Patrick Lane Peter Stevens - Essay

Peter Stevens

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Letters From the Savage Mind Patrick Lane] allows his persona to stand at the centre of the majority of his poems, which are especially good when he deals with the ordinary affairs of himself and his family. Just under the surface of these poems lie enormous fears and questions but they never assume moral proportions. The encroachments of age, the madness of political situations, childlessness, loneliness and anonymity in the big city, outbursts of violence are all fixed within the circle of himself and the environments he lives in, visits or remembers. Ordinary things take on aspects of seriousness; they belong to individuals, and individuals are what matter in this terrifying world. Thus, the poetry focuses on seemingly small and unimportant things: cats, dogs—alive or dead, an ant, children and children's games, an orange lawnmower, a carved wooden fish. He remembers the outer world by things immediate and personal to him: the Cuban crisis by cougar tracks and Pope Paul's visit to the U.N. by the first hard rain of winter. Lights on ships create myths for him—there are several poems about the sea and the mountains, making an overwhelming environment for man. But somehow man survives by means of his ordinary everyday affairs and relationships.

Sometimes these ordinary things reduce the poems to ordinariness. Sometimes Patrick Lane becomes strangely pretentious: I find the two long poems in the book, particularly "The Carnival Man" (however important it may be to the poet himself), too overwrought. He is best in dealing with immediacies and there are many poems in Letters From The Savage Mind of this kind. The cumulative effect of these poems is to make the reader feel that this poet is an individual keenly observant about himself and the world around him, sensitive without being over-emotional, realistic without milking the realism too often. This is a very good collection. (p. 283)

Peter Stevens, "Stones' Throw from the West," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. XLVII, No. 566, March, 1968, pp. 282-83.∗