more an hour. Instead of making $1.50 an hour I made a $1.65. That meant I could buy one case of beer a month. I'd pretend to get whacko drunk on that one case of beer, then I'd wait twenty-nine days until I could do it again.
T: You once said that you "wrote yourself out of poverty."
LANE: When I say I wrote myself out of poverty I mean I found an excuse not to have to live the way I was living anymore. Writing, for me, became a way of life. A lifestyle. I delighted in the activity. It allowed me to leave my marriage. That particular wife went off and married a millionaire. I didn't have to pay alimony. I disappeared off the face of the earth for five years. I left Vancouver. I went on the road. I bummed around South America, New York, Toronto, San Francisco, New Orleans.
In a sense I wrote myself out of the poverty that's created in dependencies in relationships. And I wrote myself into the poverty of being completely isolated and alone, which I much preferred.
T: Looking back, can you see why you became a writer?
LANE: I was a bizarre child paranoid wandering through the world with a malevolent view of how the social system worked. My brother and I would read all these books, from Socrates on. I remember reading Nietzsche when I was fifteen years old. And Thomas Mann. We made long lists. There was an intellectual system here and we wanted to figure it out. My brother and I read these things and then we'd compare notes. It wasn't for personal enlightenment. We just wanted to know how the enemy thought.
While we were doing B&Es, I was also leading this other imaginary, intellectual life, or aesthetic life. I always saw that as a way of escaping. I wasn't going to go to the penitentiary. I decided that when I was six years old. Those people my brothers and I hung out with, they're either all dead or in jail. There's not one of them "out." I know five guys right now who are still doing time. The others are dead from heroin or suicide or murder.
So writing became a way out of that. And there was also a desire to create a testament. I remember reading the testament of Francois Villon when I was about thirteen. I remember thinking, "Pat Lane will write a great testament."
T: Your older brother, Red, also became a writer. And so did another brother, John.
LANE: Yes, I don't know too many situations in literary history where three brothers all became writers.
T: Were you competitive?
LANE: Oh, it was really brutal, but I was a tough competitor. I had to be. When I was really a little kid, my older brother, Dick, grabbed me and held me down and spat in my face and I said, "You can do this all day, if you want. But when you let me up, I'll kill you." He got scared and let me up. I went and got a two-by-four and waited for him at the corner of the house.
When he came around the corner of the house I hit with the two-by-four on the back of the head and he never held me down again. To me that was very simple and straightforward: this is how we're going to operate, older brother, you and I. So he left me alone.
T: So you hit him with the two-by four not emotionally, but totally rationally.
LANE: It was a completely rational act.
T: It's that unusual cold-mindedness that people respond to when you're describing violence in your poetry.
LANE: They're expecting compassion and sentiment and involvement of feeling, and that is there in the poems but they don't always recognize it. I'm saying, "Look, there's this guy sitting at the bar and he's driving pins into his hand with a beer glass and everybody's sitting there watching him do it. This is what he does. This is his thing in life: to put pins in his hands." This man will sticks pins in his arm forever in this poem. There's no relief from that knowledge. For me that was crucial to most of my poetry for fifteen years. To elicit response. And to record with an absolute, cold, clear eye. It evolved into a kind of Patrick Lane poem. Violence and a situational anecdote: life is hell. I got really good at that. I could have gone on writing a Pat Lane poem forever. But there was no growth.
T: Your later poems are more philosophical, more concerned with history and asking questions. Do you look back at your work and see the highlights where you changed?
LANE: Well, there's a poem I wrote while I was in South America called "Unborn Things" in which I said compassion is only the beginning of suffering. I think the poem personified a moment of change in my life. I began to explore the idea of compassion and the kinds of responsibilities a writer has towards the characters he creates. That's the period where I really learned how to write. Prior to that I was just another one of the hundreds and hundreds of people who were throwing words down on a page.
Then in the late seventies my writing changed again. At the end of all those books I had nothing left. It was like I was a musician looking around to make a new piece of music. A new symphony. God, what'll I do? I explored for four or five years. Now I'm working on a group of short stories. And I'm working on a long sequences of poems which are very different. And I'm living reasonably quietly and happily, which is what I think most of us try to do.
