Friday, November 24, 2017

The Living Dead


~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

WOMAN

  I

I think I wanted to be
wings, the essence of wings
or a universal symbiote

As a child I climbed trees
and sang in the branches.
Feathers grew like leaves,

levitation became possible
An upwind under the leaves
lifted me like a rising song

The lightline of horizon
funneled into my eyes,
expanded again inside,

splitting my mind like a robin’s egg.
Cracked but still singing I
took possession of the sky

Just past the first star
I grew aware of my blood
in its closed veins, a closed system.

Symbiosis had failed.
I was lonely as god
before the invention of colour

Space cold and pure
encapsulated me,
a virus in the universe.

  II

Knowledge coarsened my flesh
I grew heavy
stumbling down endless flights of stairs

At landfall I clawed
in fear of air I’d marked
with curlicues of flight

Earth and salt sea
rocked between the two
poles of my knees

an omen, for I shrank
into my body and beyond
into the warm thick cave of genesis.

Remembering lonely sky I became a slave

to the whimpering womb,
that hollow mouth that never says Enough
until too late.

  III

Shrunken between walls
I think of electric storms
in a bird’s brain

I think of a tree
as a slow paradigm
for an explosion

There is still a delicate network of cracks
like a tree’s branches
behind my eyes

resembling lightning also.
Some day you will find
feathers and blood
on the inside of the window.

                                                                                                            
This poem speaks to me strongly, knowing how this brilliant poet’s life came to a sudden untimely end, through spousal homicide, just as her literary career was gaining ground. The image of those feathers on the inside of the window stays with me.


                       
                    photo credit: Mike Kelly


Pat Lowther, (1935 – 1975) was a gifted literary voice in Vancouver, B.C., in the early 1970’s. She chaired the League of Canadian Poets and was appointed to B.C.’s Interim Arts Board. She taught at the University of British Columbia.  Canada lost a powerful literary voice with her murder at the age of 40. But her work lives on. And every year in her honour, the Pat Lowther Award is granted to a book of poetry by a Canadian woman.

Two books and a portfolio of her poetry were published during her lifetime, four published post-humously.  A bibliography can be found here.  Time Capsule was published much later, in 1997, a compilation of her writings found in her son’s attic, years after her death. This book caused renewed interest in the poet’s life and work. Several books have been written about, or inspired by, her life, and a beautiful and haunting documentary entitled Water Marks was made.


NOTES FROM FURRY CREEK

1

The water reflecting cedars
all the way up
deep sonorous green -­­-
nothing prepares you
for the ruler-straight
log fallen across
and the perfect
water fall it makes
and the pool behind it
novocaine-cold
and the huckleberries
hanging
like fat red lanterns

2

The dam, built
by coolies, has outlived
its time; its wall
stained sallow
as ancient skin
dries in the sun
The spillway still
splashes bright spray
on the lion
shapes of rock
far down below
The dam foot
is a pit
for the royal animals
quiet and dangerous
in the stare
of sun and water

3

When the stones swallowed me
I could not surface
but squatted
in foaming water
all one curve
motionless,
glowing like an agate.
I understood the secret
of a monkey-puzzle tree
by knowing its opposite:
the smooth and the smooth
and the smooth takes,
seduces your eyes
to smaller and smaller
ellipses;
reaching the centre
you become
stone, the perpetual
lavèd god.


The sad and terrible thing about this poem is that Pat Lowther’s body was found in Furry Creek two weeks after her murder.

She left behind four children, two grown, Alan, and Kathy (now deceased), and two little girls, then nine and seven, Beth and Christine. Beth is an artist and Christine a poet, with a searing talent much like her mother’s, in my opinion.

To the literary community in western Canada, and beyond, Pat Lowther’s work, and her legacy, still live. And she lives, as well, in her daughter’s poems. Here is a prose poem from Christine’s New Power (1999).

July 15, 1994
There was fog at Tonquin beach yesterday morning, white as snow. Between billowing clouds of it I saw black birds swooping, and I could hear their calls. Crows were dive-bombing a raven. I called out: my best raven-croak. The raven seemed to answer.

