P(atricia) K(athleen) Page Critical Essays


(Poetry Criticism)

P. K. Page 1916–

(Full name Patricia Kathleen Page; also wrote under the pseudonym Judith Cape) English-born Canadian poet, essayist, short story writer, nonfiction writer, and novelist. See also P. K. Page Literary Criticism.

Page is a highly acclaimed poet who was a founding member of the Canadian verse magazine Preview. Influenced by symbolism, surrealism, and Sufism, and characterized by intense visual imagery, Page's poetry focuses on such issues as hidden realities, self-expression, and alienation.

Biographical Information

Born in England, Page grew up in Calgary, Alberta, and later moved to St. John, New Brunswick, where she worked as a shop assistant and radio actress during the late 1930s. In the early 1940s she took up residence in Montreal, Quebec, the center for English-language Canadian poetry at the time. There, she became a member of the Preview poets, whose concerns with social responsibility and Modernist theories exercised a marked influence over her early poetry, some of which appeared in the anthology Unit of Five in 1944. That same year Page publishedx The Sun and the Moon, a romance novel, under the pseudonym Judith Cape. She published her first volume of verse, As Ten, as Twenty, in 1946 and for the next four years worked as a scriptwriter for the National Film Board in Ottawa, Ontario. Following her marriage in 1950 to William Arthur Irwin, Page devoted her time to writing the poetry collection The Metal and the Flower (1954), for which she received a Governor General's Award. From 1953 to the mid-1960s, Page and her husband, who had entered the Canadian diplomatic corps, lived in Australia, Brazil, and Mexico. During her years abroad, Page wrote little poetry and instead pursued her interests in drawing and painting. Several of Page's artworks have been exhibited under her married name, P. K. Irwin. Numerous critics have argued that Page's work in the visual arts and her exposure to foreign climates and cultures has intensified her attention to detail and enriched her verse. Page renewed her literary career on returning to Canada and published four poetry collections: Cry Ararat! Poems New and Selected (1967), Poems Selected and New (1974), Evening Dance of the Grey Flies (1981), and The Glass Air: Selected Poems (1985). In addition to her poetry, Page has collected her prose works in The Sun and the Moon, and Other Fictions (1973) and A Brazilian Journal (1987), which relates her experiences in South America.

Major Works

Critics divide Page's poetry into two periods: that written in the 1940s through the early 1950s and that written since the mid-1960s. Page's early writings rely heavily on suggestive imagery and the detailed depiction of concrete situations to express social concerns and transcendental themes. Described as highly evocative social documents examining the lives of working women, such poems as "The Stenographers" and "The Landlady" focus on isolated individuals who futilely search for meaning and a sense of belonging. "Photos of a Salt Mine," considered one of Page's best early poems, examines how art both conceals and reveals reality.

In Page's later poetry, critics note a new austerity in form and a reduction in the number of images presented. However, as George Woodcock has observed, "the most recent poems are more sharply and intensely visual than ever in their sensuous evocation of shape and color and space; their imagery takes us magically beyond any ordinary seeing into a realm of imagining in which the normal world is shaken like a vast kaleidoscope and revealed in unexpected and luminous relationships." Whereas Page's earlier works were inward-looking, imaginary biographies, her later poems are often set abroad and suggest a path of liberation for the isolated, alienated individual who has become imprisoned in a world of imagination. Such poems as "Bark Drawing" and "Cook's Mountains" contain images outside the self as does "Cry Ararat!"—a poem concerning the reconciliation of internal and external worlds, in which Mount Ararat symbolizes a place of rest between the "flood" of details in the outside world and the stifling confines of one's own reality.

Critical Reception

Page has been criticized for crowding her poems with an overwhelming number of images, but at the same time, she has received commendation for the quality of her imagery. Kevin Lewis, in the January, 1982, issue of Quill and Quire, stated: "It is no small feat to write convincing poetry in such a thick, imagistic style…. [Page] must stand as one of the premier poets in Canada simply because she has such a beautiful way with words."

Principal Works

(Poetry Criticism)


As Ten, as Twenty 1946

The Metal and the Flower 1954

Cry Ararat! Poems New and Selected 1967

Poems Selected and New 1974

Evening Dance of the Grey Flies (poetry and prose) 1981

The Glass Air: Selected Poems (poetry, drawings, and essays) 1985

Other Major Works

The Sun and the Moon [as Judith Cape] (novel) 1944

The Sun and the Moon, and Other Fictions (novel and short stories) 1973

A Brazilian Journal (prose and sketches) 1987

A Flask of...

(The entire section is 74 words.)

William Meredith (essay date 1947)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Good Modern Poet and a Modern Tradition," in Poetry, Vol. LXX, No. 4, July, 1947, pp. 208–11.

[In the excerpt below, American educator and Pulitzer Prize—winning poet Meredith favorably reviews As Ten, as Twenty, finding the volume a strong example of modern poetry.]

Just where the new land is, or when we entered it and by whom led, the authorities do not yet say, but everybody knows that in the 20th century there is a new colony in English poetry. More than a decade ago C. Day Lewis named as explorers Hopkins, Owen and Eliot, and among the pioneer settlers, Auden and Spender. And as controversial as its dates and heroes are the bearing and...

(The entire section is 896 words.)

