Thursday, January 14, 2010
It is with great sadness that we report the death of P.K. Page at the age of 93 on Thursday, January 14 in Victoria. Her contribution to Canadian letters was immeasurable. Page was a true icon of Canadian poetry and will be greatly missed.
Patricia Kathleen Page was born in Dorset, England, in 1916, and moved with her family to Red Deer, Alberta one year after the First World War. Page got an early look at this country as her father, a military man, moved the family to posts in Calgary, Montreal and Saint John.
Page’s poems first appeared in magazines in the late 1930s. Working as a scriptwriter for the National Film Board in the mid-1940s, Page met her future husband, Maclean's editor and later NFB commissioner William Arthur Irwin. The couple spent nearly a decade living overseas while Irwin served as a Canadian diplomat. In the mid-1960s, they settled in Victoria, where Irwin died in 1999.
Someone who knows Page’s work well is Victoria poet Yvonne Blomer. “Page was the last of her generation,” says Blomer. “Her legacy to younger poets is her strong formality of language and her care with language. She taught us to pay attention to the details in the world around us and to capture those precisely in our poetry.”
Poet Dennis Reid agrees, citing a line from Page’s poem “Planet Earth” which was selected to be part of a United Nations program to foster dialogue among nations:
It has to be made bright, the skin of this planet
til it shines in the sun like gold leaf.
Archangels then will attend to its metals
and polish the rods of its rain.
“That’s a totally unusual, but very precise way of putting it,” says Reid. “And it’s something I paid a lot of attention to in her poetry.”
An eclectic artist, Page published over a dozen books during her distinguished career, including poetry, fiction, non-fiction and children's books. She was also an accomplished painter, exhibiting paintings and drawings in one-woman shows. Her paintings are featured at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
One of Page’s closest friends was poet Marilyn Bowering.
“P.K. was not satisfied with the superficial. Everything she did was with an eye that would look right through to the essence of things. She was very interested in what made things work. So you get that probing quality in her poetry and in her visual art, too.”
The passing of an era? Bowering bristles at the notion. P.K. Page, she says, was “a modernist” and “very very contemporary.”
“She was involved in environmentalism; she had very strong political opinions. She was connected to younger artists. I see her much more as setting standards that are there for the rest of us.”
Page won the 1954 Governor General's Literary Award for her poetry collection The Metal and the Flower, and received a National Magazine Award and a B.C. Book Award. She was also made a companion of the Order of Canada.
Dennis Reid cites a comment years ago by Victoria’s Poet Laureate about Page. “Linda Rogers put it right. She said P.K. had `poems of true power’ and that has stuck with me. That’s what true writers do. So will she be remembered? Unquestionably.”
For an example of P.K Page's memorable style, see "Deaf-mute in a Pear Tree" in our "Great Poems" link to the right.
Photo of P.K. Page by Marilyn Bowering
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