T: I'd say the poems from your "middle period" are the most effective. The newer work has more references to other poets. I don't have the energy to figure out what it all means because I don't really care enough.
LANE: Perhaps I've become more obscure. I don't know. I don't even think that I'm writing for an audience any more. I don't expect the great mass of humanity to pick up my book and get excited about it. Did the mass audience get excited about Dylan Thomas or Robert Lowell or Irving Layton? If I write at all, I'm writing for those people who really are interested in the kind of density that poetry can offer.
T: So does poetry necessarily evolve into an elitist pursuit?
LANE: What elite? What poets do you know that belong to an elite? Some novelists might belong, but not the poets. Nobody supports themselves as a poet. And frankly, I don't blame people if they don't read poetry. It takes a lot of work to read poetry well and people have enough going on in their lives. A good writer needs readers who have as much time as the writer does.
T: So do you qualify as a good reader?
LANE: I hope so. I find myself going back now to texts that I've always delighted in. Writers that I've always loved. I go back to Alden Nowlan and John Newlove. Or Kenneth Rexroth. Or Cavafy. Or some of the Chinese anthologies. It's like listening to old friends. It's like listening to music.
T: Now that you're living in Saskatchewan you've gone from living in the interior of BC to living in the interior of Canada.
LANE: That's right. One of the reasons I moved to the prairie is that the people of Saskatchewan are very similar to the people I remember from the interior of BC. They have a sense of community and solidarity and identity. The Saskatchewan Writers Guild has a membership of fifteen hundred writers. Everybody cooperates. There's none of the backbiting and viciousness and ambition that I used to see in Vancouver. Back in the old days, all the poets would gather at the Cecil Hotel. People would literally walk out bereft and crying because they weren't included in the latest clique or claque or whatever. It was just awful. The terrible cruelties that occurred.
T: Out of that has sprung what George Bowering calls the Poetry Wars.
LANE: That's right. The writers around George don't read my writing at all. Never did. And the writers that I know don't read George. He writes for the world of post-modernism and deconstructionism. The new intellectual wave in poetry. More power to them. But it's a small dance step on the side. I do think that Bowering's Kerrisdale Elegies is an absolutely wonderful book, the best thing George has written since, god, 1968. But our relationship has much more to do with his relationship with my brother than with our writing.
T: There were three of you connected to the Okanagan and each other. Red Lane, Pat Lane and George Bowering. With your brother in the middle.
LANE: And his history of my brother is so different from my history of my brother. We obviously knew totally different men. Now the writers connected with George remember my brother with great fondness. Dorothy Livesay thought he personified the great working class in a purely romantic way. It was just silly. He just came from the interior like I did. I remember him coming home from Vancouver and telling me what he thought of these guys. Frankly, he was mostly envious of them, and very frustrated. I don't think they liked his writing much at all. They mostly liked him because he was wild and crazy and he did bizarre things.
My brother was a walk on the wild side for a lot of those middle-class kids whose daddies were schoolteachers. He'd take them on journeys. They'd break into houses and buildings. He showed them the criminal element. Wild parties, gangsters with guns, prostitutes. They thought this was great. And the thing was, it wasn't great at all. It was awful.
T: In terms of the Poetry Wars, "The Weight" stands out as a statement from you.
LANE: It's an indictment of Western Canadian literature and the kind of people who have written about our history. I don't believe a lot of writers have loved their country in the way they should have. They've avoided confronting the kinds of honesties that were necessary. Without all the intellectual claptrap and game-playing.
The French philosophical systems and post-modernism and all this nonsense. Instead of real people with real problems. Hundreds and thousands and millions of people are suffering in absolute shit and these people are sitting in their little ivory boxes, dealing with people purely theoretically. They live and write in a middleclass vacuum where only mind matters.
T: Are there any writers who are confronting "your" realities?
LANE: The women. Unquestionably the women. From the cold objectivism of Atwood to someone like Lorna Crozier or Edna Alford or Alice Munro, I think women's writing in Canada has confronted the real social issues of our era. Very rarely do the men deal with how people relate to each other and how community is made and maintained. The best new young poets seem to be women.
T: So has living with a female writer helped you as a writer? Learning by osmosis?
