The Quiet in Me by Patrick Lane
(Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 2022, 64 pages)
Review by Patrick Connors
When I heard Harbour Publishing were releasing a posthumous book by Patrick Lane, I knew it would be a must-read collection. Lane became one of the finest writers of his generation or any other by writing poetry at once easily accessible and breathtakingly lyrical.
“Cobalt Blue” begins with, “The elephant seals in the Bay of Otters.” This immediately situates the reader, even if they have never been there, in a manner simple and engaging. From there, Lane wrote about gulls and geese and beetles with appreciation and reverence.
The narrator shares observations such as, “Two eagles in their mating swung the sky together, talons locked in their gyre.” The majesty of this moment leads to a reverie of the stained-glass windows in the cathedral in Chartres, France. He ends with the poignant and unforgettable line, “No one has been able to make that colour again.”
Lane was a great champion for animal rights and the environment. While “Cobalt Blue” certainly depicts his admiration for wildlife, it doesn’t proselytize. It merely tells a story of a typical day on the waterline featuring its inhabitants. If this doesn’t make you appreciate nature, and long for something more lasting than concrete and steel, then nothing will. You always win more converts by telling someone what you believe in than by saying what you think is wrong with them.
Lorna Crozier, Lane’s partner of over 40 years, compiled and edited The Quiet in Me. This would seem to be the almost quintessential labour of love, sharing his last words meant for the world to read. And who better for this task than Crozier, who is also a very fine poet.
“Morning” is dedicated to Crozier. It is a work designed to be savoured as slowly as a weekend morning: “Earth is awakening, stem and root… / …breast and belly, the unfolding that is a woman, / the scent of her rising, her yes to morning…” This is an intimate portrayal of a woman, but also of the beauty of a love which is made new every day.
When I first encountered the poem titled, “Without Art and Waiting,” I was sure the last word of the title read, ‘Writing’, probably because of the tears in my eyes. However, when I realized the last word was ‘Waiting,’ I was drawn in even more. A lost man takes a walking route along the shore of a creek, thinking it would lead him to somewhere familiar. However, he ends up at the entrance to a land-locked lake, which is populated by birds in a period of migration. “How many years will it take to forget, the disasters, the droughts, / the floods that took them out to sea singing songs to confuse sailors.” It becomes apparent the lost man ends his adventure poorly, but there is a sense of uncertainty which makes this poem captivating: “This much is known, words recited in the dark, innumerable birds, / mice scurrying in their tunnels of woven grass, little bronze bells.”
If there is a lesson in here, and I’m not sure Lane intended such, it is that life is uncertain, and that we are all migratory beings sojourning for a time before we head somewhere else.
“Fragments” is the closing piece in the book. This is only appropriate, since life is made up not only of the bits and pieces we perceive through our senses, but also how we perceive them, and the result of later reflection. Once again, the narrator brings us to a place where the earth in all its beauty and tragedy lives as it always has. A very long and compelling sentence takes us through what is left of trees fallen by the work of an arborist, and a bird unfortunately caught up in these remains. And then, our protagonist shares the words he would tell a certain young boy:
That seventy-three years will come to add to his seven,
and in the waste and trash of hours there will be
every tangled dream and desolation, all human wants
and wishes, blood and bone, small deaths and large
each birth, each son, a daughter, wives, and women,
every bleak defeat and loss, the resurrection, visions,
and more, and less, and a man who wishing, wishes
well this child who holds in his hands an open flame.
Only a master could get away with having the words wishing and wishes on the same line, much less consecutively. Let alone to bequeath these words seemingly to his young self with such honesty, entirely lacking in false sentiment. People far more connected than me in the world of letters should entreat the powers-that-be to nominate Patrick Lane for a Nobel Prize. In the meantime, The Quiet in Me is Lane’s last great contribution to Canadian letters, and a gift which will endure.
Patrick Connors first chapbook, Scarborough Songs, was released by Lyricalmyrical Press in 2013, and charted on the Toronto Poetry Map. Past publication credits include: The Toronto Quarterly 4; Spadina Literary Review; Tamaracks; and Tending the Fire, released in spring 2020 by the League of Canadian Poets. His first full collection, The Other Life, was launched by Mosaic Press in 2021.