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Journey with No Maps

Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    Journey with No Maps
    Book Description:

    Journey with No Maps is the first biography of P.K. Page, a brilliant twentieth-century poet and a fine artist. The product of over a decade's research and writing, the book follows Page as she becomes one of Canada's best-loved and most influential writers. "A borderline being," as she called herself, she recognized the new choices offered to women by modern life but followed only those related to her quest for self-discovery. Tracing Page's life through two wars, world travels, the rise of modernist and Canadian cultures, and later Sufi study, biographer Sandra Djwa details the people and events that inspired her work. Page's independent spirit propelled her from Canada to England, from work as a radio actress to a scriptwriter for the National Film Board, from an affair with poet F.R. Scott to an enduring marriage with diplomat Arthur Irwin. Page wrote her story in poems, fiction, diaries, librettos, and her visual art. Journey with No Maps reads like a novel, drawing on the poet's voice from interviews, diaries, letters, and writings as well as the voices of her contemporaries. With the vividness of a work of fiction and the thoroughness of scholarly dedication, Djwa illustrates the complexities of Page's private experience while also documenting her public emergence as an internationally known poet. It is both the captivating story of a remarkable woman and a major contribution to the study of Canada's literary and artistic history.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8776-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. None)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-2)
    Sandra Djwa
  6. CHAPTER 1 Beginnings, 1884–1927
    (pp. 3-23)

    One evening in the mid-1980s, I heard P.K. Page read from her poem “Ancestors” at the old Duthie’s Bookstore on Robson Street in Vancouver. She stood on stage with her head flung back, her resonant voice invoking figures of power – ancestors, she said, clothed in scarlet, purple, and black. Now the last of her line, a woman without children, she is expected to give an account of her life. In this version of the story she is rescued, just in the nick of time, by clattering gypsy ancestors with “flashing knives” that put the respectable lot “to rout.” But...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Calgary: Intimations, 1928–1934
    (pp. 24-36)

    The Pages returned to Calgary early in September 1928, in time to establish themselves again at 7th Street West and for Patsy (as she was called at school) to enrol again at St Hilda’s. England had broadened her aesthetic sense, and her English school, pneu, had both stimulated her and shown her how she might acquire knowledge on her own. During the next five years in Calgary she glimpsed a larger world beyond the family and began to feel the pull of the artistic life.

    Her first sense of the widening world was provided by the Bates family, at 13th...

  8. CHAPTER 3 England: Discovering Modernism, 1934–1935
    (pp. 37-45)

    In July 1934 Pat Page took passage for England. There she “affront[ed] her destiny,” as Henry James once said of another young North American, Isabel Archer, who was bound for Europe. The journeys of such young women, James tells us, “insist on mattering,” because they embody what is best in our culture.¹ Tall and dark-haired, Pat was an attractive figure in a smart grey coat with a thin black stripe, wearing big silver earrings and bright red lipstick. On her arrival in Liverpool, she took the train to London. Sitting opposite her on the train was an elderly, aristocratic-looking Englishman,...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Saint John: Apprenticeship, 1935–1941
    (pp. 46-68)

    When Pat Page disembarked from the ship at Halifax, she found herself in a long queue of immigrants, including women in babushkas and their children. She was plucked from the line by a port official who said, “You’re not Lionel Page’s daughter, are you? Come this way!”¹ He had good reason to recognize her name because her father, now a brigadier, was second-in-command of the military district at Halifax.

    Founded in 1749, Halifax was an old grey city dominated by the sea, a world apart from the clear wide skies of the prairies. Pat hardly had time to unpack when,...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Montreal: Art and Life, 1941–1944
    (pp. 69-92)

    The young woman’s skin was like velvet under the shade of her large hat. Tawny skin, huge grey eyes – her face was a portrait framed by a wide black brim. Or so thought Jori Smith, a Montreal painter. It was spring 1942 and Jori was lunching with her sister-in-law Constance Garneau at a new restaurant popular with artists. “Constance, look at that girl over there. Hasn’t she a face like a pansy? You know, those dark-faced pansies with white inside and that special velvety quality.” A week later Kit Shaw, the photo librarian at the Montreal Standard, telephoned her:...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Halifax and Victoria: Loss, 1944–1946
    (pp. 93-107)

    Pat left Montreal because she knew she had to get away for a time. In late May she took the train to Halifax, where her father was now commander-in-chief of Atlantic Command; he and Rose had rented a furnished flat at 48 Cambridge Street. When Pat eventually arrived in Halifax after a day and a night on the train, she was completely exhausted. She went to bed and stayed there for several days, sleeping, drinking hot milk, trying to forget the world she had left behind. In the last troubled months in Montreal she had tried to keep awake at...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Ottawa: Recovery, 1946–1953
    (pp. 108-135)

    Pat found Ottawa to be completely different from Montreal –the whole city circled around Parliament and the government buildings, and French was rarely spoken. Then, when she got on the streetcar to go to work, she had the impression that even the lowest government clerk aspired to look like a cabinet minister, wearing a suit and a homburg and carrying a briefcase (for his lunch!).¹ She had been assigned to the Film Strips division of the National Film Commission at 196 Sparks Street, above a Metropolitan store.

