His writing isn’t always easy. It can seamlessly turn from despair to rejoicing and it can exhibit both a tenderness that touches the heart and a brutality that chills the soul.
Yet somehow, Canadian author and poet Patrick Lane has managed to balance the darker aspects of existence with astonishing glimpses of unsurpassed beauty and visions of peace.
Lane’s work has, quite rightly, earned him almost every literary award in Canada, including the Governor General’s Award, the Canadian Author’s Association Award and the Dorothy Livesay Prize. His memoir, There is a Season, was a national bestseller and won the B.C. Award for Canadian Non-Fiction and his novel, Red Dog, Red Dog, was also a national bestseller and was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize.
Now, it seems, Lane’s work has earned him yet another honour; he’ll be able to affix O.C. to his name, the designation of an Officer of the Order of Canada. He was in Ottawa to receive that honour on Friday, November 21.
For more than 50 years Lane’s work has captured the imagination of readers around the world, but according to Lane, he has always written about his world and what he knows.
“You write about you own world experience,” said Lane. “When you create a character, a situation, you imbue the writing with the world you’ve lived in … the world you understand.”
That approach has allowed Lane to produce 27 volumes of poetry as well as award winning works of fiction (a novel, a children’s book, a book of short stories and a memoir) and his work has been published in England, France, the Czech Republic, Italy, China, Japan, Chile, Colombia, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands and Russia
This fall Lane published Washita (Harbour Publishing), the first collection of his new work to appear in seven years. Washita is an examination of some of the most meaningful and inexpressible experiences of our lives. It displays a reverence for the world, both natural and man-made that only Lane could have accomplished.
The poems examine the human condition, including the loss of loved ones, the breakdown of our bodies, and our acquisition of hard-won wisdom. It is honest and reflective in tone and is distinguished by Lane’s trademark powerful imagery and unflinching language.
But, given Lane’s life experiences, it’s almost natural that his work would be characterized by that stark realism.
“I began writing with a sense of moral outrage toward some of the things I witnessed,” said Lane.
Amongst a plethora of other jobs, as a young man he was a medic at a lumber mill.
“You saw some profoundly disturbing things … you’d see a man with a hand cut off, or the abusive treatment of a man toward his wife … a wife that no one knew he even had.”
Lane explained the world of his youth was very different than today in other ways.
“Residential schools were normal back then. A man could send his wife to an insane asylum just with his signature and that of a doctor. That’s the kind of strong stuff I saw.”
Lane was born in 1939 in Nelson, B.C. and spent his formative youth in the B.C. interior. He briefly came to Vancouver in 1965 but soon left to drift throughout North and South America where he worked a variety of jobs, from labourer to industrial accountant.
“The other day, I added up the number of places I’ve paid rent, places I’ve lived,” said Lane. “It came to 83 places I’ve lived in North America. I guess if you added in South America it would be a lot more.”
After two failed marriages, Lane married the poet Lorna Crozier 36 years ago. According to Lane, his wife’s energy and passion for writing continually offers an energy to the household that is invaluable to the creative process.
“My wife is quite amazing,” said Lane. “She won her Order of Canada two years ago, so I guess we’re sort of unique in that, too; a married couple both getting that award for our writing.”
Aside from the writing, Lane and his wife share a passion for teaching.
“She teaches at UVic,” said Lane. “She gets to teach because she has a Master’s Degree.”
For his part, Lane never progressed beyond high school where he joked that he was given a certificate, “largely to get me out of the school, I think.”
“But I’ve taught some seminars at UVic and these days I teach at a lot of private retreats. It matters to me to pass along the knowledge. I take a lot of pride in the people who I’ve taught who have gone on to be published and make a success of writing.”
Some of those people, said Lane, were given exposure through two collections of work that he and his wife published.
“They were called Breathing Fire and Breathing Fire II and it’s kind of amazing. It featured the poetic work of new writers and dozens and dozens of them have gone on to great success. I take a lot of pride in that.”
For Lane, the use of poetry to express his story has always been a natural choice.
“I love its brevity, its intensity. the clarity that the form demands,” he said.
In Lane’s case, that clarity stems from observation.
“Too often, people don’t see things because they are too busy not seeing them. Because if you actually notice things … you have to do something about them.”
— Tim Collins/News Contributor