Sunday, March 1, 2015

Washita - Patrick Lane (Harbour Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
Washita.  Patrick Lane.  Harbour Publishing.  Madeira Park, British Columbia.  2014.

Most of us are familiar with the poetry of Patrick Lane - for those of you who aren't - Mr. Lane is one of Canada's most respected and admired poets.

Patrick Lane has published over 30 books of poetry, Washita is his latest.

It's masterclass stuff.  These poems are piano-string tight and sing with a particular melody.

You never have to look far in a book by Patrick Lane to get to the heart of the matter.  Lane's poems often make me think of Raymond Carver's poetry, more for the effect on the reader than technique, but for me both men have a similar density and depth.


Iris blades cut through the last ice on the pond.
Emblems of endurance, they are what a man knows
who asks of the grey clouds they witness his passing.
I don't know where the water goes, remember the thin creek
I drank from when I lived in that cabin by the sea.
The doe grazed among fallen apples in my yard.
When I shot her she hung for a moment in the sky.
There were days back then I lived without regard for life.
Forgiveness comes hard.
Each year I rake the leaves and burn
the winged seeds of maples in the flames.
I kneel by the pond and ask where I am going,
what it is I must do. Bokuseki, these iris blades in ice.
When the rain dries on my palms it leaves the trace of Gobi dust.
Each night I breathe a far desert, vestiges of the fall.


"Bokuseki" is a type of "ink painting", like calligraphy, done by Zen monks in a meditative state.

This poem, a graceful response to death, guilt and mortality.  Lane doesn't fool around.  His poems have weight.

For physical reasons Lanes' process was altered for this book.  The resulting poems were carved out of hard wood, as a result, the sparse language that much more tempered by flame.  The reader is the winner in this dilemma, the ensuing poems are as tight as spooled wire.

For The Woman Who Danced
     With The Ashes Of Her Son

Strange how beautiful when we are diaphanous,
a bit of ripped muslin set against the sun, the wind
soft as a child's skin. Tragedy does that to us
and we are made the greater for our smallness.
A bright pebble among the discarded shells.
There are times I am a questing mole, fierce
in my love, lost as anything alive.


You can think of these reflective poems as meditations - but they are never sermons.  Lane continues to vigorously investigate what it is that makes us so unfailingly human, continue to uncovers what it is that might make us beautiful.

Solstice Coming

Typing with my left forefinger today. The poem is immensely slow,
one letter, one word, one line at a time. This and then this and ...
amazing how the images slow to an intimate crawl,
each word a salamander peering from beneath a stone.
The fish this winter are wraiths, the pond's perfect thoughts.
I have tried to love this quiet as the hours pass through me.
It is rare to feel anything deeply. My life is a feast if I allow it to be.
The slow rain falls without cease. It eats the ice, one drop at a time.
These days my body breaks down and I cannot lift my right arm.
My poems now are thin as I was when I lived in the mountains.
I tried to believe the lake when I came down from the high snows.
I watched the water for a long time from the safety of the trees.
It was a trout rising made me see what a day is, a ripple only.


Patrick Lane is not worried about spilling a little blood, he understands the cycles that life takes. That red flowing off of his hand and into both the earth and the ether where his poems become part of both.

Lane is a giant and we are lucky to have his big shadow, his beautiful poems.

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 physical blows, [Lane] wields his pieces like small threats of intense beauty."
     - Globe and Mail

Patrick Lane
Calgary Spoken Word Festival, 2008
video by: ciswf


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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