Monday, October 6, 2014

The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane - (Harbour Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane.  Patrick Lane.  Harbour Publishing. Madeira Park, British Columbia.  2011.

Today's book of poetry has seriously floundered in attempting to write about Patrick Lane and his collected poems.

How do you write about your heroes?

This monumental collection is a pure object of beauty before you open the covers.  Harbour Publishing have done their boy proud.

Oh yes, the poetry.

The Image

Now that he was older
the artists had begun to paint him, and the photographers,
the clever ones with their miniature machines came
and arranged him in gardens and poolrooms, bars and verandas,
to capture the images of who he was, who they thought
he had been. Most of the artists were his age
but some were younger, beautiful young men,
and woman with large hands, their hair pulled back
tight, their clothes unruly. He liked them best.
He liked the way they would walk around him
after spending days and nights with his books,
his poems, the way they would stop and stare
while painting him, all his words in their minds,
all the suffering intact, precise and imaginable.


You can pretty much jump in anywhere to harvest the rich vein of work Lane has been pounding out since his work was first published in the sixties.  Twenty-seven books of poetry so far.

Just so you know, from Today's book of poetry perspective, Patrick Lane is the poet of the people. Horrible moniker to lay on anyone but in this case it fits.  His very approachable body of poetry is working class no-nonsense and as erudite as the golden tongued whisper of the angels.


He sat at the foot of the low bed and watched her cry.
It was not like Rome burning and it was not
like the spare fires he had built
when he was alone in the wilderness,
the ones he sat away from, the ones he put out
when he was tired of watching.
Her grief was of another kind, an event
that was merely ornament, a thing
that perishes as it is made, as a performance
in a northern town perishes line by line
with no one to remember it, something less than art
as time is less than merit. He had made her love him.

She hadn't wanted to. He had shaped her love
by shaping himself, giving himself to her
in the exactness of her integrity, becoming
her, and so, becoming less, their time
together an intimacy which was only imitation.
Sitting there he felt the same
as when he was a child and dressed
in his mother's clothes, his posturing
in front of her mirror, the inaccuracy
of that kind of dance.

He understood his gluttony, the wanting more,
his greed for her loss, the pain
she seemed to love more than him.
She did not tell him to go away, and
she did not call out to him.
What he had was what an observer has,
the man who gazes alone from a private box
protected by velvet curtains, a glass of good wine beside him,
the play going on and him with no rights, one way
or another, the man who watches with detachment
as a critic does, having no stake in the event.


I had the privilege of meeting Patrick Lane once.  It was back in the late 70's.  I was driving taxi in Peterborough and writing my little poems.  I got a call from my high school drama teacher, for some reason or another she was meeting Patrick Lane for drinks and was inviting me to join.  Of course I did.  Pretty sure I was able to get another young poet, Richard Harrison, to join me.

And that's the end of that story.

I've met Acorn, Purdy, Layton, Birney.  And just meeting those men took my breath away.  But Lane has always been the poet whose work paralyzed me with pleasure most.  Of all the giants, he is the giant that makes the most sense to me.

My intern disagreed.  You will not hear from that intern again.

Last Water Song

It is not the water you tried to find when you were young.
That was the water that lost you.
You climbed trees to look and the water was there.
You walked on the earth and the water was nowhere.
That was the losing water.
This water is the finding water.
It is cloud searching water.
When you are old it comes down.
It stretches out on the earth.
It says follow this water.
First water is woman water.
The belly of woman has this song.
This water was the first learning song.
This water is the last learning song.
It is the cloud under the earth.
Now you climb down roots to find this water.
Now this tongue is a root.
Open this mouth in the earth.
Now sing this water song.
Now you are the last water.


For many of us at the Today's book of poetry offices Patrick Lane sets the bar for the rest of Canadian poetry.  The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane should be an essential for every poetry collection in the country.

Patrick Lane

Patrick Lane, considered by most writers and critics to be one of Canada's finest poets, was born in 1939 in Nelson, BC. He grew up in the in the Kootenay and Okanagan regions 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 North and South America. He has worked 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. He is also the father of five children and grandfather of nine. He has won nearly every literary prize in Canada, from the Governor General's Award to the Canadian Authors Association Award to the Dorothy Livesay Prize. His poetry and fiction have been widely anthologized and have been translated into many languages. Lane now makes his home in Victoria, BC, with his companion, the poet Lorna Crozier.

"Like the classic Buddhist, Lane finds in the recognition of life's horrors, or the terrible things men do to men and even more to other beings, the reason for an ultimate compassion, for a desire to nurture love where it survives."
     George Woodcock

"Patrick Lane is our most essential poet; tough, tender, fearless, and beautifully dangerous. For decades he has been our guide to darkness, and our provider of unexpected flashes of brilliant, almost blinding light. Now gathered together in one spot, the poetry of his life enhances and energizes us, and takes us to places we would never go on our own. Lane is a true Master."
     Jane Urquhart

"Lane's poems have a lucid, generous eye for the unsung and excluded, an abiding dignity in their rhythms of blind continuance, compromised peace."
     Ken Babstock

"...a breathtaking achievement of moral and poetic genius."
     Tim Lilburn

Patrick Lane @ 2008 Calgary Spoken Word Festival


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