The Essential P. K. Page by P. K. Page
P. K. Page needs no introduction. This is a poet who writes in many genres and on an infinite number of subjects. The source of her poetry is always love – whether in vivid portraits of her inner and outer landscapes; startling insights into the past, the present, the future; illumination of some tiny detail of ordinary life; or admonishments for our neglect of the earth and of each other. Page is an alchemist who turns language into pure gold, a magician who dazzles with sleight of mind. The Essential P. K. Page is perceptive, elegant, romantic (yet never sentimental), sometimes downright funny, wholly conscious.
This is the second volume in our ‘Essential Poets’ series. Our aim is to provide the best possible introduction to a prominent Canadian poet by selecting key works that carry the essence of an individual poetic voice and sensibility. By offering a small but carefully considered selection it is hoped these chapbooks will invite an intimate acquaintance and ongoing engagement with the poems. Selected by Arlene Lampert and Théa Gray, the collection is admittedly wildly idiosyncratic and certain to be controversial. Arranged alphabetically for easy reference, these poems do not reflect a ‘young’ or a ‘mature’ voice; for Page, time is not linear and change does not occur along a narrow path. Think of this volume as a sort of pocket P. K. Page making its way into backpacks, carry-on luggage, doctors’ waiting rooms ...
2009—Alcuin Award for Excellence in Book Design,
Table of contents
9 Address at Simon Fraser (excerpt)
10 After Rain
12 After Reading Albino Pheasants by Patrick Lane
14 Ah, by the golden lilies
16 Ancestors (from Melanie’s Nite-Book)
18 Another Space
22 As on a Dark Charger
23 A Backwards Journey
24 Beside You
26 Deaf Mute in the Pear Tree
28 Dwelling Place
29 Evening Dance of the Grey Flies
30 The Filled Pen
31 Funeral Mass
32 A Grave Illness
33 Hand Luggage (excerpt one)
33 Hand Luggage (excerpt two)
34 Hand Luggage (excerpt three)
38 Leather Jacket
39 Like a Cruise Ship
40 Macumba: Brazil
42 Man with One Small Hand
43 The Mole
43 Motel Pool
44 The New Bicycle
45 On Educating the Natives
45 Picking Daffodils
46 Poem Canzonic with love to AMK
49 The Selves
50 Soft Travellers
53 Stories of Snow
56 This Heavy Craft
56 This Sky
57 Traveller’s Palm
58 Winter Morning
58 The World
59 Young Girls
60 Zero Is Zero
62 About P. K. Page
‘Elegant, rigorous, fresh, P. K. Page’s work sings with a voice of independent character and maenad conjecture. It is a creature that lives on its own terms and terrain. It is startling, authoritative, and anti-sentimental, able to bear cool as well as passionate gazing at our own species. Her poems are always thinking -- each line is thinking, while its six senses remain impeccably alert. Her poems live by wit, wisdom, sass, suspense and a muscular lissome synapse and diction. They are daring in scope, meticulous in accomplishment, and boldly moral -- with a lovely flavour of amoral verve! We fall under the charm of her reasoning, of her fecund, fastidious imagination, of her many musics, and of her necessariness to us, her essentialness.’
—Griffin Prize citation
‘... Northrop Frye uses the phrases ‘‘metallic glitter’’ and ‘‘imaginative wisecracks’’ to describe Page’s poems.... Those who enjoy ‘‘glitter’’ in poetry will appreciate the diction, imagery, and acoustics of Page’s phrasings, as in ‘‘Evening Dance of the Grey Flies’’.’
—Maxianne Berger, Rover Arts Montreal
‘Born in England, Patricia Kathleen (P. K.) Page moved to Canada in 1919, at the age of three. She has lived in New Brunswick, Quebec, Manitoba, and Alberta and now makes her home in British Columbia, in the capital city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. At age 92 she is writing more than ever. This latest collection of her poetry, The Essential P. K. Page, is aptly named. Any fan of her work, of Canadiana, of poetry in general, needs to own this book. The works contained within are dense and chewy, both requiring and creating thought, and keeping all five of the reader’s senses involved in the pleasure of reading them. What makes Page’s poems so unusual is their apparent rejection of the idea that thought and emotion, thinking and feeling, are different and must be kept separate. P. K. Page thinks with her heart, loves with her mind, and leaves us a wonderful, tangled mess of imagination and possibility. I hope she lives well into her triple-digits, and brings us many more portraits painted as beautifully, as movingly as The Essential P. K. Page.’
