VIU Bestows Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree on Acclaimed Poet Patrick Lane

Internationally acclaimed poet Patrick Lane will receive an Honorary Doctor of Letters at VIU’s convocation ceremony January 28. Lane is the featured guest at a special afternoon reading by faculty from VIU's department Creative Writing and Journalism on Wednesday, January 27, 4 pm, in the Royal Arbutus Room, Nanaimo campus. The event is free and open to the public.
Photo credit: Kate Hill

January 25, 2016 - 3:30pm

Internationally acclaimed poet Patrick Lane will receive an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree at Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) convocation ceremony on January 28 in recognition of his contributions to the field of poetry. Critics and scholars call him one of the finest poets of his generation.

An admired teacher, workshop leader and supporter of emerging poets across North America, Lane has also excelled in the genres of fiction, non-fiction and memoir.

A prolific writer with more than 27 books of poetry to his credit, Lane has also published a number of other books including a collection of short stories, the novel Red Dog, Red Dog set in the Okanagan Valley, and What the Stones Remember, a memoir about his battle with addiction (titled There is a Season in Canada).

The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane, published in 2012, includes 400 poems written during a career spanning more than 50 years. Lane’s most recent collection, Washita, was nominated for the 2015 Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry. Lane has been nominated several times before, and won the award in 1978 for his Poems, New and Selected. He is soon releasing a new book of poetry and continues to be a beloved mentor to emerging writers.

“I know Patrick as a poet, a teacher and a friend,” says Pamela Porter, a BC writer, novelist and poet and Governor General’s Award recipient, who co-nominated Lane for the honorary degree.

“Patrick developed a wholly original method for teaching the art and craft of poetry to students in a four day retreat setting. The model has been so successful that many of his retreat students have gone on to publish books and to win provincial, national and international prizes for their work. What Patrick is doing in his teaching is nothing less than the moulding and shaping of Canadian literature.”

Born in Nelson, BC in 1939, Lane attended high school in Vernon and received no other formal education.

During his 20s, he held a series of jobs in the logging industry in northern BC as a choker, truck driver, Industrial First Aid Attendant, sawmill worker and salesman. He wrote late into the night in small towns in the Interior, teaching himself the art of poetry.

“My father was semi-literate but my mother was an avid reader and belonged to three different book clubs,” says Lane. “There were always books in the house. I cut my teeth on good books written by an endless list of remarkable authors.”

Lane dreamed of attending college “but for a working class kid that dream was pure fantasy. We couldn’t afford it. I was expected to get a job, get married and settle down.”

Lane first began writing seriously in 1960, after receiving a poem his brother had written.

“I thought I could do better,” says Lane, “and, in time, I was surprised at the sheer pleasure I found in learning to be a writer. It was the only craft I could turn to in smaller, working class communities to keep me sane.”

Lane drifted between the West Coast and Eastern Canada until moving to Vancouver in 1965, where he began to connect with other poets. Eventually, he co-founded a small press publishing house in Vancouver called the Very Stone House where his debut collection, Letters from the Savage Mind, was published.

His early poetry, influenced by working-class concerns, was widely praised for its brutal, personal honesty. In later years, his poetry evolved, reflecting a sense of wonder and spiritual awakening.

Of all his poems, Lane’s favorite is called “The Bird” which he wrote in the 1960s.

“It capturesmy preoccupation with the class of people I grew up with and lived with during nearly 40 years of my life,” he explains. “I saw their suffering. Their plight has been an all consuming passion for me. I grew up in world that was extremely corrupt, in which anti-union sentiments were profound, and in which people in small communities of the interior of BC were extremely poor. The interior of BC back in those years was like the third world, and I never fully understood this until I started travelling.”

Lane recalls being heavily criticized by scholars and academics for speaking out about violence in the world. “They had grown up in safe, secure worlds and had no idea of the plight of the working class in towns and cities like Nanaimo, Tahsis or Vernon, among so many others,” he says.

Still, Lane struck a chord with his work, winning the Governor General’s Award in 1978. The same year he met his current wife, the award-winning poet Lorna Crozier. The couple moved to Victoria in 1991 to write and teach at the University of Victoria (UVic).

After Lane completed rehabilitation for alcohol dependency, he and Crozier co-edited and contributed to a collection of essays, Addicted: Notes from the Belly of the Beast in 2001. His memoir, There is a Season: A Memoir in a Garden, recounts how his tending of the couple’s half-acre garden has helped him remain sober. The book has been a source of strength for others recovering from various forms of addiction.

Lane, who attended an alcohol treatment centre in Nanaimo in 2000, is deeply grateful that his story has helped so many others. “I’ve had mothers and fathers come up to me and thank me for writing my story,” he says. “It’s humbling to realize you’ve become an Elder.”

Lane has served as Writer-in-Residence and taught at numerous universities and writing schools across Canada, including the universities of Manitoba, Alberta, Ottawa, and Toronto, and at Concordia in Montreal.

He is currently an adjunct professor at UVic and frequently leads private retreats in Lake Cowichan for writers from across North America.

Lane has received many awards for his fiction, non-fiction and poetry including the Lieutenant Governor’s award for Literacy Excellence in 2007. Among his many other honours, Lane was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2012.

Lane has lived and travelled extensively around the world and has published his works in a number of countries. His writing appears in all major Canadian anthologies of English literature.

Now at age 75, Lane is enjoying life in North Saanich with Crozier. Asked about the characteristics of a great writer Lane says, “It’s someone who engages you emotionally and spiritually, who can create something out of nothing, 20 words or less that can move you to tears. That’s a very difficult thing to do. I encourage writers to dig deep and find the sentiment, not the sentimentality, in their writing.”


Editor’s note: Patrick Lane will be the featured guest on Wednesday, January 27 at a special afternoon of readings by faculty in VIU’s department of Creative Writing and Journalism. The free event takes place in the Royal Arbutus Room at VIU’s Nanaimo campus at 4 pm, and everyone is welcome.


Janina Stajic, Manager, Vancouver Island University

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