Books

Patrick Lane, award-winning Canadian poet and novelist, dead at 79

Canadian writer Patrick Lane, whose award-winning poetry was celebrated for its beautiful writing and deft examination of the human condition, has died of a heart attack.
Patrick Lane, award-winning Canadian poet and novelist, has died at the age of 79. (Chris Hancock Donaldson)

Canadian writer Patrick Lane, whose award-winning poetry was celebrated for its beautiful writing and deft examination of the human condition, has died of a heart attack. He was 79 years old.

Born in Nelson, B.C. in 1939 and raised in the B.C. interior, Lane's career spans five decades, more than 20 poetry collections, as well as novels and nonfiction books. At the beginning of his career, Lane was also a sawmill worker, truck driver and industrial first aid man. 

"I always wanted to be an artist, even from the time I was a child," said Lane in a 2012 interview with Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter.

"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.'"

Lane's first collection Letters from a Savage Mind was published in 1966. It was followed by books such as Separations in 1969, Beware the Months of Fire in 1974 and Poems, New and Selected, which won the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry in 1978. 

Other books include Winter and Mortal Remains — which were consecutively shortlisted for Governor General's Literary Awards — and Too Spare, Too Fierce, winner of the 1995 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. With his wife Lorna Crozier, a fellow Governor General's Literary Award recipient, he published the collection No Longer Two People. 

Lane released his first novel Red Dog, Red Dog in 2009 to critical acclaim. The novel, a 1950s epic about two brothers living under grim circumstances in rural B.C., was a finalist for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and longlisted for the Giller Prize. 

The memoir There Is a Season, in which Lane chronicled his past struggle with alcohol addiction through the lens of his passion for gardening, received the Lieutenant Governor's Award for Literary Excellence and B.C. Award for Canadian Nonfiction. 

Most recently, Lane published The Collected Poems of Patrick Lanea volume of over 400 poems written between 1966's Letters from a Savage Mind to 2010's Witness. He also released his second novel Deep River Nightthe story of a troubled Second World War veteran giving first aid in a tiny B.C. village in 1960. 

In 2014, Lane was made an officer of the Order of Canada in honour of his vast and accomplished body of work.

Lane was also a teacher, instructing generations of Canadian writers, including two-time Scotiabank Giller Prize winner Esi Edugyan, at institutions like Concordia University, the University of Victoria and University of Toronto. 

Lane was often candid about his life and struggles in his younger years, including the deaths of his brother and father and break ups of earlier marriages. 

"My life has had its terrible moments," said Lane to Rogers. "For me to hold onto art — to hold onto this creative process — really saved my life... I don't know what would have happened to me if I hadn't had that... The art kept me going."

Lane travelled extensively, living in countries like England, France, the Czech Republic, China, Japan, Chile, Colombia and Russia before returning to Canada and eventually ending up in Victoria, B.C. where he lived with Crozier, his wife of 19 years and partner of 41 years. 

In his interview with Rogers in 2012, Lane said he felt like he had found something he'd been searching for. 

"I think it's that transformative quality that I've searched for spiritually in my life and have found now — finally after a long, long life — that I really do feel spiritually at peace now. In the way a sparrow can be, sitting on a branch. I can be that content." 

Shelagh Rogers speaks with Patrick Lane in 2012 about his collected works and a lifetime of writing. 29:18