P. K. Page (essay date 1969)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Questions and Images," Canadian Literature, No. 41, Summer, 1969, pp. 17–22.

[Here, Page attributes her artistic growth to a number of elements, including where she has lived, her temporary inability to write poetry, and her subsequent interest in drawing. Critic Constance Rooke described this essay as "the best possible guide to an understanding of [Page's] poetry. "]

The last ten years span three distinct places—and phases—in my life: Brazil, Mexico, Canada, in that order. All countries of the new world.

Brazil pelted me with images. Marmosets in the flowering jungle; bands of multi-colored birds moving among the branches of the kapok...

(The entire section is 2236 words.)

A. J. M. Smith (essay date 1971)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Poetry of P. K. Page," in Poets and Critics: Essays from Canadian Literature 1966–1974, edited by George Woodcock, Oxford University Press Canada, 1974, pp. 80–91.

[Smith was a Canadian educator, anthologist, award-winning poet, and critic. In the following essay, originally published in Canadian Literature in 1971, he examines the imagery and themes in Page's major collections of poetry.]

Of the Canadian poets who led the second wave of modernism in the forties and fifties, P. K. Page holds a curious and somewhat anomalous position; she had certainly not received the critical attention that the remarkable fusion of psychological insight and...

(The entire section is 3995 words.)

Constance Rooke (essay date 1978)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "P. K. Page: The Chameleon and the Centre," in The Malahat Review, No. 45, January, 1978, pp. 169–95.

[American educator Rooke contributed to and later edited the literary periodical The Malahat Review. In the following excerpt, she provides a survey of Page's verse and considers the influence of Sufi philosophy on the poet's works.]

P. K. Page is Canada's finest poet. I begin here on dangerous ground, without any illusion that the mere surveyor's report which is to follow can prove it safe. But it has seemed to me this judgment ought to appear in print. The work itself is secure in any case; though not extensive by a literal measurement of books...

(The entire section is 9120 words.)

Ann Mandel (essay date 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Beautiful Page," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. LXII, No. 718, May, 1982, pp. 32–3.

[Below, Mandel reviews Evening Dance of the Grey Flies. She comments that the "accomplishment of this fine book, much waited for, is that it makes such elegantly crafted artifacts beautiful to an eye more usually drawn to the mere complexities of spawning daily flux."]

The "fragile, slender-winged" grey flies in the title poem of P. K. Page's latest collection are dancing in the evening light of a sun which gilds and transforms nearly every other thing in the book. It transforms Victorian gardens into Brazils and jewelled legends, motel pools into Edens, it shines in...

(The entire section is 724 words.)

Kay Stockholder, Shirley Neuman, and D. M. R. Bentley (essay date 1986)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Literary Theory in the Classroom: Three Views of P. K. Page's 'The Permanent Tourists'," in Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews, No. 19, Fall/Winter, 1986, pp. 57–75.

[The following excerpt contains essays by three writers of differing schools of criticism—Freudian Kay Stockholder, poststructuralist/feminist Shirley Neuman, and historical/practical scholar D. M. R. Bentley. Below, each author outlines his/her approach to teaching Page's "The Permanent Tourists" to undergraduate university students.]


This is a session on teaching poetry, specifically on teaching "The Permanent Tourists." But I find it...

(The entire section is 7769 words.)

Sandra Hutchison (essay date 1987)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "Diamond Panes," in Canadian Literature, Nos. 113–14, Summer-Fall, 1987, pp. 247–49.

[In this review of The Glass Air: Selected Poems, Hutchison praises the book as a "valuable asset to both neophyte and scholar" and calls Page "one of our finest and most accomplished poets, as well as an interesting and original artist."]

The Glass Air is one of the most important books of Canadian poetry published in 1985. Punctuated by the drawings inspired by her years abroad and rounded out by two essays on her aesthetics, P. K. Page's selections from her best-known poems and from recent work (some unpublished) trace the evolution of a rich and complex...

(The entire section is 1283 words.)

P. K. Page with Eleanor Wachtel (interview date 1987)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: An interview in West Coast Review, Vol. 22, No. 2, Fall, 1987, pp. 42–64.

[Wachtel is a writer, editor, critic, and radio personality. In the following interview, Page discusses her early life, her poetry and prose, and various literary influences. She also describes her foray into drawing.]

Since the mid-1960s, P. K. Page has lived in Victoria, in a large cedar home set in a garden landscaped by her husband. The rooms are filled with the exotic objects one might expect to find in a retired diplomat's residence—especially a diplomat who is married to an artist. The geometric design on the tiles of a coffee table, rescued from a dismantled house in Brazil,...

(The entire section is 8822 words.)

Further Reading

(Poetry Criticism)


Davey, Frank. "P. K. Page." In his From There to Here: Volume II of Our Nature/Our Voices, pp. 231–35. Erin, Ontario: Press Porcepic, 1974.

Surveys Page's writing career and describes various themes in her verse. Davey asserts that "P. K. Page is unmistakenly one of the most readable of the various 'anti-life' poets of twentieth-century Canadian poetry."

Francis, Anne. "P. K." Canadian Art 83 XX, No. 1 (January/February 1963): 42–5.

Comments on similarities between Page's poetry and her paintings. Francis reports that "whether she is writing or painting, P....

(The entire section is 322 words.)