P.K. Page remembered through academia and performance art

Photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin.

There are so many brilliant Canadian writers whose works change people’s lives, such as Margaret Atwood and Margaret Laurence.

Ask anybody in the literary world who these two women are and chances are that they will be able to tell you at least one thing about them. But what about all the other incredibly talented and influential Canadian writers, what about P.K Page?

P.K Page is a Canadian poet, journalist, and writer who married a very innovative editor for Maclean’s Magazine, Arthur Irwin. Over the course of her life, Page published many different works and won several awards for her writing.

However, though “Page herself is known to be a major 20th century Canadian poet, it’s only now that her first critical biography has been published,” explains Professor Suzanne Bailey.

“Compared to the literatures of other countries I think Canadian literary studies have perhaps lagged behind in producing authoritative editions of our major poets and important literary figures.”

Page received an honorary doctorate from Trent University in 2004, just as Atwood and Laurence did years before.

In 2002, “Trent organized a very interesting and significant conference on Page’s writing,” describes Bailey.

The conference was held to celebrate the works of P.K Page and to launch one of her then up and coming books.

This conference was put together by the faculty and organized primarily by Professor Zailig Pollock; Pollock has since become the primary literary executor of Page’s estate.

Bailey was on the organizing committee for this conference and became Page’s personal chaperone. Bailey was also the editor for Page’s travel journals, which have now been published, titled Brazilian Journal.

“Brazilian Journal included some of the previously unpublished sketches and visual work that Page actually donated to Trent,” explains Bailey.

Based out of Trent and directed by Pollock, The Collective Works of P.K Page Project has been a result of this conference. This project team involves a number of Trent professors including Pollock, Bailey, Professor Beth Popham and Professor Margaret Steffler.

“My sense is that she appreciated the interest in her work and the support in the organizing of her massive literary output, that she received at Trent. It was as a result of very positive feelings about the conference, about the work that was being done here, that she donated her artwork to Trent University and that is quite a remarkable gift,” says Bailey.

The artwork of Page now resides in The Page Irwin Colloquium Room located in Wallace Hall at Traill College. “Her artwork does justice to the creative spirit of P.K Page,” says Bailey.

It is a huge honour that Trent University is the spearhead on this project.

Though the Trent team does collaborate with researchers from other institutions, we have the privilege in being the main resource when it comes to anything P.K Page.

“Some very positive encounters here lead to her interest in donating material to Trent,” explains Bailey.

“The project as a whole is doing Canadian studies and Canadian literature a service in making available a lot of previously unpublished material,” explains Bailey. There is a second volume of Page’s travel journals being launched December 2014 and leading that project is Margaret Steffler.

The profound influence of P.K Page goes far beyond Trent University. In fact Scott Thomson, a trombonist and composer from Montreal, has been so inspired by Page’s poetry that he has taken eleven of her poems and put them to music creating a performance piece titled The Muted Note, which will be performed at Trent University on Tuesday September 23 at Trail College.

“The Muted Note is a project of mine, along with Suzanna Hood that has a broad scope and the basis of the project is poetry by P.K Page,” says Thomson. Thomson put the poems to music between 2010 and early 2012 for Hood to sing.

Hood is best known as a dance artist, a choreographer, and a performer. “When we play together I accompany her on trombone, which is an unconventional combination but it suits the openness of the project,” says Thomson.

The Muted Note is performed two different ways; Thomson and Hood do a performance on their own as well as a larger performance with a five-piece band and three more dancers.

The show to be performed at Trent will be the intimate performance of Thomson and Hood. The Muted Note will be touring all around Canada, “everywhere but P.E.I, and that’s not for lack of trying,” jokes Thomson.

Thomson has been a reader and lover of poetry his entire life. “As much as I love poetry I don’t consider myself as a poet or a lyricist. When looking for music, I set it to other peoples text and P.K Page’s poetry caught my attention … there’s such a musicality about her verse,” explains Thomson.

Having been a seminar professor at Trent for six years, Thomson is well aware of the significance of P.K Page to Trent.

“It seemed like a natural fit for me to reach out, and they agreed, and so the English Department is sponsoring our performance which is very much appreciated,” says Thomson.

About Caleigh Boyle 32 Articles
Caleigh Boyle, double major in English Lit and Cultural Studies is passionate about the arts, words—both spoken and written—and can often be found at Chapters buying more journals than she needs.