Page, P(atricia) K(athleen)

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PAGE, P(atricia) K(athleen)

Nationality: Canadian. Born: Swanage, Dorset, England, 23 November 1916; immigrated to Canada in 1919. Education: St. Hilda's School for Girls, Calgary, Alberta; Art Students League, and Pratt Institute, New York. Family: Married William Arthur Irwin in 1950; two stepdaughters and one stepson. Career: Formerly sales clerk and radio actress, Saint John, New Brunswick; filing clerk and historical researcher, Montreal; script writer, National Film Board, Ottawa, 1946–50; conductor of writers workshops, Toronto, and University of Victoria, British Columbia, 1974–78. Painter, as P.K. Irwin: individual shows—Picture Loan Society, Toronto, 1960; Galeria de Arte Moderna, Mexico City, 1962; Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, British Columbia, 1965. Awards: Bertram Warr award (Contemporary Verse), 1940; Oscar Blumenthal award (Poetry, Chicago), 1944; Governor-General's award, 1955; National Magazines award, 1985; Canadian Authors Association literary award, 1986; Hubert Evans award, for nonfiction, 1987; Banff School of Fine Arts National award, 1989; Readers' Choice award (Prairie Schooner), 1993. D.Litt.: University of Victoria, 1985; University of Guelph, 1990. L.L.D.: University of Calgary, 1989; Simon Fraser University, 1990. Officer, Order of Canada, 1977. Address: 3260 Exeter Road, Victoria, British Columbia V8R 6H6, Canada.



Unit of Five, with others, edited by Ronald Hambleton. Toronto, Ryerson Press, 1944.

As Ten As Twenty. Toronto, Ryerson Press, 1946.

The Metal and the Flower. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1954.

Cry Ararat! Poems New and Selected. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1967.

Poems, Selected and New. Toronto, Anansi, 1974.

Five Poems. Toronto, League of Canadian Poets, 1980.

Evening Dance of the Grey Flies. Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1981; New York, Oxford University Press, 1982.

The Glass Air: Poems Selected & New. Toronto and New York, Oxford University Press, 1991.

Hologram: A Book of Glosas. London, Ontario, Brick Books, 1994.

The Hidden Room: Collected Poems. Erin, Ontario, Porcupine'sQuill, 1997.


The Travelling Musicians (libretto), music by Murray Adaskin (produced Victoria, British Columbia, 1984).


The Sun and the Moon (as Judith Cape). Toronto, Macmillan, and New York, Creative Age Press, 1944.

Short Stories

The Sun and the Moon, and Other Fictions. Toronto, Anansi, 1973.

Unless the Eye Catch Fire. N.p., Full Spectrum Press, 1994.


Brazilian Journal. Toronto, Lester and Orpen Dennys, 1987.

A Flask of Sea Water (for children). Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1989.

The Travelling Musicians. N.p., Kids Can Press, 1991.

The Goat That Flew. Victoria, British Columbia, Beach Holme Press, 1993.

Editor, To Say the Least: Canadian Poets from A to Z. Erin, Ontario, Press Porcépic, 1979.


Bibliography: "The Poetry of P.K. Page: A Checklist" by Michele Preston, in West Coast Review (Burnaby, British Columbia), January 1979.

Manuscript Collection: Canadian Archives, Ottawa.

Critical Studies: By Daryl Hine, in Poetry (Chicago), 1968; "Traveller, Conjuror, Journeyman" by the author, in Canadian Literature (Vancouver), autumn 1970; The Bush Garden by Northrop Frye, Toronto, Anansi, 1971; "The Poetry of P.K. Page" by A.J.M. Smith, in Canadian Literature (Vancouver), autumn 1971; "P.K. Page: The Chameleon and the Centre" by Constance Rooke, in Malahat Review (Victoria), January 1978; "A Size Larger Than Seeing: The Poetry of P.K. Page" by Rosemary Sullivan, in Canadian Literature (Vancouver); "Retrospect and Prospect: P.K. Page" by Jean Mallinson, in West Coast Review (Burnaby, British Columbia), January 1979; "Double Landscape" by S. Namjoshi, in Canadian Literature (Vancouver), 46; P.K. Page and Her Works by John Orange, Toronto, ECW Press, 1990; by John Orange, in ECW's Biographical Guide to Canadian Poets, edited by Robert Lecker, Jack David, and Ellen Quigley, Toronto, ECW, 1993; "Tracing a Terrestrial Vision in the Early Work of P.K. Page" by Diana Relke, in Canadian Poetry (London, Ontario), 35, fall-winter 1994; "The Multiple Self in the Poetry of P.K. Page" by Douglas Freake, in Studies in Canadian Literature (Fredericton, New Brunswick), 19(1), 1994; "P.K. Page's Brazilian Journal: Language Shock" by Denise Adele Heaps, in Biography (Honolulu), 19(4), fall 1996; P.K. Page issue of Malahat Review (Victoria), 117, winter 1996; "For Sure the Kittiwake: Naming, Nature, and P.K. Page" by Brian Bartlett, in Canadian Literature (Vancouver), 155, winter 1997; "Toward a Poetics of Dislocation: Elizabeth Bishop and P.K. Page Writing 'Brazil'" by Kevin McNeilly, in Studies in Canadian Literature (Fredericton, New Brunswick), 23(2), 1998.

