A bounty of ‘beautiful borrowed lines’
Hologram: An Homage to P.K. Page
by Yvonne Blomer and DC Reid (editors)
Qualicum Beach: Caitlin Press, 2023
$26.00 / 9781773861135
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Hologram: An Homage to P.K. Page is a very engaging book of poetry and prose to honour the legacy of poet and painter Patricia Kathleen Page (1916-2010), co-edited by British Columbia poets Yvonne Blomer and DC Reid.
Whether they met P.K., as she was affectionately known, or were inspired by her poetry and presence, the contributors to the book have experienced the acclaimed poet’s influence for a long time.
As Michèle Rackham Hall and Zailig Pollock point out in their essay, “Portrait of the Poet as Artist”: “P.K. started out primarily as a figurative artist in Brazil. Hall is the author of The Art of P.K Irwin, Observer, Other, Gemini and Pollock is P.K.’s literary executor. (As a painter, P.K. Page was known by her married name P.K. Irwin.) Almost twenty of her paintings are included in the book, in colour, placed with poems “that have some resemblance to the often-luminous pieces,” as Reid says in his introductory essay.
In 1959, when Arthur Irwin, Page’s husband, represented Canada at the United Nations, Page met several artists including Charles Seliger of the “New York School.” In Mexico, Leonara Carrington became a close friend and mentor. “Carrington, a leading surrealist, encouraged the artist in her own surrealistic tendencies,” Hall and Pollock remark.
The gorgeous image on the cover is from a 1963 egg tempera painting, titled The Dance, inspired by a performance of the Fu-Shing Chinese Opera. The painting was a favourite of Page’s and hung over the fireplace in her Victoria home until her death.
When Reid was president of the League of Canadian Poets he began to build a mentoring program for poets. Since the fundraising began in 2011, various readings have been held, donations made, and books published (including this one) to create the P.K. Page Trust Fund. “Although P.K. is not known to have used the word ‘mentorship’ when describing her relationship to other poets, it is what she stood for,” poet and novelist Marilyn Bowering is quoted as stating in the introduction. Sandra Djwa, author of Page’s biography, Journey with No Maps, describes her as a “maverick in the original meaning of the term: sensitive, high-strung, often unwilling to run with the rest of the herd.”
The volume’s contributing poets have written poems inspired by a quote of Page’s, a poem of hers (particularly a glosa, of which she was a master), and, in some cases, created their own form of glosa. Comments about the poets’ relationship to the woman and her work follow the poems.
In the foreword to a book of glosas called hologram, first published in 1994, Page writes that she “was introduced to the glosa through the ear. Its form, half hidden, powerfully sensed, like an iceberg at night, made me search for its outline as I listened.” The poet found it challenging and yet she “enjoyed the idea of constructing the poem backwards–the final line of each stanza is, in effect, the starting line. You work towards a known.”
The cover to the 1994 hologram is included in the current book. Titled Votive Tablet, the 1972 egg tempera on gold leaf shows the “circling of the square,” which is described as “a common concept in Eastern art, symbolizing the transformation of ‘earth into heaven’.” Page was “deeply committed to Sufism at this point in her career.”
John Barton, who was Victoria’s fifth (as well as first male and first queer) poet laureate, contributed two poems one of which, “Illuminations,” recasts Page’s “After Reading Albino Pheasants by Patrick Lane.” While working “towards a known” as P.K. once said of the glosa, Barton took on the influences and lines of three poets. Rather than ten line stanzas as is usual in a glosa, Barton has used tercets (ie, three line) stanzas to experiment with form. The repeated lines (“and I am lifted to a weightless world,” for example) with the addition of descriptions such as “uncaged birds” and “green-vowelled panoramas,” offer the sort of “startling imagery” that Barton admired in Page’s work.
Page was the “lure” of UVic’s Department of Creative Writing in 1978, where Barton came to respect “most importantly, the knack she had of knotting the threads of a poem through a progression of stimulating ideas.” As a poet Barton continues to be motivated by Page’s “writing and by her example. Her engagement with ideas, verse forms, and the language itself sets a high standard.”
Lorna Crozier writes in her poem titled “P.K.”: “She saw two moons in the prairie sky.” (P.K. lived in Alberta and Manitoba as a child.) While not a glosa, some lines are included in the poem from Page’s “About Death.” Page “proved to the world in the fifties that there was a possibility for Canadian poetry of deep feeling and remarkable intelligence,” Crozier is quoted as saying in The Globe and Mail following the poet’s death fourteen years ago.
In her memory of Page, Crozier describes two leather belts with “big flashy buckles” that Page had bought decades before in Brazil and given to Crozier. Crozier wore them for many years and found they gave her confidence at readings and presentations. One can’t help but think that Page’s work gave Crozier, 32 years younger, the confidence to risk form, the expression of emotions, and her own intelligence in her poetry.
In “Homage to P.K. Page,” Barbara Pelman writes towards four lines borrowed from Page’s “Planet Earth.” Pelman, a retired high school teacher, recounts an experience involving Page in her poem, which begins:”That day you called the school / I was teaching the glosa to my Grade 12 students.” As Pelman notes, she had taken her high school students to downtown Victoria to write lines of poems on the hoardings around a construction site. One of the lines written was from “Planet Earth,” which Pelman includes in her homage: “O this great beloved world and all the creatures in it.”
The outdoor poetry event made headlines. Seeing her own poem, Page called Pelman at the school with appreciation for using it. “You see how poetry is alive,” Pelman told her students afterwards, “How it connects.”
Pelman’s poem includes some of Page’s teaching:
. . . you who had taught us
to put word beside word, to reach down the stanza
until we found yours and other poets’ words,
Nine lines then the other, the beautiful borrowed lines.
Pelman remembers, after sending Page some of her glosas, being gently chastised as she had not used the rhyme scheme typical to a glosa in lines 6 and 9. While Pelman never met Page, she continues to love “the paradoxical freedom you find within a framework, a form.”
There are so many fine poems in the collection, worthy of celebration themselves, describing and celebrating much of what people are drawn to in Page’s life and work.
The editors give their biggest thanks to P.K. Page, “may she be in orbit, her eyes still wide open.” Her spirit will definitely soar with this joyous tribute in poetry and prose of her life and work. And now there may be curious newcomers to Page’s poetry who will have some exciting discoveries in store.
Mary Ann Moore is a poet, writer, and writing mentor who lives on the unceded lands of the Snuneymuxw First Nation in Nanaimo. Her full-length book of poetry is Fishing for Mermaids (Leaf Press, 2014) and she has a new chapbook of poems called Mending (house of appleton). Moore leads writing circles and has two writing resources: Writing to Map Your Spiritual Journey (International Association for Journal Writing) and Writing Home: A Whole Life Practice (Flying Mermaids Studio). She writes a blog here. [Editor’s note: Mary Ann Moore has also reviewed books by Marita Dachsel and Nancy Lee (eds.) Lisa Ahier, with Susan Musgrave, Stephen Collis (ed.), Maria Coffey, Lorna Crozier, Katherine Palmer Gordon, and Donna McCart Sharkey & Arleen Paré for BCR.]
The British Columbia Review
Interim Editors, 2023-25: Trevor Marc Hughes (nonfiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.
“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster