Page, P(atricia) K(athleen) (Vol. 18)
Page, P(atricia) K(athleen) 1916–
Page is a Canadian poet and painter. In poetry noted for its whimsey and luxuriant imagery is limned the poet's struggle to shape an identity through an alignment of private and external worlds. She paints under the name P. K. Irwin and has written under the pseudonym Judith Cape. (See also CLC, Vol. 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 53-56.)
[Sun and Moon] bears a direct relation to Miss Page's writing in verse form, and is at once a counterpart and explanation of her poetry before she felt the influence of social ideas. The two themes of the early poetry—themes of unhappy love and of the escape from it into the world of nature—are, it would seem, mirrored in the novel. The "I" of the romantic poems is also identified with the moon…. I suspect that Miss Page was as dissatisfied with her youthful poems as a critic would be, and that in Sun and Moon she made a half-hearted attempt to portray the flaw in the poet of nature. The "I" of the poems is crucified in the person of Kristin. Did this escapist "I" long to be one with nature, to enter into it and breathe its very soul? Then she would gain her wish by having a mortal malady inflicted on her, and instead of just metaphorically being identified with stone, become literally and physically that dreadful thing. But being new at speculation in neurosis, Miss Page is not sure whether it tastes good or not: she is still undecided whether Kristin is an ugly or romantic being. Kristin becomes stone and nothing, but she also becomes the triumphant tree: there were more consolations in her illness than one had dreamed of. And if Miss Page was quickly dissatisfied with the novel—she did publish it under a pseudonym [Judith Cape]—perhaps it was just because she came to realize that her heroine was an incurable romantic, leading...
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The central tension in P. K. Page's poetry arises from the effort to mediate between the private world and the external one. It is possible to describe this tension in political terms, but it would be misleading, in my opinion, to trace its source to a sympathy for political minorities or for the underdog or for the "victims" of society who are isolated in some way, but cannot subscribe to their external reality. These elements exist, but are not, I think her major preoccupation. As I hope to show, her "involvement" is primarily that of an artist, rather than political. The two kinds of involvement are not mutually exclusive; but the second is subordinate to the first, and is, indeed, an extension of it. That the artist must make the effort to mediate between the internal and the external is central to her poetry. No matter how painful the process may be there can be no turning away, no ivory tower aestheticism. Even the observer's stance is rejected and though several of her poems deal with it, she is extremely critical of its validity. That the temptation exists is an almost inevitable result of the tension at the core of her poetry. The individual trapped in his ivory tower of memory and reminiscence, the victim in the grip of impossible social circumstances, are merely offshoots of the central persona: the woman caught within the confines of her inner reality, her personal Noah's Ark, seeking some way to reconcile the internal and external, to make...
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A poet's identity may be found in the habits of feeling and insight that are particularly, almost obsessively, her own and which distinguish her poetry from that of other writers. Occasionally an individual poem can be found which defines a poet's sensibility. The poem "After Rain" provides such a focus in P. K. Page's poetry. With a remarkable acuity, she explores the dimensions of her own poetic temperament, exposing both the strengths and the potential vulnerability of her art. Like so many of Page's poems, "After Rain" describes a simple domestic occurrence (in this case a woman and a gardener examining a garden) pushed to a level of hallucinatory intensity where insight becomes possible. Here, the poet describes her mind as a woman's wardrobe of female whimsy and there follows a brilliant complex of images, propelled by fantastic associative leaps. (p. 32)
Rarely has one so complete a sense of a poet luxuriating in language. Yet the whole momentum of the poem is reversed with the remarkable line: "I suffer shame in all these images." This line, with its powerful anguish, is the pivot of Page's poetics, for here she articulates one of the deepest impulses of her work. She has such a remarkable verbal gift that the image-making process can become almost too seductive. In her hands, images are self-generating, and multiply and reproduce in a kind of literary osmosis. Thus one has the sense in her early poetry of images taking over...
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"Arras" is masterful, an awesome visionary poem which has sometimes been misunderstood. Page contends here with giant forces, and she will triumph—but if we are to follow her toward that victory, we must not be deceived as to the nature of our common enemy. The mistake which has been made is to suppose that the peacock or the royal denizens of the arras are finally sinister. In fact, they represent the glory (the perfection of human life) which is sought by the poet in "Arras" and throughout her work. Her struggle is to join them, to attain their stature, not to escape or defeat them; and her enemy (like ours) is any impediment to that goal….
Perhaps the difficulty begins with the question of where we are: inside a dream, or looking at a tapestry, or perhaps (especially if we know this much about the poet) at a garden party surrounded by such elegant figures as Page would have encountered in her role as the wife of a diplomat. Indeed these multiple settings coalesce, to account in part for the sense of dislocation. Or the difficulty may begin with the first two lines: "Consider a new habit—classical, / and trees espaliered on the wall like candelabra."… [Why] consider? This may suggest something tentative, possibly an experience which is to be approached cautiously. Yet the original meaning of 'consider' is to look closely, so that the first word of the poem can be read as an imperative. Look deeply and come in, the poet...
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