LANE: Through Lorna I've confronted aspects of feminism and I've managed to meet a great number of remarkable writers, most of whom are women.
T: Have you become a good critic of yourself as a writer?
LANE: I hope so. I hope I don't suffer too many delusions about my work. I've seen too many writers who suffer delusions. I swore when I was younger that I wouldn't be like that. To have everybody sit back and say, "Well, it's okay. Pat Lane, he's an old guy. ..the early stuff was really good. Now be nice to him. What the hell, he's eighty. .." I would cut my throat rather than have that.
T: That's why Selected Poems is such a thin book.
LANE: I'd like it to be even thinner. I think there's about ten or twelve poems in there that are really good. You can't touch them. You can't take a word out or put a word in. The making of a beautiful thing. It's an act of great privilege. It's a great high for me.
T: There's a line in one of your poems that mentions "a terrible patience."
LANE: Yes. That's nice. That's very true. That's what it is. There's a terrible patience in writing. Just as there's a terrible patience in most human relationships. I used to worry. But I don't attack myself about it anymore. I'm willing to wait.
I've realized, for one thing, that so much of writing is physical. You have to get your body geared up for it. It's like setting yourself up for the Olympics, right? You've got five years to get your body tuned perfectly. Maybe you'll win a medal. Maybe you'll even get to cry. But it's really for the enlightening moment of the performance that you do it. If you're a skier you mostly like the feeling of going down the hill. It's perfect and you think, "Goddamn. Five years to get here." For me, poetry's the same thing.
T: Except at the Olympics there are millions of people watching the event. Whereas when a poet is going down the hill of his craft...
LANE: Yes, I see what you mean. There's a couple of thousand in Canada that follow it. And my country funds it. But that's the measure of an enlightened country. To invest in that kind of dreaming. You've got to invest in excellence otherwise you'll always remain colonial, a people who work for others, a people who dream another people's dreams. You've got to invest in R & D.
T: Poetry as Research and Development.
LANE: That's what it's always been about. That's how we measure civilization. The great plays and poetry of Greece were found on bits and pieces of parchments or a few discarded shards of goddamn goatskin. Our society will be measured the same way. Except much of the measurement is going to come from video and from film and from a variety of other testaments. I operate in an outmoded form. Poetry is less important to our mass culture now. But diplomats occasionally realize how important it is internationally. When Canada needs to ship out a cultural icon they sometimes ship out a poet. It's important. It's one of the ways cultures communicate with each other.'
T: Have you thought about what you could do, at age fifty, if you weren't a poet?
LANE: If I wasn't a poet, I'd be back in the mills, or building houses, or in the mines. It's what I was raised to do.
[STRONG VOICES by Alan Twigg (Harbour 1988)] “Interview”
British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
News Release (2005)
May 30, 2005
Office of the Premier
British Columbia Achievement Foundation
PATRICK LANE RECEIVES CANADIAN NON-FICTION AWARD
VANCOUVER - Patrick Lane is the first recipient of Canada's newest major
literary prize, the British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. Premier
Gordon Campbell presented Mr. Lane with the $25,000 award today in Vancouver
for his memoir There Is a Season.
"This award was established to recognize Canada's finest writers of literary
non-fiction," said Campbell. "Mr. Lane's achievements as a poet and
non-fiction writer have contributed immeasurably to Canadian literature. On
behalf of all British Columbians I offer him our warmest congratulations."
"The British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction marks the first time
that a major national book prize has originated in British Columbia," said
Keith Mitchell, the chair of the British Columbia Achievement Foundation,
which established and launched the new award. "The four finalists for this
inaugural year were simply outstanding. They represent the country's best in
The independent jury panel for the award was also introduced today: author
Denise Chong, University of Victoria professor Lynne Van Luven, and retired
journalist Paddy Sherman.
There Is a Season is an exquisite memoir in which Lane, a passionate
gardener, explores the way his garden's life intertwines with his own. When
he gave up drinking, after years of addiction, Lane found solace and healing
in tending to his yard. Now, he relates stories of his hard early life in
the context of the landscape he's created. As he observes seasonal changes,
a plant or a bird or the way a tree bends in the wind brings to mind an
episode from his storied past.
