P.K. Page 2004
“It is all a lottery.” — P.K. Page
In 2004, P.K. Page received the tenth George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an Outstanding Literary Career in British Columbia.
She first lived on the West Coast from 1944 to 1946, participating in the development of Alan Crawley’s Contemporary Verse. While maintaining a parallel career as a painter for much of her life, Patricia Kathleen Page became one of the most esteemed and beloved writers of British Columbia, sharing ideas with Atom Egoyan, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Rosemary Sullivan, Constance Rooke, Brian Brett, Susan Musgrave, Marilyn Bowering, Lorna Crozier, Patrick Lane, Alice Munro and many others.
“She was very generous, I think, with [such] help—even with a young writer, like me, whose style and subject matter were quite different than her own,” recalls Alice Munro. “But what was really important to me was just her existence, as a good Canadian writer, whom I read in the Forties and Fifties when Canadian writers were so rare.”
Born at Swanage, Dorset in the south of England on November 23, 1916, P.K. Page came to Canada in 1919 when her parents, Major General Lionel Frank Page and Rosa Laura Whitehouse, settled in Red Deer, Alberta. After completing high school at St. Hilda’s School for Girls in Calgary, she spent a year in Europe, and later worked in a store and on radio in Saint John, New Brunswick.
She lived in many other parts of Canada, including Montreal where in 1941 she became a member of the Preview Group with F.R. Scott and A.M. Klein, co-editing the literary periodical Preview.
In Ottawa she worked as a screenwriter at the National Film Board where she met and married (in 1950) the new NFB chair W. Arthur Irwin who had previously been editor of Maclean’s magazine, having first worked for that publication in 1925. In 1953 the couple moved to Australia for three years when Irwin was appointed Canadian High Commissioner.
They moved to Brazil in 1956, and Mexico in 1960, due to Irwin’s appointments as Canadian Ambassador. In Rio de Janeiro she began to study painting. In 1964, upon his retirement from External Affairs, Irwin accepted the job of publisher for the Victoria Daily Times, and the couple moved to Victoria where Page brought Alice Munro to the attention of publisher Jack McClelland in 1966.
She remained active as a mentor to writers such as Marilyn Bowering and Patricia, and helped to organize the Signal Hill Poetry Group in the 1980s and a season of readings at Open Space, with poet Doug Beardsley. She was an early member of the League of Canadian Poets.
As a painter, she was exhibited at countless galleries under her married name, P.K. Irwin. She still has works in the National Gallery, the AGO, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, and private collections in Canada, Mexico and Europe. A symposium called `Extraordinary Presences: The Worlds of P.K. Page’ was held at Trent University, Ontario in 2002. Her poem `Planet Earth’ was chosen by the United Nations as the centrepiece for a year-long Dialogue Among Nations Through Poetry; 2000.
Other highlights of her career include a dramatized version of ‘Unless the Eye Catch Fire’, l994; ‘A Children’s Hymn’, music by Harry Somers, for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, l995; a two-part sound feature about her work, ‘The White Glass’, for CBC Ideas; a special issue of The Malahat Review in l996; The Margaret Laurence Memorial Lecture, l999; ‘A Somewhat Irregular Renga’ with Philip Stratford, for the CBC, 1999; text (poems) for ‘The Invisible Reality’, an oratorio by Derek Holman, 2000; and ‘A Children’s Millennium Song’, music by Oscar Peterson, for the opening of the Trans-Canada Trail. She is the subject of a film, ‘Still Waters: The Poetry of P.K. Page’, produced by the National Film Board of Canada.
When her father served with the Canadian forces in World War I, he sent back verses for his young daughter. Her mother illustrated them. Almost 50 years later, Page added a short memoir to the combined poems and drawings for ‘Wisdom from Nonsense Land’ (Beach Holme, 1992).
Her husband William Arthur Irwin was born in Ontario on May 27, 1898. He died in Victoria at age 101. She joined him on January 14, 2010, at 93 years of age. “For the past forty years, P.K. Page has been an enduring influence on younger British Columbia writers, poets and filmmakers,” says her biographer Sandra Djwa.
The Sun and the Moon, Macmillan Publishing,(novel), l944, pseud. Judith Cape;
As Ten as Twenty, (poetry), l946;
The Metal and the Flower, McClelland & Stewart (poetry), l954;
Cry Ararat!–Poems New and Selected, McClelland & Stewart, l967;
The Sun and the Moon and Other Fictions, Anansi, l973;
Poems Selected and New, Anansi, l974;
ed. To Say the Least, (anthology of short poems)Press Porcépic, l979;
Evening Dance of the Grey Flies, Oxford, (poems and a short story), l981;
The Glass Air, (poetry, essays and drawings), Oxford, l985;
Brazilian Journal, Lester & Orpen Dennys, prose – with drawings), l988;
A Flask of Sea Water, (fairy story), Oxford, 1989; The Glass Air – Poems Selected and New, Oxford, l99l;
The Travelling Musicians, Kids Can,(children’s book) 1991;
The Goat that Flew (sequel to A Flask of Sea Water), Beach Holme, l994;
Hologram – A Book of Glosas (poems), Brick Books, l994;
The Hidden Room Vols. 1 and 2 – Collected Poems, Porcupine’s Quill, l997;
Compass Rose (poems in Italian translation) Longo Editore, l998;
Alphabetical – Hawthorne Society, l998;
And Once More Saw the Stars – Four Poems for Two Voices, (letters and poems) with Philip Stratford, BuschekBooks, 2001;
A Kind of Fiction – (short stories), Porcupine’s Quill, 2001;
Poem Canzonic with Love to AMK (broadside), www.mothertonguepress.com, 2001
Alphabetical, Cosmologies, (poems), de luxe editions, Poppy Press, 2001;
Planet Earth, Poems New and Selected, Porcupine’s Quill, 2002;
A Grain of Sand, Fizthenry & Whiteside, 2003;
Cosmologies: Poems Selected and New (David R. Godine), 2003.
The Bertram Warr Award for a group of poems awarded by Contemporary Verse, l940;
Oscar Blumenthal Award for a group of poems awarded by Poetry (Chicago), l944;
The Governor General’s Award in Poetry for The Metal and the Flower, l954;
National Magazines Award (Gold), l985;
Canadian Authors’ Association Literary Award for Poetry, l985-86;
Brazilian Journal, winner Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize, 1988; also shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award
Banff Centre School of Fine Arts National Award, 1989;
National Magazine Award (Silver) l989; Readers’ Choice Award, Prairie Schooner, 1994;
bpNichol Chapbook Award, 1999; (for Alphabetical)
short-listed for the Griffin Prize, 2003; (for Planet Earth)
Officer of the Order of Canada, l977;
Doctor of Letters, (Honoris Causa), University of Victoria, l985;
Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa), University of Calgary, l989;
Doctor of Letters, (Honoris Causa), University of Guelph, l990;
Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa), Simon Fraser University, l990;
Doctor of Letters, (Honoris Causa) University of Toronto, l998;
Companion of the Order of Canada, l999;
Doctor of Letters, (Honoris Causa) University of Winnipeg. Tribute at the Vancouver Writers’ Festival, 2000;Distinguished Writer, Banff, 2002;
Ambassador for the Arts, awarded by the Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts, 2002;
Tribute at the Sechelt Festival of the Arts, 2002;
Order of BC, 2003.
Terasen Lifetime Achievement Award for an Outstanding Literary Career in British Columbia, 2004