November 26, 2015 in Celebration of Canadian Poetry

Week 48 – Patrick Lane presented by Crystal Hurdle

Two Views of Patrick Lane

I) Patrick Says

Let nouns and verbs be the workhorses.
Cut adjectives and adverbs.
Avoid “of.”
No Latinate words.   Go Anglosaxon.
Scientific language isn’t poetry.
I like the line break                 there
so the word can do double duty.
Vagina is an ugly word.
Cunt is better.
Try a colon.
When in doubt, cut it out.
Quite remarkable.
Quite wonderful.

His fingers beak into small swallows.
Gentle swoops evoke mysterious journeys
through his mean, lean line
into his softly smiling heart.

II) Reader

half awake,
his           poems like
completing a



catching                 every
sixth         word
wisteria                  nipple           calf
.               fierce
blue     mouth

spare me, oh spare me.

by Crystal Hurdle

Back story: In the spring of 1994, I contemplated taking a poetry course from Patrick Lane at Rockwood Centre in Sechelt, BC. Colleague and friend Bill Schermbrucker was uncharacteristically hesitant, “I don’t know, Crystal.” He thought that Patrick’s language, in particular of female body parts, might enrage me. I, who have the mouth of a sailor, was thankfully not deterred.

The May session featured Susan Musgrave as the fiction teacher. I loved it all: the watery accommodation, the scrumptious food, the workshops, Patrick’s wise words, my fellow students. One was Joelle Hahn, whose work was soon featured in Breathing Fire, which Patrick and Lorna Crozier edited. Patrick’s exercises, which I’ve since co-opted (write a secret; take someone else’s secret and use it in a poem), were fun and eye-opening. It was earth-shaking to hear Catherine Greenwood (The Pearl King and Other Poems) create wonders in scant minutes (an alarming final line about deep scratches on [her] baby brother).

Patrick taught me lovely things, itemized in Part I of my poem, my contrarian self using both “softly” and “smiling,” not heeding his command to cut adverbs and adjectives. I’ve done better in Part II, a small review of his Too Spare, Too Fierce, read and then written when my brain was buffeted by Allergy.

I can well believe that Patrick is THE Canadian poet most written about. In teaching both Creative Writing and English Lit classes, I enjoy looking at examples of Patrick lore in Because You Loved Being a Stranger, poems collected by Susan Musgrave on the occasion of Patrick’s 55th birthday. In class, I run his “Mountain Oysters” (only Patrick could write so eloquently about testicles) into a single paragraph in order to get students to insert line breaks and then compare theirs with the incomparable original.

I look back at my old poem with shock because I have found myself repeating his injunctions to my students without realizing from whom they first came. Patrick rules! (Noun verb. Lesson learned.)

To learn more about Patrick Lane, please visit his website.

Author of After Ted & Sylvia: Poems, Crystal Hurdle teaches English and Creative Writing at Capilano University in North Vancouver, BC. In October 2007, as a Guest Poet at the International Sylvia Plath Symposium at the University of Oxford, Crystal read from the text. Her work, poetry and prose, has been published in many journals, including Canadian Literature, The Literary Review of Canada, Event, Bogg, Fireweed, and The Dalhousie Review. Crystal was Fiction Editor of The Capilano Review in the late eighties and was on its board of directors until 2014.  She has recently published a teen novel in verse, Teacher’s Pets.

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