Along with Mr. Lane, three other finalists were in the running for this
year's award: Jane Jacobs for Dark Age Ahead, Harry Thurston for A Place
Between the Tides, and Ronald Wright for A Short History of Progress.
The British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction is an annual prize
established by the British Columbia Achievement Foundation, an independent
foundation endowed by the Province of British Columbia in 2003 to celebrate
excellence and achievement.
The finalists for this year's award were selected from 79 entries submitted
to the independent jury panel by 49 publishers from across Canada. To be
eligible for consideration, books had to published in Canada in English
during the 2004 calendar year, authored by a Canadian citizen or permanent
resident of Canada and submitted by the publisher.
ADDITIONAL INFO ABOUT THE PRIZE
The $25,000 British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction originated in
B.C. and will be presented annually.
The first edition of the book must be published in Canada in English between
Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of the preceding calendar year. A book must be published in printed form for general commercial release. Self-published books are not eligible. Only serious literary non-fiction is eligible. Such books as textbooks, how-to books, photographic books, etc. are not eligible. A book must be written by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada.
The British Columbia Achievement Foundation was established and endowed by
the Province of British Columbia in 2003 to celebrate excellence and
achievement. It is devoted to recognizing outstanding community, creative,
intellectual, and cultural contributions and to promoting a climate of
possibility and encouragement. The foundation is independent, established with an initial endowment of $6 million from the Province of B.C. The B.C. Award for Canadian Non-Fiction is one of three awards developed by the foundation. The others are the B.C. Community Achievement Awards, which recognize those who have made a significant contribution to their community, and the B.C. Creative Achievement Awards, which recognize excellence in applied art and design. (info distributed in 2005)
Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence
Press Release (2007)
Vancouver, BC – The West Coast Book Prize Society is proud to recognize Patrick Lane as the recipient of the fourth annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence. The Honourable Iona Campagnolo will present the award at the Lieutenant Governor’s BC Book Prizes Gala to be held at Government House in Victoria on April 28, 2007.
“It has been said of his prose that it can be savoured like the music of Mozart. It has been said of his early poetry that it resonates with the voice of the land and those who live close to the rugged world. He has said, himself, that he has written his way out of poverty and into a way of life. In doing so, Patrick Lane has also written himself into a central position in the Canadian literary scene. He is considered by admiring readers—including scholars, critics, and fellow writers—to be one of the finest poets of his generation, a reputation that extends far beyond our national borders and has been further enhanced and expanded by his recent prose memoir There is a Season, widely acknowledged as a masterpiece. Sometimes requiring us to confront violence, injustice, death, and regret, as well as instances of compassion, beauty, and wisdom, his often understated images are delivered with such stark precision, stunning insight, and subtle compassion that they may linger, disturb, and provoke understanding long after the page has been turned. His books have won most of the prestigious literary awards in Canada, including the Governor General's Award, the Dorothy Livesay Award, and the BC Award for Canadian Non-fiction. He remains a generous mentor to younger poets even as he continues to pursue his own adventures with words. Courageous, compelled, enduring—like the carpenter in one of his early poems, Lane-the-writer keeps ‘pushing the floor another level higher / like a hawk who every year adds levels to his nest / until he's risen above the tree he builds on / and alone lifts off into the wind / beating his wings like nails into the sky.’” – Jury member Jack Hodgins
Patrick Lane was born in 1939 in Nelson, BC, and grew up in the Okanagan region of the BC interior, primarily in Vernon. In Vancouver he co-founded a small press, Very Stone House, with bill bissett and Seymour Mayne. He then drifted extensively throughout North and South America working at a variety of jobs from labourer to industrial accountant, but much of his life has been spent as a poet, having produced twenty-four books of poetry to date. His poetry and fiction have been widely anthologized and have been translated into many languages.
Lane has won nearly every literary prize in Canada, from the Governor General's Award to Canadian Authors Association Award to the Dorothy Livesay Prize. He has been a resident writer at the University of Manitoba, Concordia University, the University of Alberta, the Saskatoon Public Library, and the University of Toronto. He taught English Literature at the University of Saskatchewan from 1986 to 1990, and Creative Writing at the University of Victoria from 1991 to 2004. Presently, he leads private writing retreats and teaches at such schools as The Banff Writing Workshops, ‘Booming Ground’ at UBC, The Victoria Writing School, and The Sage Hill Experience in Saskatchewan. He has appeared at literary festivals around the world and has read and published his work in many countries including England, France, the Czech Republic, Italy, China, Japan, Chile, Colombia, the Netherlands and Russia.
