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The Half-Lives of Pat Lowther

The Half-Lives of Pat Lowther

Christine Wiesenthal
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 530
  • Book Info
    The Half-Lives of Pat Lowther
    Book Description:

    Since her untimely death in 1975, the life and work of the Vancouver poet Pat Lowther have often been referred to as 'the Lowther legacy.' InThe Half-Lives of Pat Lowther, Christine Wiesenthal seeks to convey what that legacy actually entails.

    Combining biography with an analysis of literary and cultural history, Wiesenthal examines the critical legacy of a writer whose remarkable life and poetry have remained overshadowed by her notorious death. Working within a new form of biography, which employs multiple narrative arcs - or 'half-lives' - that interpret Lowther's life and poetry within and across several interpretive frameworks, Wiesenthal retraces the influences on the public memory of the poet. She charts Lowther's complex creative evolution: from her modest beginnings as a high-school drop out and single mother, to her emergence as one of the most distinctive poetic voices of the seventies.

    A wealth of previously uncollected and unpublished letters, notebook entries, court documents, interviews, and archival materials illuminate Pat Lowther's manifold achievements in her domestic, political, and intellectual lives.The Half-Lives of Pat Lowtheris the premier work on this remarkable figure.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8142-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Chronology
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction: Towards a Half-Life of Pat Lowther
    (pp. 3-20)

    No other figure in the history of recent Canadian writing has been rememberedandforgotten with quite such urgent simultaneity as the poet Pat Lowther, killed at the age of forty by her husband, just as she seemed poised on the cusp of 'whatever fame and fortune Canadian poetry has to offer,' as Robert Fulford put it at the time.¹ To Pat Lowther goes the dubious, if not fatal, distinction of having accrued the most sensationally tragic of contemporary literary reputations. In a mainstream culture generally untroubled by the existence of poets, good, great, indifferent, or bad, the memory of...

  6. I The Craft of Memory

    • Chapter 1 Three September Twenty-Threes
      (pp. 23-39)

      Smoke from the aerial bombardment of La Moneda Palace had scarcely dissipated over central Santiago when Ricardo Neftali Reyes Basalto, better known to the world as Pablo Neruda, slipped from consciousness and then into death on 23 September 1973. He was sixty-nine years old. Only twelve days earlier, on September 11, Chile's most famous poet and communist had listened in alarm to radio and television broadcasts announcing the military overthrow of President Salvador Allende's Pop ular Unity government, the first democratically elected Marxist administration in Latin America. Neruda had helped to propel Allende, a friend and leftist ally, to power...

    • Chapter 2 Not about Poetry
      (pp. 40-70)

      On the morning of the Ironworkers’ Hall poetry reading, a warm and clear Saturday, September 27th, Kathy Domphousse, Pat Lowther’s second child by her first marriage, pulled up to the front of her mother’s two-storey house on East 46th Avenue. Beyond Roy and the two youngsters, Christie and Beth, then respectively seven and nine years old, Kathy had been the last family member to see her mother alive on September 23, having dropped by the Lowther household that evening for a visit. She hadn’t stayed long that night - her mother, she discovered, was ill with a migraine - but...

    • Chapter 3 Canonicity and the ‘Cult of the Victim’
      (pp. 71-118)

      Only twenty-two years, less than a blip in evolutionary time, separates the self-reflexive musings of Margaret Atwood in the proximate aftermath of Pat Lowther’s death from the accusatory contempt of Kathy Shaidle, writing from the (apparently) confident vantage point of a succeeding generation. Two poets of two different generations, each bearing a markedly different relationship to the name ‘Pat Lowther.’ Atwood, who had been an acquaintance of the person, Pat Lowther, writes as an impersonal, informed advocate of Lowther’s and John Thompson’s poetry in the American literary reviewParnassus.¹ Shaidle, who once attended a commemorative fund-raiser in honour of the...

  7. II Complicated Airflows in the House

    • Chapter 4 ‘At, Rat, Cat, Sat, Pat’
      (pp. 121-138)

      The North Vancouver district that Pat Lowther was first born into as Patricia Louise Tinmouth, in 1935, was a cedar-scented hinterland of shingle-bolt production, ship manufacture, and small, isolated communities nestled along the eastern base of the North Shore mountains. The population of North Vancouver City, incorporated in 1906, was still only 8,510 by 1931. Down the long slope of Lonsdale Avenue - once a skid road traversed by oxen hauling lumber - one could take the ferry to mainland Vancouver, a bustling metropolis of 350,000. The steel-span links between the two municipalities across Burrard Inlet were as yet tenuous....

