Tonight, the Memorial for Patrick Lane (1939-2019) – This Morning, Remembering an E-Mail Correspondence from Fourteen Years Ago

Patrick Lane Memorial Announcement for April 20th, 2019

So this is it, Lane. Not a living wake, but a celebration of all your living. And this is only the beginning. Wait until you’re dead.

Susan Musgrave, editor, from You Loved Being a Stranger – 55 Poets Celebrate Patrick Lane, Harbour Publishing, 1994

There are times when I no longer know if what I have told is truth, or is a lie, a fiction. There are times I think I have gone mad. At such times I turn to praise and its companion, Prayer and in surrender find what peace I can.

Patrick Lane from There is a Season, McClelland & Stewart, 2004

What a shock to read the lines written by celebrated Canadian author Susan Musgrave in the introduction to a book of poems celebrating Patrick Lane’s fifty-fifth birthday twenty five years ago. Sad to say, the wait is over. The grief and celebrations have now begun.

And what comfort to read the lines from Lane’s astounding memoir written in his first years of sobriety.What a reminder for me as I grieve my dear friend’s death on March 7th to remember that praise and prayer are my way to healing from this huge loss in my life.

And tonight, April 20th , we will experience what Musgrave predicted twenty-five years ago, another proof of this at Patrick’s memorial celebration at the University of Victoria’s David Lamb Theatre at 7 PM. Already the outpouring of grief over Patrick’s death on March 7th and the concomitant celebration of his contribution to the Canadian literary landscape has been huge. I am sure at the memorial gathering that sense of grief but also celebration of his life will be equally powerful.

As I look back on my relationship with Patrick, who has been the single greatest influence on me as a poet, I go back to his memoir released 15 years ago – There is a Season. It was that book that catapulted me into Patrick’s life. Seeing the humanity of this extraordinary man and his life convicted me he was the teacher I wanted to learn with. And I did. But thinking of this during the past few days I went back to an early exchange of e-mail letters I had with Patrick. Especially a letter I wrote to him about my response to There is A Season. And the email he sent me in reply.

In my letter I commented on how his book reminded me of the great book of the Bible, the Psalms. This is how Patrick replied:

The other night I was at a Hallowe’en party, mostly people I didn’t know, too many people, a few glasses of wine each and the noise was cacaphony, the conversations awkward. As a 67 year old man I I removed myself to the sitting room, vacant, (the room, I mean) and sat down on a couch, a kind of quiet, and on the table was the Bible, perhaps placed there as an ironic touch for an evening devoted to costumed devils and etc., and opened it to the Psalms, and so read for awhile until interrupted gently by several people who were concerned that I must have been depressed or unhappy to want to be so alone among party-goers. Ah well, and I ended up talking to a man who has a tumour in his inner ear and is treating it with some strange vibrating device the Russians used with Cosmonauts (no kidding) and so was reminded that there are worlds I know little of, and then Lorna [Lorna Crozier his companion and wife] came to tell me we should repair to our home and I agreed, and so to bed.

Some of the later psalms contain a frustration at times, an anger at and with God to remedy our earthly woes, and I love that they are there. As Rilke said, “Who if I cried out would hear me among the heavenly hierarchies?” Indeed, such a human question made in a faithless time, though Rilke himself answers his own question with faith and praise, the Duino Elegies a paean of praise to the unutterable power greater than ourselves. Anyway, your mention of the psalms made me smile, given I was reading them two nights ago. I read the Bible until its rhythms and measured speech became second nature to me when I was young. There was no better teacher.

How comforting to read the beauty and confidence in these words. The on-going song of a man who has made it through to paraphrase the title of a poem by D.H. Lawrence. Here is Patrick’s poem that celebrates our need to sing and keep singing:

The Beauty

This too, the beauty
of the antelope in snow.
Is it enough to say we will
imagine this and nothing more?

Who understands that, failing,
falters at the song.
But still we sing.
That is beauty.

But it is not an answer
any more than the antelope
most slender of beasts
most beautiful

will tell us why they go
going nowhere
and going there
perfectly in the snow.

Patrick Lane from The Collected Poems
of Patrick Lane, Harbour Publishing, 2011

Here are some excerpts from my letter to Patrick which I wrote to him in the form of a review and meditation:

The astounding aspect of his book and its present-time focus on his first year of sobriety in 45 years is Lane’s journey to a real re-orientation that transforms so much of the restrained lament that sounds and resounds in its pages into a hopeful song. And throughout the year as his garden grows and he grows in his new awareness there are many moments when we know this is not a Garden of Eden, not the first garden, but a second one with its own imperfections and most shockingly the weed that almost took over his inner garden – hidden full Vodka bottles – that he finds every now and again hidden deep within leaves and branches. Each time we hold our breath with his as he finds each bottle and then we release our breath with his as he pours out painfully the contents of everyone.

As he experiences the immense gifts of his reorientation he begins “to understand that when things fall apart it doesn’t mean they’re broken it means they are forming themselves into other things.” This astonished man alive and in love in his garden is a testament to multiple fractures that never healed or stopped hurting until he, frightened, touched each one in his heart and with words so he could stand at peace held up by all his bent and broken places. Indeed, Lane has formed into another thing but a thing in grace-filled reorientation. Lane says “Prayer is speaking to what knows you.” Somehow, in all his pain and anger and bewilderment he kept praying, kept talking and that talking kept his head above the drowning waters that were his drinking. Then somehow love and that talking dragged him to shore and more love and more talking kept him there.

Lane again: There are times when I no longer know if what I have told is truth, or is a lie, a fiction. There are times I think I have gone mad. At such times I turn to praise and its companion, Prayer and in surrender find what peace I can.

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