Lane now makes his home in Victoria, BC, with his companion, the poet Lorna Crozier. He is the father of five children and grandfather of five. The jury for this year’s Lieutenant Governor’s Award: Jack Hodgins, Gail Bull and Paul Whitney. Previous winners: P.K. Page, Robert Bringhurst and Jack Hodgins.
The Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence was first conceived of in the spring of 2002. Led by the late Carol Shields, a group of respected British Columbia writers met with the Honourable Iona Campagnolo to initiate a special Provincial Literary Arts Award. Inspired by Ms. Shields, this meeting resulted in the establishment of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence. The award recognizes a writer who has contributed significantly to the development of literary excellence in British Columbia, as well as having written a substantial body of literary work throughout their career. The recipient receives a cash award of $5,000 and a commemorative certificate.
Witness by Patrick Lane (Harbour $16.95)
from Hannah Main– van der Kamp
Some years ago, when asked how long it took him to build his garden, Patrick Lane replied, “Sixty-two years.” He could well now answer, “Seventy-one years” to the same question about his new collection of selected poems.
Lane made the selections himself. Readers who are familiar with his work will be happy to see old favourites showcased again. (Yes, for anyone who already knows Lane’s work, the severed-hand-tossed-over-the bridge poem is included, as well as the doomed ptarmigans twins and the castrated ram.)
There is nothing that was previously published from the years 2004 to 2010, and there are no poems from some of his previous titles including A Linen Crow (1985) and No Longer Two People (1979).
But we do find some early poems from the sixties, the odd stories from Old Mother (1982), the tough, tight-lipped father/son poems from Mortal Remains (1991) and seven pages of previously unpublished poems.
Patrick Lane was twenty-three years old when his first poems were published. Witness begins with excerpts from Separations (1969). His first identities were nomad, brawler, working class tough. His writing often detours into his hardscrabble childhood.
Subsequent public personas were the traveler, the champion of the Third World poor, the lover. The arc reveals that Lane did not get stuck in any one identity. Nor were previous identities jettisoned. They’re all still here but altered in emphasis.
Out of the confused tangle of stories and passions, some threads begin to suggest a patterned life tapestry. There is a shift in the psycho/spirituality that is not just about aging. The traveling mendicant has become a garden Buddha, from brawleresque to Mertonesque.
In 1980 the garden was screaming in “an irrevocable flood of rage.” Thirty years later, the poet on his knees, caresses rare mosses and remembers how afraid he was once. The chaos and helplessness of Wild Birds (1987) has given way to “the crazing time makes. How precious the broken.”
Looking closer at the earlier poems, the reader can detect there were contemplative moments throughout. As in the equilibrium of the Taoist yin/yang symbol, the active and the contemplative lie curled side by side, each one seeing with the eye of the other.
Lane’s recent 2010 poems are stunning. He was always a teller of powerful stories but now, in the later poems, the narratives become more covert, more discreet, as in the exquisite still life, The Green Dress (2010) about a woman’s choice of dress in which to face a family tragedy.
What My Father Told Me (2010) is not just like some of the painful material Lane has shared before. It belongs at the end of this book because it is different. There was always some gentleness under his bravado. Now it is more open, a compassion for the father who failed him, for the son who failed the father.
What does an accomplished and no-longer-young poet do with his own apparent Lost and Found? As the book’s title suggests, he takes on the role of a witness, makes a history of his people and of himself, “whether in pain or in ecstasy.” “Rest, reflect, prepare, listen.” Re-collection can be a monkish task. Lane has paid his dues as a human and a poet. Let him reflect!
That is why he is on his knees cleaning the garden…
It is what the old know,
a slight turning, something
not seen, and reaching back
for what was left behind
on the moss, something fallen,
under the rain.
A new Collected is now slated for the fall. If it contains more new poems such as these in Witness, it will be worth buying even for readers who already own Lane’s previous titles.