I’ve known Canada’s great poet, Patrick Lane, a long time. Not as a friend, but as someone I first met in the early 70’s, when he was still hanging out, unhappily, in his hometown of Vernon. I’m not sure Patrick has ever forgiven me for asking him to read some of his poems at what turned out to be a surprisingly raucous music festival at Ellison Provincial Park. Despite opting to recite his transfixing narrative poem, Highway 401 rhapsody, he could barely be heard over the din. Afterwards, he vowed: “Never again.”
My most searing memory of Patrick from those days is ahead of what was to be a joyful night of poetry at, of all places, a local Vancouver union hall. Patrick, David Day and Pete Trower were three of the four poets on the bill. The fourth was Pat Lowther. I was talking to Patrick beforehand on the phone, and he insisted that Pat Lowther was the real must-hear of the evening. But she didn’t show up. No one knew why, until several weeks later, her bludgeoned body was found near Squamish. Roy Lowther, a wanna-be workers’ poet furious that his wife and not he was asked to read at a union hall, was convicted of her murder.
Over the years, Patrick’s prodigious output has included a novel, a couple of memoirs, essays and dozens of books of poetry. He’s a past winner of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and a recipient of the Order of Canada.
The last time we talked, earlier this year, Patrick mentioned that he was being awarded an honorary degree at UBC’s Okanagan campus, just south of where he grew up, and where he spent his tough, pre-poet, working years. He said he intended to talk about that. His powerful address, featuring a pivotal incident that has stuck with him all these years, moved the hearts of everyone in the audience.
Last month, Patrick received another honorary degree, this one from the University of Victoria. That produced another deeply-layered, absorbing speech that overwhelmed those fortunate enough to hear it.
Take the time to read both of Patrick’s convocation spell-binders. You won’t regret it. And if you’d like to listen and watch, as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBL55TUkNyM
At 74, Patrick Lane says he’s writing as well as he has in years. To prove the point, here are some recent poems from the great man. I think this young Canadian writer has a future.