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P.K. Page is an artist of many aspects. She has written a romance (The Sun and the Moon), magic realist short stories, essays on the writer's role, and an eloquent volume of travel writing-cum-autobiography (Brazilian Journal). Under her married name of P.K. Irwin, she is a painter and printmaker of repute. The various arts she practices interact, and her poetry is distinguished by the strongly visual aspect of the white-and-green country of the imagination that extends before the mind's eye as one reads. The shapes in her paintings suggest underlying narratives and syntactical correspondences, and there are times when her poems read like paintings, as in the color imagery of "Stories of Snow" and "Elegy." Her poems often play with the intriguing phenomena of visual perspective—spring as seen at minuscule ground level in "Short Spring Poem" or the intermingling making and unmaking of landscape and identity found throughout "Reflection in a Train Window."

Page began to publish in the early 1940s, a seminal time in Canadian poetry, and her first pieces appeared in Preview, one of the most influential Canadian magazines of modern poetry, in whose editing she played a part. In 1946 she published her first independent book, As Ten as Twenty, which shows a strong awareness of British avant-garde trends of the 1930s and an appropriate social radicalism but which also contains visionary poems that create luminous worlds of their own, like the haunting "Stories of Snow," in which legend and dream and childhood memories are mingled in what A.J.M. Smith once called "a crystal clairvoyance." Although her political consciousness sometimes expresses itself in Audenesque generalities of social radicalism, it frequently results in an empathetic re-creation of individual plights that continue in The Metal and the Flower. Poems such as "The Stenographers" and "Typists" show a wonderful capacity to enter into the perspectives of other people and chart their inner landscapes. Formally, Page's work is prodigiously accomplished right from the beginning; she is equally at home in rhymed poetry and free verse, and she displays an unerring ear for slant rhyme and for the rhythmical momentum achieved by alternating between lines of various lengths. The opening stanza of "Mineral" displays all of these characteristics:

Soft and unmuscular among flowers and papers
and changed as if grown deaf or slightly lame
she writes to strangers about him as if he were a stranger,
avoids the name
which he no longer has a use for, which
he disinherited as he was leaving.
It had a different ring when he was living.

The poems that came after a decade of silence—from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, a period during which she traveled with her diplomat husband to Australia, Brazil, and Mexico—reflect Page's concentration on painting during that time. They are poems in which the visual evokes the visionary, and they show her turning toward physical landscapes and natural images to find means of liberation from the alienated, imprisoned self. The concluding lines of "Cry Ararat!" emphasize the power of the visionary conjunction between the natural world and its beholders: "A single leaf can block a mountainside; / all Ararat be conjured by a leaf." This recognition involves Page in a deepened awareness—which is at the sometimes troubled heart of her finest later poetry—of the paradoxical nature of the artist's calling, entailing both a celebratory delight in visionary power and a chastening sense of the limitations of that power. The delight rings out in the opening line of "Cook's Mountains": "By naming them he made them." Much as Wallace Stevens's singer makes the world by singing it, in "The Idea of Order at Key West," Cook ("his tongue / silvered with paradox and metaphor") glazes the Glass House Mountains with his gaze, and at the act of naming they are altered "to become / the sum of shape and name." More sober and self-critical, "After Rain" confronts the solipsism of the enterprise ("I lift the blind / upon a woman's wardrobe of the mind") and builds to a plea that the birds inhabiting her garden "keep my heart a size / larger than seeing."

In the years since it was voiced, the birds have answered Page's plea favorably. Although the poems in Evening Dance of the Grey Flies and The Glass Air are sharply and intensely visual in their sensuous evocation of color and space, and although the ordinary seems to become transfigured and translucent through Page's visionary apprehension in such poems as "Finches Feeding" or "Invisible Presences Fill the Air," other poems manifest an unabated capacity for sympathetic identification with the ordinary. It may be the ordinary miseries of a friend growing old, as in "Phone Call from Mexico," or of the ordinary shocks—inarticulate before Page gives them a voice—of a weather-wrung tree in "Out Here: Flowering" or of captive whales in "Leviathan in a Pool." Given the intense partnership that her poetry sets up between the artist's vision and the valued independence of the objects encountered by it, it seems altogether appropriate that the following collection, Hologram, is a sequence of "glosas"—acts of collaboration between her lines and those of other poets. Each of the fourteen glosas in Hologram consists of interweavings with, and variations on, a quatrain written by another poet. Page's comment on the first poem outlines the collection's masterful balance of creative autonomy and imaginative sympathy: "I felt as if I were hand in hand with Seferis. A curious marriage—two sensibilities intermingling." In its structure the book takes us through widening circles of sympathetic identification that unfold like a flower from the artist's determination to "un-me myself" ("Inebriate"), attaining through its embrace of the world's human and natural otherness a realization of the goal Page sets herself in "Planet Earth": "It has to be stretched and stroked. / It has to be celebrated. / O this great beloved world and all the creatures in it." At the same time the sequence delves into the source and center of both the world's plenitude and the self's need to embrace it, concluding in "The Answer" that we live "only for love, the love that is / so focussed on its object that I die / utterly, a candle in the sun, / a drop of water in the sea." In her foreword Page describes the collection as "a book of homage" to those poets who helped her find her voice. It is also a book that calls forth and rewards homage from its readers, a deeply satisfying product of the "marriage" between Page's large heart and large talent.

—George Woodcock and

Julia Reibetanz