Sunday, 5 August 2012
P K Page's 'Stories of Snow': "Where Silent, Unrefractive Whiteness Lies"
A non-definitive list of the ten poems which have been particularly significant in inviting me into the world of modern, almost-modern, post-modern and contemporary poetry would likely include the following:
Byzantium (W B Yeats)
The Waste Land (T S Eliot)
Foal (Vernon Watkins)
The Convergence of the Twain (Thomas Hardy)
Homecoming (Paul Celan)
At the Quinte Hotel (Al Purdy)
The Tollund Man (Seamus Heaney)
Bagpipe Music (Louis MacNeice)
The Shadow of Cain (Edith Sitwell)
Stories of Snow (P K Page)
I've written about some of these before, and they could probably all be an essay in themselves. To use one of my favourite over-used words, it is a pretty random list. Poems discovered by chance, poems studied in high school or university, poems which I wasn't sure I liked at the time but which ultimately took on greater meaning, poems I heard read by the poet themself (T S Eliot, I wish! In this case, Al Purdy), poems which led me on to poems I preferred by the same poet...and so on.
I've written before about the modern Canadian poetry class which I took in university and which turned out to be very pivotal in my literary life. Among other significant moments, I discovered P K Page in this class, and that was hugely important for me. 'Stories of Snow' can lay claim to being one of the greatest Canadian poems of all time, and simply a great poem, and you can read it here. (Due to the way the poem is reproduced, be prepared to page over a couple of times - it's a long-ish poem.)
STORIES OF SNOW (P K Page)
The Canadian landscape, the landscape of the West Coast rainforest I grew up in, the tropics, Northern Europe - all of these are invoked. More than this, these are emotional and metaphoric landscapes, snowy and blossoming worlds of poetry.
In that forwards/backwards/memory/premonition way which I've come to recognise, it seems as though this poem ties in with my Antarctic fascination (although that came a little later than my first reading of this poem). In the end, the reader is invited to "unlock/the colour with its complement and go/through to the area behind the eyes/where silent, unrefractive whiteness lies." P K Page was also a talented artist, and her poems are often powerfully visual, so there is an element of artistic curiosity and exploration here.
I feel, though, that these are mainly emotional landscapes and that this has something to do with my metaphoric/semi-realistic desire to escape the twittering and the human difficulty of the modern world and to go to Antarctica - somewhere more peaceful, where access to what is truly important becomes more direct and less encumbered. "Souvenir of some never nether land": this could be ancestral memory, too, or something that I'd pass on if I ever had descendants; again, forwards/backwards/memory/premonition. I'm just waiting to find out that I had an ancestor who went to Antarctica, though I would likely have heard about it by now.
The painting is by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, the magnificent Finnish artist.