Celebrated poet P.K. Page dies at 93

Canadian literary grande dame P.K. Page, long renowned for her poetry and other writing, has died at the age of 93.
Award-winning poet, novelist and painter P.K. Page has died at the age of 93. ((Marilyn Bowering/Hedgerow Press))

Canadian literary grande dame P.K. Page, long renowned for her poetry and other writing, has died at the age of 93.

Page died early Thursday morning at her home in Victoria, CBC News has confirmed.

A companion of the Order of Canada, the British-born, Canadian-reared Patricia Kathleen Page was considered among Canada's most esteemed writers.

"She was one of our early explorers in poetry. She's one of the ones who made it possible for Canadian poets to believe in themselves," B.C. poet Lorna Crozier told CBC News.

Crozier likened Page to a "female version" of Canadian literary icon Al Purdy.

"She was such an intelligent poet. I can think of no one in literature — Canadian and worldwide — who had such an impeccable ear and such a marvellous sense of choosing the absolute, precise, exact word for what she wanted to say. There was a kind of marvellous sharpness of diction used to describe very mysterious, very ephemeral things. No one did that better than P.K. Page."

A varied life

Born in Dorset, England, in 1916, Page's family moved to Red Deer, Alta., three years later. Because her father was in the military, the family spent time in different cities, including Calgary, Montreal, and Saint John, N.B.

Page began publishing her poems in periodicals in the late 1930s and also began venturing into writing books.

Poet P.K. Page, right, and Eurithe Purdy, widow of Al Purdy, are seen in this undated photo. ((Courtesy Rick Van Krugel))
By the mid-1940s, Page was working as a scriptwriter for the National Film Board of Canada, where she met her future husband, the influential former Maclean's editor-turned-NFB commissioner William Arthur Irwin.

Later, the couple spent nearly a decade living overseas while Irwin served as a Canadian diplomat. They settled in Victoria in the mid-1960s. Irwin died in 1999.

In her lifetime, Page published more than a dozen books — spanning poetry, fiction, non-fiction and children's literature — and also developed a parallel career as an accomplished painter, after studying under artists in Brazil and New York.

Under her married name, P.K. Irwin, she exhibited paintings and drawings in one-woman shows and saw her pieces join several prominent permanent collections, including those of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

Page received a variety of tributes and accolades over the years, including the 1954 Governor General's Literary Award for her poetry collection The Metal and the Flower, a National Magazine Award and a B.C. Book Award.

Planet Earth

In 2000, Page was treated to a special honour when the United Nations chose her poem Planet Earth, inspired by four lines from a longer poem by Chilean writer Pablo Neruda, for its Dialogue Among Civilizations Through Poetry reading series.

The poem — which was the one she professed wanting to be remembered for — was read at locations around the globe considered "international ground," including the United Nations, Mount Everest and Antarctica.

In 2003, she was shortlisted for the then-fledgling Griffin Poetry Prize for her collection Planet Earth: Poems Selected and New.


Page published Hand Luggage: A Memoir in Verse in 2006 and, in an interview with CBC, revealed that it was a rare instance where she chose to focus on herself as a subject matter.

"It was quite a romp to look back on your life and sort of gallop through it in a racing rhythm like this, which gave me opportunities to be lighthearted and serious," she said.

"My nature is upbeat. I've had a very good life and in the main, a happy one, and it seemed to me the way to go."

Page had remained hard at work, with her most recent books published just last fall, the poetry collection Cullen and a book of fables entitled The Sky Tree.