I grew up in an era when kids played outside, when you left the house in the morning and didn’t return until you heard your mother calling from the porch for you to come inside. I grew up in a small town not far from where Patrick Lane was born and am familiar with the towns where he spent his young life. It not surprising that his poignant words struck a cord with me the other day when I heard a recording of him speaking at the 2013 convocation at the University of Victoria where he had been granted an Honorary Doctorate of Letters.
Lane died a few weeks ago at the age of 79 and I’m sorry I hadn’t known of him sooner. He’d had no formal education beyond high school and despite childhood dreams of becoming a painter the realities of marriage and children in his early 20’s pushed his life in another direction. Work took him around the province; as a truck driver, a sawmill worker, an industrial first aid person and a salesman. Somewhere in all that though he found time to write. He describes those early years…
‘I always wanted to be an artist, even from the time I was a child. In my early twenties, when I was married and had three kids, I started to write because I couldn’t afford to paint… We were poor. But I did have this little tiny, portable typewriter made out of tin cans and that terrible yellow paper you could buy. And I tapped and tapped away. And I remember writing some poems and I sent them away to Canadian Forum magazine and they wrote back a great letter and they published all of them and I thought, ‘Wow, this is what I want to do with my life.’ (via: The Next Chapter)
At 26 he was devastated by the loss of his brother to a brain hemorrhage and a year later moved his family to Vancouver. Trauma followed with the shooting murder of his father 4 years later sending his life in yet another direction; divorce and a move to South America to write full time. As he would later write: ‘I think it was poetry that saved me from killing myself or killing others’.
In 1972 he returned to BC and married a for 2nd time but a combination of alcoholism, cocaine abuse and a chance meeting with fellow poet Lorna Crozier at a literary conference ended that marriage 6 years later. Eventually overcoming his addictions Lane would go on marry Crozier, writing several fiction and non-fiction books and a whopping 25 volumes of poetry over the 50 year span of his career. He would become Writer-in-Residence at the University of Manitoba (1978) and teach creative writing and Canadian literature at the University of Saskatchewan (1986-90) and at the University of Victoria (1991-2004). He won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry (1978) and the Governor General’s Award for Literary Excellence (2007), the Canadian Authors Association Award, and The Order of Canada (2014) along with three National Magazine Awards. All this from a kid who grew up in a small town and who never forgot it.
Anyway, here’s that convocation address he gave in 2013…
You can find out more about Patrick Lane on his website here.