Patrick Lane was born in 1939 in Nelson, British Columbia. He has worked at a variety of jobs, from common labourer, cat skinner, miner, truck driver, and Industrial-First-Aid-Man in a number of sawmills, to salesman, office manager, and corporate industrial accountant. Much of his life has been spent as an itinerant poet, wandering over three continents and many countries. He began writing with serious intent in 1958. In 1966 he established with bill bissett and Seymour Mayne the publishing house Very Stone House, which produced a number of important collections of poetry in the 1960s.
In 1971 he decided to devote his life exclusively to writing and travelled to South America where he lived for two years. On his return he settled on the west coast of Canada in the small fishing village of Pender Harbour. In 1978 he left the coast and took up a writer-in-residency at the University of Manitoba. Since then he has been writer-in-residence at Concordia University, the University of Ottawa, the University of Alberta, the Saskatoon Public Library, and the University of Toronto. Previous to moving to British Columbia, he lived in Saskatoon, where he taught at the University of Saskatchewan in the English Department, sharing a position there with his permanent companion, the poet Lorna Crozier. He has taught writing at Concordia University, the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Ottawa, the Banff Summer School of the Arts, the Saskatchewan Summer School of the Arts, the Victoria Writing School, and at numerous other writing schools across the country. He is presently an Adjunct Professor at The University of Victoria Writing Department. He teaches a number of private master classes in fiction and poetry. He is the father of five children and the grandfather of eight. He is a member of PEN, the League of Canadian Poets, and the Writer’s Union of Canada.
He has published numerous volumes of poetry over the past forty years, including: Poems, New & Selected (1978); The Measure (1981); Old Mother (1982); A Linen Crow, A Caftan Magpie (1984); Selected Poems (1987); Milford & Me (1989), a collection of children’s poems; Winter (1990); Mortal Remains (1991); Too Spare, Too Fierce (1995); Selected Poems 1977-1997 (1997); The Bare Plum of Winter Rain (2000); and Go Leaving Strange(2004). A memoir and meditation on life, art, poetry, and gardens, titled There is a Season: A Memoir in a Garden (2004) published in the USA with Shambalah under the title Wjat The Stones Remember, and a novel, Red Dog Red Dog, published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart, and appearing in France, Holland and England in 2009.
Lane is the co-editor (with Lorna Crozier) of Breathing Fire (1995) and Breathing Fire II(2004), two anthologies of Canada’s new poets, and Addicted: Notes From the Belly of the Beast (2001), an anthology of personal essays on addiction.
Lane has received a number of Canada Council Arts Awards, along with awards from the Ontario Arts Council, the Saskatchewan Arts Board, the Manitoba Arts Board, and the B.C. Arts Council. Lane received the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1979 for Poems, New & Selected; the Canadian Authors Association Award for poetry in 1988 for Selected Poems; and the Dorothy Livesay Prize in 1995 for Too Spare, Too Fierce. Both Winter and Mortal Remains were nominated for the Governor-General’s Award. In 2003 he received The Sam Ross Award for best radio commentary from the Radio & Television National Directors Association. He received the Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence in 2006.
The radio script Chile, co-written with Lorna Crozier, won the National Radio Award’s Best Public Radio Program for 1987. In 2004 he was given an award for the best radio political commentary in Canada. Lane has been nominated several times for the National Magazine Award and has won twice: once, in 1989 for a group of poems appearing in Border Crossings, and again in 1987 for his short story “Rabbits”, which appeared in Canadian Forum. In 1991 Lane’s short story “Marylou Had Her Teeth Out” was selected for the anthology Best American Short Stories.
Lane has lived and travelled extensively around the world and has read and published his work in a number of countries including England, France, Czechoslovakia, Italy, China, Japan, Chile, Colombia, Yugoslavia, The Netherlands, South Africa, and Russia. His poetry appears in all major Canadian anthologies of English literature.
A critical monograph by George Woodcock on Patrick Lane’s life and writing has been published as part of Canadian Writers and Their Works (1985). Lane is considered by most critics and scholars to be one of the finest poets of his generation.
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
There are no single moments, only amalgams of moments, a life perhaps, sitting in a 40″ x 8″ aluminum trailer above the North Thompson River in 1961-62 writing poems, there being no why to it other than a desire to record the world, the river and the sawmill below me, the great beehive burner throwing out flames in the winter night, and men crawling among the machines, the mill spewing out spaghetti lumber for the American market—three shifts a day, me the First-Aid-Man, the whistles blowing, six whistles meaning a man was injured and I had to go to the mill, a little drunk, canary-yellow paper, a small, portable typewriter, me hitting the keys with my one finger, something about a bear rummaging in the burning-barrel behind the trailer, my young wife pretending she was asleep, crying, the babies colicy, no one going to them, the night moving inexorably forward: three whistles, two whistles, five whistles, one whistle, nobody I knew breathing, not even me.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
Inspiration, to take the spirit into yourself as breathing is into tired lungs, as it was then, as it is now, a rhythm, a cadence, an image: upon your limbs the star-fruit hangs, somebody dead, Miriam Mandel, her dark figure walking in the snow in Edmonton, a wraith thin as old glass, wrinkled by the rollers that pressed her image there. That was then, and now an image, a cadence, a rhythm, yes, a poem.
What is your writing process?
Typing on my keyboard, one word and then another, a one-finger typist, perhaps twenty-five words a minute, so: very slow, the words appearing as letters, one at a time, and because the words come so slowly I have had my mind slowed these fifty years, and thus choices, this word, that word, a line-break, a caesura, a stanza, end-stop. Begin again, a word, then another, very slowly appearing, knowing where I’m going, as a cripple knows, a man with one leg hobbling down the sidewalk, or a man typing with one finger.
What is your revision/editing process?
Rarely any more, the poem coming clean as it is, as it will be, wants itself to be.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
No, well, sometimes a dictionary, but rarely now. I have lost half of a vocabulary now that I’m seventy years old, which makes for simplicity, a limitation—cheating sometimes as old people do, knowing I will forget the word before I get there and creating a clever way around the loss, a perambulation down broken connections in my brain—my mind, yes, wondering what words I used to know and knowing I don’t need them now. When I was a boy I knew thousands and thousands of words, a million words, each one a concatenation of something called sounds, fewer words, but the same sounds, last music, notes.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
I thought all the poets were dead when I was a boy in high school. There were few Canadian poets I had heard of, our school textbook then having a little section at the back entitled, “For Further Reading”, the formal text made up of British and American poets, the few Canadians an afterthought, people who were slightly embarrassing, add-ons, almost mentioned writers, people who were less than, losers, the unmentionable ones, Canadians. My country didn’t exist in books. I had to imagine it.