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.
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.
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.
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."