P.K. Irwin (Page), 1916 - 2010
P.K. Page was born in Swanage, Dorset, England, and moved with her family to Red Deer, Alberta in 1919, and later to Calgary and Winnipeg. Her parents were artistic, free thinkers, who read poetry to their daughter from a very young age. So, it was no surprise when Page began writing and published her first poems and stories in a newspaper produced by the private school she attended in Calgary.
In 1933, when Page was 17, she returned to England and spent a year indulging in galleries, concerts and ballet. When she returned from England, she moved to Saint John, New Brunswick and worked as a shop assistant and radio actress.
In 1941 Page moved to Montreal and became involved with the Montreal Group of poets. She met Patrick Anderson and Frank Scott, the founders of Preview and before long she was on the editorial board of the magazine. They gathered often to drink wine and read their poems to each other. It was during these meetings that she fell in love with Frank Scott; he was seventeen years her senior and married. Regardless, their relationship lasted three years until Page left Montreal. She dedicated her last book of poems to “F. R. S.”.
After leaving Montreal, Page landed a job as a scriptwriter at Canada's National Film Board. There, she met Arthur Irwin, a former editor of Maclean's magazine and National Film Board Commissioner about to embark on a career as a diplomat. They were married in 1950 and together they spent a decade and a half living in Australia, Brazil, and Mexico.
It was while they were living in Brazil and Mexico that Page began painting and keeping journals. This would lead to the publication of Brazilian Journal, which she illustrated with her own paintings. Page wrote poetry and novels under her maiden name, but created art under her married name, P.K. Irwin and held solo exhibitions in both Mexico and Canada. The couple returned to Canada in the mid-1960s and settled in Victoria’s Oak Bay area in British Columbia.
However, she never quite felt welcome in Victoria’s literary scene and she often was not invited to readings, which hurt her. Instead, she found friendship within the city’s artistic circles, forming a friendship with Pat Martin Bates and held a solo show at the Art Galley of Greater Victoria.
She was eventually invited to teach a creative writing course at the University of Victoria, however, the didn’t enjoy teaching and found the students “too closed-minded”, so she never taught again.
In 2001, by special resolution of the United Nations, Page's poem "Planet Earth" was read simultaneously in New York City, the Antarctic, and the South Pacific to celebrate the International Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations.
P. K. Page died early in the morning on January 14, 2010. She was 93 years old. Each year, a $1,000 poetry prize is awarded by the Malahat Review in Page's name.
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, ON
The Feckless Collection, Vancouver, BC
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Victoria, BC
Selected Awards and Accomplishments
Oscar Blumenthal Award for Poetry (1944, Chicago)
Governor General's Award for Poetry (1954)
Canadian Authors Association Award (1985)
Nat. Film Board of Canada, Still Waters: The Poetry of P.K. Page (1991)
Malahat Review, Special Issue (1996)
Companion of the Order of Canada (1998)
Extraordinary Presence: The Worlds of P.K. Page, Trent Univ. (2002)
Order of British Columbia (2003)
Terasen Lifetime Achievement Award (2004)
Journal of Canadian Studies (2004)
Lieutenant Governor's Award for Literary Excellence (2004)
Royal Society of Canada (2006)
Page also received a total of 8 honourary degrees:
- University of Victoria (1985)
- University of Calgary (1989)
- University of Guelph (1990)
- Simon Fraser University (1990)
- University of Toronto (1998)
- University of Winnipeg (2001)
- Trent University (2004)
- University of British Columbia (2005)