A Clearer Way to See – The Shared Poetic Vision of Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane

Patrick Lane and Lorna Crozier Receiving their Honourary Degrees from McGill

Patrick Lane and Lorna Crozier Receiving their Honourary Degrees from McGill

Yesterday, fleece under my sports jacket, I sat in Montreal with a few thousand others in a gargantuan white tent and listened to the convocation address at McGill University’s Spring Convocation for the Faculty of the Arts and Religious Studies. Yes, it was drafty and chilly under that tent but I didn’t notice. There are other ways of staying warm! Seeing wide inside this address was one of them!

Nothing was normal about this address. First it was a duet. Second, it was a poem! The address was given by Canadian poets Patrick Lane and Lorna Crozier on the occasion of receiving joint honorary doctorates from McGill.

And let me say great kudos to McGill for recognizing these two Canadian poets whose poems are so utterly rooted in their particular geographies far from eastern Canada. To listen to the poem click here.

Crozier kicked the poem off with a stanza, Lane replied with his stanza, then Crozier with hers and so on, until the conclusion. This structure gives the poem a mysterious intimacy, as one image in a stanza is echoed by the other poet in another. This provides a wonderful circular feel to the poem like the that of a pantoum. And this feel is accentuated when Crozier circles back in her last stanza to the first line that began the poem.

Yes, it was an address to the many new graduates, aptly called Advice for the Future. But it was more. It was a poetic declaration of so many of the themes and images these poets have explored over a combined writing career that spans one hundred years; especially images that grow out from their love and care for their garden!

But, in particular, it highlighted for me one singular theme. For Crozier and Lane their poetry exists at the point of intersection between light and darkness. And neither of these trumps the other.

This is encapsulated in lines that surprised and delighted me as Crozier read them:

When you are sad, talk to the turtle just risen
from the mud at the bottom of the pond
where she spent six months in the cold and dark.
Rise into the light that calls you, too,
feel the heat on your eyelids,
the sun’s wide lick across your skin.

Yes, she is saying to this audience. Yes, there will be cold and dark but look, look, the turtle rises from the mud at the bottom of the pond. Then she adjures: rise into the light that calls you, too. Yes.

This is not glib Hallmark wisdom. It is the yes/no wisdom of poets who have seen inside the abyss and survived. These poets lived deep inside  the cold and dark of Patrick’s alcohol and drug addiction for about twenty years and then Lorna began to rise from it as she sought help and Patrick followed.

Patrick recounts much of his life and death struggle with addiction in his memoir There Is A Season and both he and Lorna recount specific moments in that journey in the anthology they co-edited: Addicted: Notes from the Belly of the Beast.

So many lines and moments stood out for in their poem especially these lines by Patrick:.

And the night is a turtle dreaming a world on its shell,
a raven making chaos, rain and wind, the dark bird knowing
the hearts of men, their desire a disordered move toward love.

And these ones:

Each morning I take out the words fear and despair and bury them.
Each night they climb from their graves to torment me.

If ever I have found the words to describe what I call night terrors these are the words. Perhaps we should not bury them but lay them out in the sun where it might shrink them so small they only come back as a shadow of themselves.

But these lines by Patrick, which are such an echo of Lorna’s turtle metaphor, have special resonance for me:

We dance in the knowing that is man, is woman, is a feathered child
inside the bird’s egg, a woman’s belly, a man’s steady vigil.
No matter the dark hours when we ask our burdens be lifted,
ask instead that hope be
how we live, our hands sure in the earth.

That hope be/ how we live: These words of Patrick’s have particular poignancy. As stated so surprisingly by Lorna in the poem’s first line Patrick is suffering from macular degeneration: My husband, who is losing his sight, sees in another way.

This seeing another way, sighted or sightless, is the poet’s way. Patrick’s other way of seeing is what he will be relying on more and more and if we pay attention to him we too may see in another way through our darkness, our blindness. And knowing that he is losing his sight, not as a metaphor, brings such urgency and depth to his words: That hope be/ how we live. He puts his life behind them.

This is how Lorna concludes their poem:

What can we finally tell you? If you’re not looking for it,
you miss it. That’s all we know.
My husband, who is losing his sight, is finding
through the grey eyes of dawn and the golden
eyes of the cat, a clearer way to see.

To pay attention. That has been the cry of poets throughout time. It is a cry Lane and Crozier take up every time they write. If you are not looking for it, you will miss it. I hope, truly, I heard this. I hope many of the graduates heard it. And no matter the state of our vision, of my literal or figurative vision, I hope this poem gives us all a clearer way to see!




  1. Posted June 2, 2015 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    You’re right on it Richard and the presentation was just yesterday! But I know the delight in sharing the beauty of these two beloved poets. The offered such a gorgeous poem that shares their wisdom and their love for one another. What a tremendous gift and thank you for your enthusiasm. I can feel it all the way from Montreal.

  2. Richard
    Posted June 2, 2015 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Mary Ann. So glad that enthusiasm made it all the way to Nanaimo!

  3. Heidi Garnett
    Posted June 2, 2015 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Richard, what a gift you are to the poetry world and your poet friends and those struggling to make sense of their lives with the help of your writing workshops. You speak so eloquently of others’ accomplishments, and,in doing so, you write a poem about your own life, a lovely free verse piece allowing us a glimpse into your generous and great heart. Thank you for being you.

  4. Richard
    Posted June 2, 2015 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Dear Heidi: Such generous remarks! Thank you. Poetry at its best is generous self expression that lets readers or listeners know they are not alone; lets them know others struggle or rejoice like they do. There is such intimacy in great poetry. It does not degrade into mawkish sentimentality. Poets like Patrick and Lorna (Marie Howe among many others also comes to mind) grant permission for others to find the courage to speak. It may be that poetry like theirs inspires me to be generous. If so the credit goes to poetry! But thank you. To see how poetry helps make sense out of the lives of others in my workshops, especially at recovery centers, continues to surprise and inspire me week by week. And your poetry based in a history of shattered German lives in the aftermath of World War II continues to inspire me!

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