The Next Chapter

'He had reached a place of solace within himself.' Lorna Crozier reflects on the life of poet Patrick Lane

The Canadian poet, author and partner of the late Patrick Lane speaks with Shelagh Rogers about The Quiet in Me, Lane's posthumous collection of poetry.
The Quiet in Me is a posthumous book by Patrick Lane, edited by Lorna Crozier. (Kamil Bialous, Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd., Gary McKinstry)

Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane had a love story and literary partnership over their 40-year relationship. Patrick died a little over three years ago. He was the author of 24 books of poetry, as well as two novels and a memoir.

Crozier is one of Canada's most beloved and accomplished poets, as was Lane. In the rare moments of grace he found in the midst of an enervating illness, he wrote new poems and handed a file of them to Lorna a month before he died. Those poems, now edited and compiled by Lorna, comprise The Quiet in Me.

In this final poetry collection, Lane contemplates the quiet of living in a body amongst so many other bodies. From the trout in the lake to geese arriving with the wind and a raccoon fishing in a river, Lane reveals a web of life filled with beauty and pain. 

Crozier spoke with Shelagh Rogers about Lane and The Quiet in Me.

A title with meaning

"The title of the book comes from one of the poems in the collection. But for me, it really did sum up the last years of Patrick's life, even before he fell ill. He had reached a place of solace within himself. Those who know him and who have read his work know that many of his poems are really tough. Many of his poems come from where he never closed his eyes to the sorrows and the brokenness of the world. 

"And yet, the last few years, although he still had his eyes wide open as to the destruction we humans are bringing to our universe, he had reached a state, I think, where he was at peace with the decisions he'd made in the past. 

Many of his poems come from where he never closed his eyes to the sorrows and the brokenness of the world.

"Some of them were hurtful decisions for his two families —  and the damage he had wrecked on himself in his years of drinking. But he had 20 years of sobriety, 20 years of going to AA four times a week.

"He had reached a place where, although he might have changed some of the things he had done, he had come to terms with them, and he was able to see the world less starkly than he had as a young man. He saw the light more than the dark in his last years. That is reflected in the work."

A higher power

"He used to say when he went to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, he became one of the old guys who advised some of the some of the new members. Some of the new members would say, 'I like AA, I think it's great, but I don't know about this God stuff.' 

"One of the AA steps is giving yourself over to God or your higher power. And Patrick would say, 'The God of my understanding is an old tree.' We live across the road from Coles Bay park. He used to go out to the park and talk to this tree. He would pray at the base of this tree. And he said, 'It's a spiritual being. It knows more than I know. If anything, it hears my words and helps me.'

I don't think there's anybody in our country and maybe the world who's more of a nature poet than Patrick.

"It's this Elder fir tree that would have been maybe 600 years old. And that was his God. So I guess he was pagan druidic.

"I don't think there's anybody in our country and maybe the world who's more of a nature poet than Patrick. Even his novels are full of details from the natural world. Nobody I know gets into it and rolls around in the flora and fauna of the Earth more than he does in his writing and in his absolute love and passion for the Earth."

Patrick Lane and Lorna Crozier, early in their relationship. (Rafal Gerszak/Submitted by the Writers' Trust of Canada)

What he left behind

"Patrick had a loose sheaf of paper on which poems had been typed in a filing folder. A few months before he died, he said, 'Lorna, I think I have a book here. Maybe a small book. Would you look at them and tell me what you think?'

"And to my relief, they were good. They were up to his level of writing. I knew he would never want me to say, 'I think you have a book here' if I didn't mean it, no matter how sick he was. He died before he could continue with it. So then it fell to me, you know, not only having been his companion for 40 years, but I was his literary executor, too. 

I had to bring him into my room, in body and spirit. And his big heart, I had to open it up and have him right there as a presence with me.

"So a few months after he died —  I can't quite remember the timeline — when I was ready, I went into them. It was a tough thing to do. I had to bring him into my room, in body and spirit. And his big heart, I had to open it up and have him right there as a presence with me. So I had to be ready to be able to do that without breaking down. 

"I had to sort of channel him, to call on him and say, 'Okay, sweetie, I'm going to take this line out and I hope you're okay with that.' Some of the poems he hadn't given to me, a few were sent to me by people who said, 'Patrick sent me this poem on an email once. I don't know if you've got this poem, but I thought you'd like to see it.' There were about three that came out of that.

"So there were a few ones I added, and there were a couple I took out because I thought he'd written a similar poem better in another book, and so I didn't think it needed to be said again. That became the manuscript."

Crozier's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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