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The Hidden Room: Volume 1 by P. K. Page  

The Hidden Room is filled with treasure gathered from over five decades of some of the best poetry ever written in Canada. Almost all of the poetry P. K. Page has published in volume form is here, all the way from Unit of Five (1944) to Hologram (1994), together with a good many unpublished poems and poems hitherto published only in magazines, from all stages of her career.

A section of luminous new poems completes the volume. Evening Dance of the Grey Flies and Hologram appear substantially as first published, though virtually every other section has undergone thoughtful reassessment by the author with the assistance of editor Stan Dragland. The Hidden Room is something more than simply a mechanical Collected. The inclusion of uncollected and new poems has demanded a re-choreographing, a reassortment of familiar poems into new families.

The Hidden Room is quite possibly the best collection of verse ever published in this country. This is the essential, rather than the entire P. K. Page, a lifetime of work that any poet would be proud to call their own.

Table of contents

The Hidden Room

To Begin Before I Was Born

Emergence 15
The Crow 16
The Mole 16
Ecce Homo 17
The Clock of Your Pulse 19
Desiring Only 20
The Understatement 21
Remember the Wood 22
Winter Afternoon 23
Death 25
For G.E.R. 25
As on a Dark Charger 26

Night Garden

Journey 29
Round Trip 30
From Uncertain Ground 36
Personal Landscape 38
Magnetic North 39
Images of Angels 41
Christmas Eve ... 44
Earthquake 45
Arras 46
Photos of a Salt Mine 48
The Snowman 50
Mystics Like Miners 52
Stories of Snow 53
The Age of Ice 55
This Cold Man 59
This Is Another Spring 60
Elegy 62

The Leaning Tower of Self

If It Were You 65
The Sleeper 68
Alice 69
Paranoid 71
Portrait of Marina 72
Sailor 74
Only Child 75
Snapshot 77
Neurotic 78
Schizophrenic 79
Outcasts 80
Foreigner 81
Freak 82
Man with One Small Hand 84
Isolationist 85
The Sick 86
Probationer 88
Element 90
Sleeper 91
Nightmare 92
Subjective Eye 93
The Dreamer 94


Landlady 97
Bed-Sitting Room 99
Offices 100
Prediction without Crystal 101
The Stenographers 102
Typists 103
Shipbuilding Office 104
The Petition 105
Presentation 107
Summer Resort 108
The Inarticulate 109
Panorama 110
Bank Strike 111
Squatters 112
The Permanent Tourists 113
Average 114
Quarrel 115
Election Day 116
Prophecy 118
No Flowers 119
Knitters 120
The Sentimental Surgeon 122
Generation 125
Cullen 127
Forgive Us 130
The Event 131
Puppets 132
Waking 134
Paradox 135
Migration 136
Draughtsman 137
Some There Are Fearless 138
Italian Prisoner of War 139
Old Man 140
Unable to Hate or Love 141

Melanie’s Nite-Book

Melanie’s Nite-Book 145

Evening Dance of the Grey Flies

Finches Feeding 158
The Flower Bed 159
Short Spring Poem ... 161
Out Here: Flowering 162
Domestic Poem ... 163
Conchita Knows Who Who Is 164
Cullen Revisited 165
For Mstislav Rostropovich ... 167
Motel Pool 169
Stefan 170
Ecology 171
Phone Call from Mexico 173
Custodian 177
Fly: On Webs 178
About Death 179
A Grave Illness 180
Ours 181
Voyager 183
Evening Dance of the Grey Flies 185
Unless the Eye Catch Fire 187
The Selves 209
The Filled Pen 210
Snowshoes 211
Albino Pheasants ... 213
The Maze 215
The First Part 216
Full Moon 220
Dwelling Place 221
Difficult 222
The Tethers 223
The Disguises 225
After Donne 225
Song ... Much of It Borrowed 226
Star-Gazer 226
Chinese Boxes 227
At Sea 228
Spinning 229
Three Gold Fish 230
The Yellow People ... 231

Index of First Lines 235

Review text

‘If not ‘‘a shilling life’’, a glance at Who’s Who in Canada will give you all the facts. Which are more than impressive. P K Page, born in 1916 and very much with us is, in brief, a phenomenon; a force majeur in Canadian literary and artistic life; a National Treasure. Her work to date, sprung from the praiseworthy ambition of the lavishly gifted, bestows upon us rich decades of protean accomplishment, of widespread honour and renown. Let us however concern ourselves here with the essential fictions -- with the beginning in delight and ending in wisdom, as Frost has it, of true poems; with this present testament of imaginative, intellectual and spiritual achievement: The Hidden Room: Collected Poems.