    • Chapter 5 5823 St George Street
      (pp. 139-157)

      Though strained by ongoing child custody disputes with Bill, the basement years, from 1959 to 1962, were not all bad; Kathy, understandably enough, recalls the period spent at her grandmother’s home with particular fondness, as a time of calm contentment in comparison with the years that would follow with Roy. While Kathy went off to the same elementary school, Ridgeway, that her mother had attended before her, and that Arthur Tinmouth had attended beforeher, Pat headed by ferry to work in downtown Vancouver. Little Alan came for Saturday visits. Virginia remembers her daughter also frequently having friends over for...

    • Chapter 6 A Difficult Flowering
      (pp. 158-169)

      While Lowther was busy by the mid-sixties mothering, gradually writing her way out of the Vancouver Poetry Society, and reading her way into a sharper feminist consciousness, some of her new young male friends, bill bissett, Patrick Lane, Seymour Mayne, and Jim Brown, were also busy with a bold new venture of their own. Frustrated with a lack of venues for their work, they came up with the idea for a press of their own, and so, exuberantly, on 6 June 1966, Very Stone House was born at bissett’s house. Unofficially, the enthusiastic novice publishers occasionally used a past participle...

    • Chapter 7 That ‘Spinning Female Thing’
      (pp. 170-184)

      Over the winter of 1967, as Lowther had been preparing the final manuscript forThis Difficult Flowring, Milton Acorn was staying downstairs again, for several months.¹ He didn’t confine himself to the nether regions of the house, though. Patrick Lane remembers him coming banging upstairs at 566 East 46th Avenue, ‘black cigar stub clenched in his teeth’ and ‘fists clenched,’ ‘raging about Gwen MacEwen, how she [had] once more betrayed him,’ and about ‘the betrayals of the Trotskyists, the Marxist-Leninists’ (1995: 30). ‘What a crazy man, yeah,’ Kathy recollects, affectionately. From her own adolescent perspective, the ‘loud’ and ‘almost scary-looking’...

    • Chapter 8 It Happens Every Day
      (pp. 185-208)

      ‘You are quite right - I do know you well enough not to have been insulted.’ So Lowther wrote to Lane, who soon apologized for the episode at the Advance Mattress. In accepting Lane’s amends, Lowther did, sincerely, what she had in earlier years done for Roy - that is, take on the role of damage control:

      I guess what happened was that being just slightly sloshed, you didn’t say exactly what you meant. I understood but others didn’t. There has been talk about it, and whenever I’ve heard it, I’ve tried to set it straight. I think some people...

  8. III Ready to Learn Politics

    • Chapter 9 The First ‘Red Flag’
      (pp. 211-222)

      James Wilks, Pat Lowther’s colliery-bred, British-born maternal grandfather, arrived on Vancouver Island in 1870, a year before British Columbia’s entry into Confederation officially drew a new ‘Dominion’ over its traditional Aboriginal territories. James was three years old at the time, and although he didn’t realize it then, he came as part of a much wider wave of later-nineteenth-century West Coast settlement, as English, Scottish, Irish, and American immigrants flooded into the region looking for work, gold, coal. Not coincidentally, also docking at the edge of this overextended British Empire, along with the settlers, were creeds which took up the cause...

    • Chapter 10 The Local Left
      (pp. 223-236)

      Even while still married to Bill Domphousse, Pat had begun to submit some of her short stories for publication. None of these attempts seems to have gotten past editors, though the ‘curiously uneven’ quality of some did arouse enough ‘interest’ to elicit fairly expansive rejection letters.¹ One such ‘curiously uneven’ work from around 1959 is economically entitled ‘Red.’ It is,à laErnest Hemingway, averyshort story - two pages, single-spaced. The title takes its cue from the main character, Harry Reddy, who, in turn, acknowledges that his name ‘matches’ both the colour of his ‘hair’ and his ‘politics.’...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • Chapter 11 The Age of the Bird
      (pp. 237-251)

      As it turned out, Lowther would not see the ‘socialist cultural policy’ she sweated over during the summer of 1975 put to the test anyway. That year, Premier David Barrett called an election with two years remaining in his government’s mandate, and it wasn’t a good move. Apparently to its own surprise, the NDP lost the race, to a coalition led by the son of the previous premier, W.A.C. Bennett. The NDP’s day in the fleeting British Columbian sun was over: the tenure of the so-called ‘Chile of the North’ had lasted barely three years, bracketed on either side by...