    The commission, which was scattered over five Ottawa locations, had come into being...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Australia: The Journey Out, 1953–1956
    (pp. 136-160)

    On 18 June the Irwins left Canada for Arthur’s posting as high commissioner to Australia, sailing on the Empress of Amsterdam bound for Liverpool. They passed Quebec City in the “early evening, lights on, the last of the sun making the water violet, from the Bridge. It looked beautiful & strange. The foam from Montmorency Falls picked out of the darkness by the Dom[inion] Textiles neon sign. As A.[rthur] said, looking like … spiral nebulae.”¹ At first they were so exhausted from getting ready to go that they slept most of the time, but after several days Pat began to feel...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Brazil: Exotic Worlds, 1957–1959
    (pp. 161-176)

    To the Irwin’s great surprise, they were posted to Brazil – something of a disappointment: they had hoped for a European embassy, where Arthur’s experience and interests would be more applicable. Yet Pat found Brazil both “surrealist and seductive” – an environment that fostered her emotional and artistic life.¹ On 4 January 1957 they left Ottawa, going by train to New York on the first leg of their journey. Blair and Jean Fraser came to the railway station to see them off. Many years later Pat recorded the shock of encountering F.R. Scott, who brushed against her but did not...

  15. CHAPTER 10 Mexico: New Maps, 1960–1964
    (pp. 177-198)

    Some years after her Mexican experience, Pat wrote an essay titled “Traveller, Conjuror, Journeyman” in which she gave a retrospective account of her four years in Mexico in the early 1960s. In it she spoke of reading philosophical texts that led her on a psychic journey and concluded: “I am traveller. I have a destination but no maps. Others perhaps have reached that destination already, still others are on their way. But none has had to go from here before – nor will again.”² Certainly, she had had no idea that Arthur’s new posting to Mexico would precipitate an inner...

  16. CHAPTER 11 Victoria: Finding Oneself, 1964–1969
    (pp. 199-220)

    On 13 October 1964, Pat and Arthur climbed aboard “The Canadian” in Ottawa for the five-day journey on the Canadian Pacific Railway to Vancouver. After crossing the prairies, they experienced a snowstorm in Banff, viewed the Rockies through the dome, and did a loop-the-loop through the spiral tunnels beyond the Great Divide, which separates the watersheds of the Pacific Ocean from those of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. The next morning they wakened in British Columbia “to a green world and wet. All the leaves and grasses soft and the whole rinsed in milk – mountain, forest, water and [sea]gull.”¹...

  17. CHAPTER 12 Victoria: Inner Events, 1970–1979
    (pp. 221-246)

    When first reading Jung’s autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Pat Page had written out the above sentences as an epigraph to her copy of the book, perhaps because they reflected her own sensibility and situation. In the sixties, she had been frantically busy with external happenings, but the truly important events for her were internal, and the same would be true in the seventies.

    On 1 January 1970, she learned from Mike Doyle, a young New Zealander recently hired at the University of Victoria, that the poet and critic A.J.M. Smith would be lecturing there on 26 March. She was delighted...

  18. CHAPTER 13 Victoria: Transformations, 1980–1989
    (pp. 247-267)

    At the beginning of the decade P.K. was in her mid-sixties but still relatively healthy: “We are not too bad – Arthur less energetic than last year but still active. My sight is poor. I can no longer drive at night & I’m considering an operation. Also I’m very creaky. Quelle vie!”¹ She also felt that she couldn’t write poetry again, “No, never.”

    All her creative energy was now pouring into her Sufi-studies group. Working with one’s hands was an important part of Sufi group activity, and P.K. suggested that the group produce a play. In November 1981 she was adapting...

  19. CHAPTER 14 Victoria: Acclaim, 1990–1999
    (pp. 268-291)

    P.K.’s creativity exploded in all directions in the nineties – poetry, fiction, plays, children’s stories – and was promptly acknowledged. She published three fine books of poetry: The Glass Air: Poems Selected and New (1991; a new edition of the 1985 collection), Hologram: A Book of Glosas (1994); and the two volumes of The Hidden Room: Collected Poems (1997). She also undertook three poetry tours. She was the subject of a film, Still Waters, by Donald Winkler of the National Film Board, and her poetry was featured in several musical programs in Toronto, Montreal, and San Francisco. In 1996 the...

  20. CHAPTER 15 Victoria: Endings, 2000–2010
    (pp. 292-322)

    A sense of apocalypse hung over P.K. during her last decade. It was partly her age – she was now eighty-three – and for the first time in nearly fifty years Arthur was no longer by her side, a buffer against the world. Just after his death, having gone away with Théa Gray for a brief respite, she returned to an empty house, later writing “Empty House Blues”:

    My house is empty but I don’ want no one here

    My house is empty but I don’ want no one here

    My bed is empty and the friggin’ fridge is bare...

  21. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 323-326)
  22. Notes
    (pp. 327-380)
  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 381-394)
  24. Index
    (pp. 395-418)