—Beth Carswell, abebooks
The Essential P.K. Page is ... a relief. It’s a reprieve to hold in one’s hand a compact 60 pages featuring the most memorable, most confounding, most rereadable poems written by Page.
—Anita Lahey, ARC Poetry Magazine
‘Facing the fact of Page’s entire oeuvre can be daunting; it contains little apprentice-work, few throwaways. The Essential P. K. Page is in this sense a relief. It’s a reprieve to hold in one’s hand a compact 60 pages featuring the most memorable, most confounding, most rereadable poems written by Page, arranged alphabetically -- each allowed its own space, unencumbered by time or category.’
—Anita Lahey, The Malahat Review
Discussion question for Reading Group Guide
1. In ‘Evening Dance of the Grey Flies’ P.K. Page creates vibrant images of colour as in:
As the grass and leaves grow black
the grey flies gleam--
their cursive flight a gold calligraphy. (3-5)
What colours does Page describe? Each colour develops a significance in the verse. Pay attention to the words she uses to describe them. what significance does she give the colours?
2. The poem deals a lot with light. Consider the title. What kind of light does Page describe (morning light, high noon, etc.)? Do you think this is relevant? Why?
3. As the poem progresses it becomes more and more heavily enjambed. Why do you think Page chose to write the poem this way? Consider the ending. How does the enjambment change the way you read the final lines?
4. The first line of ‘Motel Pool’ is a fairly familiar image:
The plump good-natured children play in the blue pool (1)
However, in the subsequent stanzas Page deploys a number of comparisons that make the image less familiar. What are the comparisons and how do they change your conception of the children playing?
5. In the last stanza Page compares the children to Adam and Eve. What is the relevance of this allusion? Why do you think Page uses it here?
6. Page’s poem ‘soft travellers’ is a glosa. A glosa is a poem that takes four lines of an original poem and then expands, interprets or explains them. The glosa is usually four ten-line stanzas, with a line from the original poem placed at the end of each. Also, the sixth and ninth lines must rhyme with the last. Consider the original lines from Inventory by Dionne Brand. What does ‘soft travellers’ share with the original? What does it add?
7. Page personifies words here:
they are not emotional, in themselves,
but I suspect they care
when they’re uttered ... (18-20)
In the following stanza, how does Page continue to personify words? Why do you think she does this?
8. How does your sense of words change by the end of the poem? What do you make of the last line? Consider how you felt about this line when you read it in Inventory. Does your impression of it change at the end of ‘soft travellers’?
9. In many of her poems Page takes a concept that is familiar and makes it strange, exploring everyday contradictions and drawing weird and wonderful analogies. Give a few examples from the poems discussed above. Why do you think Page does this?
P. K. Page wrote some of the best poems published in Canada over the last seven decades. In addition to winning the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1957, she was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1999. She was the author of more than two dozen books, including ten volumes of poetry, a novel, short stories, eight books for children, and two memoirs based on her extended stays in Brazil and Mexico with her husband Arthur Irwin, who served in those countries as the Canadian Ambassador. In addition to writing, Page painted, under the name P. K. Irwin. She mounted one-woman shows in Mexico and Canada. Her work was also exhibited in various group shows, and is represented in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Victoria Art Gallery, among others.
A two-volume edition of Page’s collected poems, The Hidden Room (Porcupine’s Quill), was published in 1997, and the full range of her richly varied work is being made available in a digital resource, The Digital Page, supplemented by a series of texts in print and e-book format published by The Porcupine’s Quill.
P. K. Page was born in England and brought up on the Canadian prairies. She died on the 14th of January, 2010.