Last night I dreamed it was my mother, her hair turned to feathers, her hands turned to wings. She perched upon a tall stump beside the trail. She was making a myriad of raven sounds, all in an effort to communicate with me. I could not, however I tried, understand her language, and I awoke in tears.
What were you trying to tell me?


Pat Lowther’s work is copyright to the Pat Lowther Estate


15 comments:

  1. Sherry, what a powerful poem by a strong poet. So much imagery, so deep. Her wordings are unique: "I was lonely as god before the invention of color" awes me. She was so young when she was murdered. I can only imagine what she might have written if her life span was longer. I am glad that her daughter Christine is carrying on as a poet!

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  2. Yes, a strong voice silenced, yet thankfully we have the poems she left behind. I, too, love the unique way Pat used words. Her daughter uses them in the same way - original and vivid imagery, especially when she writes of nature. Pat's legacy, and her work, live on. A literary light, that went out too soon.

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  3. WOW
    "I was lonely as god
    before the invention of colour"
    And so on.
    What an amazing spirit and consciousness.

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  4. I concur...WOW...her poems are strong and cryptic as if she was writing of her future knowing what it held....I am awestruck by her poems and by her daughter's poem that answers the first one you shared. There are many cultures that believe we become birds when we leave our earthly bodies. Perhaps they are right.

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    1. Oh, I love that thought.......about the birds.........I have also noted prescience in Pat's poems, as if she knew her time was short. Eerily so.

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  5. Sherry, thanks for filling in for me so ably once more. Yes, what beautiful poetry; what wonderful, unique use of language. The word 'awesome' is so over-used and misused these days, but indeed I find the depth of her talent awesome in its true meaning.

    How dreadful that she met her end in that way - and how devastating for her children (another word weakened by over-use, but again I think of its full meaning).

    And (like Plath) the brilliance of this poetry transcends the tragedy.

    I want to read a lot more of her work, and of her daughter's, now that you've introduced them to me.

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    1. Rosemary, her Time Capsule, the poems found years after her death, are astonishing. Good place to start. So happy you enjoyed this feature. I enjoyed putting it together - I had Chris help me with it, to make sure I got it right.

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  6. A tragic end for such a beautiful talented woman.She predicted her own death in the impressive but very unsettling poem
    " Woman " Thank you for introducing her to many of us.

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  7. You are most welcome, my friends. It was truly a privilege.

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  8. Wow, that pack a punch. What a journey she took us on. Sorry the world lost her before I even knew of her. Thanks for sharing this.

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  9. ""There is still a delicate network of cracks
    like a tree’s branches
    behind my eyes

    resembling lightning also." these are some bold pronunciations. Her 'Notes From Furry Creek' leaves one awestruck thinking of her last moments.

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  10. Thank you Sherry, for sharing these poems. the image of the feathers and blood on the inside of the window stays with me. it is a bird trying desperately to escape.
    "Notes from Furry Creek" really brings us up close to the place, opens our eyes to the little details.

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  11. Excellent... so glad I was directed here today.

    ~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~ What an Excellent theme.
    ZQ

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  12. Two recommended books: The Collected Works of Pat Lowther edited by Christine Wiesenthal, and The Half-Lives of Pat Lowther (biography) also by Wiesenthal. The latter was short-listed for a Governor-General's award for nonfiction. Thanks, Sherry!

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  13. Sorry that I am coming to this feature late, Sherry. It’s been a busy couple of days – and also, the poem I posted at the Poetry Pantry took so much out of me … so many rewrites … trying to get it onto paper. Words often fail … the depths that tragedy can descend to.

    Thus, I was particularly impressed with the stunning piece that you have posted here, featuring the brilliant Canadian poet, Pat Lowther, whose life was so brutally cut short. My Mom, used to say – in the face of grievous wrongs – truth finds a way. I have often found that to be so, in the case of beauty. And that is exactly what you have written to, by focusing on the wonderful work and legacy of this incredible poet and the poem by her daughter Christine. Beautiful job on this, Sherry. And thank you for the book recommendations, Christine. I will check them out.

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