‘To immerse oneself in these two handsome volumes (elegantly complemented and informed throughout by the drawings and paintings of her ‘‘twin sister, / beautiful as Euclid’’, the painter P K Irwin) is to plunge into a deep-freighted, breaking wave of swirled delights and parlous undertows. It is, as with all such translucent ramparts of desire and abandon, best met head-on. This is not to say that one must read consecutively through the some four hundred and fifty pages of poetry and the one dangerous, liminal short story. The ordering of the volumes is credited to Stan Dragland, who ‘‘tackled material spanning sixty years and threaded it together in a manner uniquely his own.’’ While the overall drift is chronological, the poems have been so intelligently interwoven that each of the volumes is a realized entity, as each is a reflection of the whole.’

—Richard Outram, The Ottawa Citizen

Review text

‘P.K. Page is a visionary, a descendant of Blake and the alchemist writers. She makes this connection herself in ‘‘Request to the Alchemist’’: ‘‘I am a tin whistle/ Blow through me/ Blow through me/ And make my tin/ Gold’’. Like Blake, Page is also an accomplished visual artist and would subscribe to his conviction that ‘‘We are led to Believe a Lie/ When we see not Thro’ the Eye.’’ This is the eye that can see beyond habitual perception, the eye with the power to rend what D. H. Lawrence called the ‘‘great umbrella between mankind and Titans in the wild air.’’ That is why Page quotes Theodore Roszak: ‘‘Unless the eye catch fire/ The God will not be seen.’’

‘Page’s poems are spattered with delphinium blue, Van Gogh yellow, and garden green, but I am certain that a word count would confirm the preponderance of gold. There is the poem ‘‘Three Gold Fish’’ with its allusion to Blake’s ‘‘Tyger’’, the ‘‘gold calligraphy’’ of grey flies in sunlight, and ‘‘Aurum’’, with its artist’s ‘‘sparks’’ of gold leaf. Gold is the colour of transformation, of turning dross into the extraordinary. In the telling poem ‘‘A Backwards Journey’’, Page describes her childhood habit of staring at a can of Dutch Cleanser on whose label ‘‘a smaller Dutch Cleanser woman/ was holding a smaller Dutch Cleanser can.’’ And so on, the images repeating themselves in diminishing size until the child believes ‘‘that tiny image/ could smash the atom of space and time.’’ The key to this poem is the word ‘‘Cleanser’’, which is repeated seven times. Blake wrote, ‘‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.’’

‘The mystical and transcendental are fundamental to Page’s sensibility. Yet when she is most obviously a visionary, her poetry is least effective. The ‘‘gold smiles’’ of her angels are unconvincing; her golden seraphim are too assured to create the tension on which poetry thrives. She becomes successful when her vision is acted out in natural settings using less ‘‘poetic’’ symbolism, and when the visionary world is counterpoised with the humdrum, banal, or violent. In an effective poem like ‘‘The Bands & the Beautiful Children’’, music and the imagination are set against the reality of ‘‘straggling grass’’ and ‘‘men tired and grumbling’’. In her best poems she goes beyond such dualities. ‘‘Stories of Snow’’ tells of those living in a world of ‘‘great flowers.with reds and blues’’ who dream of a world of whiteness, hunters, and death. What makes this poem remarkable, aside from its dream-inducing cadence and its paradoxical rhymes, is the irony that the white, violent terrain is also gentle, mystical, and as beautiful as the lush, colourful one. This blurring of the typical dichotomies gives the poem a layered depth, a metaphysical aura.’

—Books in Canada

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‘[I]f there is such a thing as ‘‘pure poetry’’, this must be it; a lively mind seizing on almost any experience and turning it into witty verse ...’

—Northrop Frye

Excerpt from book

Planet Earth

It has to be spread out, the skin of this planet,
has to be ironed, the sea in its whiteness;
and the hands keep on moving, smoothing the holy surfaces.

    ‘In Praise of Ironing’, Pablo Neruda

It has to be loved the way a laundress loves her linens,
the way she moves her hands caressing the fine muslins
knowing their warp and woof,
like a lover coaxing, or a mother praising.
It has to be loved as if it were embroidered
with flowers and birds and two joined hearts upon it.
It has to be stretched and stroked.
It has to be celebrated.
O this great beloved world and all the creatures in it.
It has to be spread out, the skin of this planet.

The trees must be washed, and the grasses and mosses.
They have to be polished as if made of green brass.
The rivers and little streams with their hidden cresses
and pale-coloured pebbles
and their fool’s gold
must be washed and starched or shined into brightness,
the sheets of lake water
smoothed with the hand
and the foam of the oceans pressed into neatness.
It has to be ironed, the sea in its whiteness

and pleated and goffered, the flower-blue sea
the protean, wine-dark, grey, green, sea
with its metres of satin and bolts of brocade.
And sky -- such an O! overhead -- night and day
must be burnished and rubbed
by hands that are loving
so the blue blazons forth
and the stars keep on shining
within and above
and the hands keep on moving.


Credit: Barbara Pedrick

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.

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.

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POETRY / General

POETRY / Canadian

ISBN-13: 9780889841901

Publication Date: 1997-08-30

Dimensions: 8.75 in x 5.56 in

Pages: 224

Price: $18.95