Patrick Lane: Rest in Poetry

Fine Arts

- John Threlfall

Patrick Lane in 2013.

Award-winning poet and novelist Patrick Lane passed away on March 7 at age 79, the result of a heart attack. His publisher, McClelland & Stewart, made the announcement, calling Lane “one of Canada's most renowned writers”—a claim few would refute. His passing made headlines in media outlets nationwide.

Lane’s distinguished career spanned 50 years and 25 volumes of poetry, as well as award-winning books of fiction and non-fiction, published in over a dozen countries. The winner of numerous accolades—including the Governor General's Award for Poetry, the Lieutenant Governor's Award for Literary Excellence, the Canadian Authors Association Award and three National Magazine Awards—he was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2014.

An influential member of the Department of Writing from 1992 to 2004, Lane was also famously married to writing professor emerita Lorna Crozier—The Globe and Mail once described the beloved pair as “BC’s poetry power couple” and, in her acclaimed poetry collection The Book of Marvels, Crozier wrote of her husband, "We are at home with one another; we are each other's home."

An editor, anthologist and frequent media commentator about poetry and Canadian culture in general, Lane was also a much sought-after teacher, having held positions at the University of Saskatchewan and as writer-in-residence at the universities of Toronto, Alberta, Manitoba and at Concordia. In recognition of his service to Canadian literature, he received a Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) from UVic in November 2013, as well as honorary doctorates from UBC, McGill University, UNBC and VIU. 

“Patrick inspired several generations of new writers with his poetic vision and generous spirit,” says David Leach, current writing chair. “He would mentor and champion his students long after they had graduated from his classroom, and UVic.”

He was also honoured to be one of the few poets to see his work gathered and published as a collected works in his lifetime: 2011’s The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane included more than 400 poems, dating back to 1962.

“What makes this career even more remarkable is that Patrick’s formal education stopped with the completion of high school. However, through wide reading and dogged perseverance, he became one of the best educated and unconventionally brilliant people I have ever encountered,” wrote noted Canadian author Guy Vanderhaeghe in support of Lane’s honorary doctorate.

Formal awards and designations aside, Lane was admired and well-loved by colleagues and former students, many of whom have gone on to influential literary careers themselves.

“No one can sum up adequately what a major figure like Patrick contributed,” says writing professor Tim Lilburn, a literary colleague and close friend of Lane’s. “I can’t think of anyone who has had a more profound impact on Canadian poetry over the last 50-plus years. He was a great poet and an extremely generous mentor.”

That’s a sentiment with which double Giller Prize-winning author Esi Edugyan clearly agrees; having studied under Lane at UVic, she has described him as “my first great teacher.”

“He was a giant of Canadian letters, one of our most essential writers,” wrote UVic Chancellor Shelagh Rogers upon the news of Lane’s passing. “#RestinPoetry.”

Born in 1939 in Nelson, BC, Lane earned early praise for his poems based on his “working man” experiences. His first poetry collection, Letters From The Savage Mind, debuted in 1966, and his final novel, Deep River Night, was published in 2018. His frankly honest 2005 memoir, There Is A Season, chronicled his rehabilitation from alcoholism, and earned him both the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence and the BC Award for Canadian Nonfiction.

“We express our condolences to Lorna and their family for this deep loss,” says UVic Dean of Fine Arts Susan Lewis. “Patrick is a legend in the field of Canadian poetry. I was deeply moved by his 2013 convocation address when we honoured him as Doctor of Letters.”

During that address which can be read in its entirety here, Lane poetically encapsulated 65 years of his life, reflecting on the changes he had seen both in the world and himself during that time. It seems only fitting to offer these final words from the poet himself:

“I stand here looking out over this assembly and ask myself what I can offer you who are taking from my generation’s hands a troubled world. I am an elder now. There are times many of us old ones feel a deep regret, a profound sorrow, but our sorrow does not have to be yours. You are young and it is soon to be your time . . . . Out there are men and women only a few years older than you who are trying to remedy a broken world. I know and respect their passion. You too can change things. Just remember there are people who will try to stop you and when they do you will have to fight for your lives and the lives of the children to come.”

Photos

In this story

Keywords: writing, in memoriam, environment, education, administrative

People: Patrick Lane, Lorna Crozier

Publication: The Ring


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