    • Chapter 12 Longitudes, North
      (pp. 252-269)

      AsThe Age of the Birdsuggests, Lowther’s own conviction of the inseparability of art and politics finds its most pronounced articulation in the poetry that she produced from the early seventies on. The poems inThis Difficult Flowringwere already political, of course, to the extent that they rattled cultural ideals of domesticity, while also revaluing as productive women’s ‘private’ experiences within the housewife’s curiously unpaid, middle-class space. But the development of an explicitly politicized poetics comes to the foreground in the work of her mid-to-late career, synchronous with Lowther’s rise from foot soldier in the cause for an...

    • Chapter 13 Longitudes, South
      (pp. 270-292)

      Milk Stoneis a book that thaws out and heats up as it goes on, which may be why Lowther eventually rejected its first title,Ice Crucible. From the high Arctic and remote Ice Age, the poems chart their way back into the present of a ‘green country’ below the tree line, into worlds of water, fire, burning irises, ‘trumpet daffodils,’ ‘summers of nasturtiums,’ and ‘scattering’ suns (93, 63). In part, this gradual climate change is also the result of the warmly appreciative tone of several tribute poems. Closest to home, these were the poems inspired by ‘Dee’ Livesay and...

    • Chapter 14 Welcome to the League
      (pp. 293-320)

      There was an ice jam in the North Saskatchewan River and snow flurries in the forecast when, in late November 1969, Lowther had stepped off the train for her very first taste of life east of the Rockies. She had arrived in Edmonton for Dorothy Livesay’s ‘Poet and Critic’ conference, hoping to counteract the sense of loneliness that settled in on her after the departure of some of her closest friends from Vancouver in the late sixties: ‘Uncle Miltie,’ her Very Stone House friends, and, especially, Livesay, who had accepted a professorial appointment that would keep her at the University...

  9. IV Philosophy’s First Molecule

    • Chapter 15 Infinite Mirror Trips
      (pp. 323-353)

      ‘Here, the road ends,’ Lowther wrote of her first beginnings-the ‘Watershed’ years at the Lynn Creek intake station. ‘The dog barks / my father goes out / "end of the road" ’: ‘between mountains the air / shakes like a bell / with echoes.’¹ While a pre-school Pat was busily enchanted byThe Wizard of Ozbooks that her mother steadily supplied, the ‘end of the road’ that echoed with such resonance for the adult poet was not paved with yellow bricks but, rather, owed its existence to a pipeline, the conduit for a more liquid commodity. Lynn Valley Road,...

    • Chapter 16 The Land Is What’s Left
      (pp. 354-385)

      Tucked between Galiano and Saturna Islands like a loose-fitting jigsaw puzzle piece, Mayne Island is one of the smaller links in the spectacular chain of Gulf Islands sprinkled along the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Part of the southern Gulf Island group, it can be traced on a map as the tip of a triangle drawn from the roughly equidistant and opposite points of Nanaimo, to its north-west, and Vancouver City, to its north-east. In this respect, the island where two of Virginia Tinmouth’s brothers had purchased large tracts of land during the forties completes, in...

    • Chapter 17 ‘History, and Context, and Continuity’
      (pp. 386-402)

      While she was plotting her moves for the manuscript ofA Stone Diaryin the spring of 1975, Lowther received an exciting invitation from afar. Reshard Gool, a political scientist, novelist, and editor with Square Deal Publications, based in Charlotte town, was organizing a series of summer readings for a ‘Poetry & Music’ festival in his home province. The program, ‘very generously funded by the Canada Council,’ would feature performances by such writers as Alden Nowlan, Miriam Waddington, Joe Rosenblatt, Milton Acorn, Austin Clarke, Eli Mandel, and Dave Godfrey, reading at various parks and heritage sites on Prince Edward Island....

  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 403-408)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 409-458)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 459-470)
  13. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 471-472)
  14. Index
    (pp. 473-489)