Sunday, January 17, 2010

Remembering P.K. Page -- An Inspiring Life

Canada has lost a national treasure, a literary grand dame, as CBC terms her (sadly leaving out her considerable achievements as a visual artist, a painter -- an omission rectified in this later CBC report by the esteemed biographer, Rosemary Sullivan.) And those of hoping to age well have lost an inspiration, although we will all have the many, many volumes of prize-winning poetry to comfort us (its delights, I should hastily add, are not always comfortable, but include challenges, prods, sorrows, and dark visions as much as the beauty it undoubtedly offers). Astonishingly productive in her 90s, with new work published in the last few months, P. K. Page's life and achievements have been recounted many times in many places, as a quick Google Search will show -- the photographs here are from her official website, which now records her death last Thursday at 93. Perhaps the best way to get a quick sense of her is to read this piece, written last year on the occasion of PK's (for so I often heard her called by those who knew her well) 92nd birthday by my next-door neighbour, Carol Matthews.


When we first moved to our little island, my two youngest children made themselves quite comfortable at Mike and Carol's next door, and at that time PK was still managing to get up for visits at the beach. So the first time I was introduced to her, after a reading honouring her 80th birthday, she knew me as their mother and as the owner of their companion, an old-yet-still-rather-unruly Golden Retriever. Funny, I've heard Carol speak of her so many times, and I've taught her wonderful poetry often, but that meeting when she recognized me as Megan and Zach's mom is probably what will always surface when I see her image or hear her name -- memory's funny like that, isn't it?


Anyway, I'm teaching a course on the Elegy (as a genre) right now, and learning that such an illustrious poet had died, began looking through my two-volume collection of Page's work, The Hidden Room to find an Elegy to bring into Monday's class. I found what I was looking for, but I also found this little treasure, which I'd somehow not noticed before, a poem that really spoke to me as a knitter, and which reminded me of how beautifully and meaningfully P.K. Page could make the domestic, the everyday, shimmer (EDITED to qualify that I wouldn't characterize Page's poems, generally, as dealing with the domestic and the quotidian; just that when she does make those her focus, there is at once a close observation and an often-brilliant transcendence). Here it is:

Knitter's Prayer

Unknit me --
all those blistering strange small intricate stitches --
shell stitch, moss stitch, pearl and all too plain;
unknit me to the very first row of ribbing,
let only the original simple knot remain.

Then let us start again.



11 comments:

  1. Oh! I didn't hear this, living where I do.

    I met PK Page in Ottawa before I moved to the States for grad school. She will be greatly missed, by her peers and by her readers.

    Thanks for posting . . .

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  2. Genial dispatch and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you for your information.

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  3. Miss C: She has been such a force on the Canlit scene and will be sorely missed indeed.

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  4. I am not familiar with her, but after reading your beautiful tribute, I will seek her work out. Thank you.

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  7. How beautifully you write. I savored every word. Now I shall look for a book of her poetry at W.H. Smith's.

    Thank you, thank you.

    Tishx

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  8. I'm afraid I've not heard of her either, despite having been a literature major. Strange how here in the states we study Am Lit, English Lit, and nothing from the country next door. A beautiful tribute, I shall have to look her up.

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  9. Angie, Tish, and Mardel: I suppose she wasn't widely known outside of Canada, although she was certainly published in, say, Poetry Chicago often enough. I hope you get a chance to read something by her someday soon -- she was quite remarkable.

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  10. Frances, I just checked your blog having heard that your blogging hiatus had come to a close. How lovely, then, to read your remembrance of PK. And of course I remember that meeting on the beach here. Your tribute is touching -- and she would have loved to have seen her knitting poem presented in such a context!

    She was an extraordinary person and lived a long and productive life. It was time, and she was ready, but we will miss her greatly.

    Thanks for the blog,
    Carol

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  11. Thanks for commenting, Carol. I've found another PK "Knitters" poem, and I keep meaning to ask you if she knit, herself.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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